I want to tell you a little story about a class I took this semester called Liberal Arts at Work: A Professionalism Workshop. I, like other college juniors, recently came to the realization that my final college days are starting to creep up on me, and trailing at their heels is the crippling anxiety that I will soon have no choice but to become a Real Adult. I’ll be left to my own devices to search for a job—but where does a Liberal Arts major even begin?
By a stroke of good, old-fashioned luck, I stumbled upon a syllabus that spoke to my fears. I might have preferred to stumble upon a winning lottery ticket, but, hey, I’ll take what I can get. This cozy little 8 AM imparted a wealth of wisdom I never dared to believe existed: Liberal Arts majors have options, our degrees aren’t useless, we have relevant skills, and we can compete with other professionals. Those juicy secrets weren’t even the tip of the iceberg for this class; I learned all kinds of ways to act on those secrets—to wield my Creative Writing degree like a katana, rather than a double-edged sword.
Now, you’re asking what my enthusiasm for an obscure course has to do with your fine institutions. It is this: I want to give every college student in America their very own katana. Well, metaphorical ones, anyway. All students, especially those whose majors are an unpleasant topic at Thanksgiving, should graduate college with confidence in their degrees and how to utilize them. For that to be true, students need the opportunity to learn something, anything, about the mysterious Professional World. I write this open letter to request that each and every accredited higher education institution require (or at the very least, offer) professionalization courses.
I read once on a Snapple top that, every 20 seconds, some Baby Boomer with a WordPress writes an article about Millennial entitlement and the decline of the value of the bachelor’s degree. It sounds like these folks think the universities have sold out, making college too “easy” for students nowadays. Well, my friends, do you think you’re sell-outs? How do you feel about public opinion challenging the reputations you’ve worked tirelessly to establish for (hundreds of) years? Are your degrees worthless? A dime a dozen? Of course not. Your own ideas about Millennial entitlement aside, what if I told you that our difficulty transitioning into the professional world has nothing to do with the Boomer claim that you’ve cheapened your own degrees, but rather with an entirely different mistake that you’ve made?
That mistake, of course, is the lack of professional training for non-professional majors, like Liberal Arts. The job market is vicious, cutthroat, competitive. Even lower-level corporations don’t have the resources to give the time of day to newcomers who don’t know what’s going on. Forget climbing the ladder; if you want to even make contact with the thing, you’ve got to have your wits about you when graduation tosses you into the professional world all alone. There’s only one problem: new college grads have spent the last four-plus years in a bubble of academics and pajamas, often without even a peek at what waits for them on the other side. What is hindering college grads these days from finding work isn’t so much the questionable value of our degrees, but our lack of training on how to navigate as Real Adults. As students, we’ve all heard, and may well all be guilty of saying, “why do I need this class? I’m never going to use this.” These statements don’t have much merit coming from a seventh grader, as they often do, but when uttered from the cracked lips of a sleep- and shower-deprived college student on finals week, it seems they might just be onto something. Instead of traumatizing English majors with required core courses in math and the sciences, or Chemistry majors with required core fine arts classes, perhaps universities should require students to learn something they might find useful.
If you’re not quite sold by the post-grad struggle because our lives after you seem irrelevant, allow me to put a face you might find more appealing to the cause : Mr. Benjamin Franklin. Students cycle through your schools, shoveling stacks on stacks on stacks into your pockets, and we’re repaid with a single piece of paper that we can’t even hang on our office walls. Sure, we’re paid in other things, like knowledge and friends and rich experiences and STI’s, but when it comes to professional preparedness, it looks like you all forgot to tip. Sure, no university would ever come out and say that they are indifferent to its’ grads’ paths after college, that would be a PR nightmare. But the sheer lack of attention paid to the reality of graduates’ professional dilemmas speaks to some level of disregard for the names behind the paychecks. Think about it this way: if you don’t make an effort to produce successful alums, who is going to help you build that new wing to the library or that new football field?
Of course, some of you universities have already taken steps to get professionalism classes into your course catalogs, and to those universities, I give a big thumbs up. Or maybe a nice, firm, professional handshake. Many universities do have career centers, which are great steps in the right direction, but let’s be honest; if there’s no alcohol or free food, students will be hard-pressed to find the time to explore their benefits. I say you bring the career center to the classrooms. If you do, you have my word that your students will not only be grateful, but also more confident and more successful. It worked for me.
A Concerned Student