|Frequently Asked Questions for Parents
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Overview of Career Services
In choosing to attend the University of Pennsylvania, your son or daughter has made a very special choice. The opportunities available to your child, both here at Penn and after graduation, are dazzling, and occasionally overwhelming.
Students come to Penn with high career expectations and lots of questions. As their parents, you too have expectations and questions. This site is written in the hope that you’ll find answers to most of your questions. But keep in mind, however, that for most career-related questions, the answer is “it depends.” Understanding students’ situations requires appreciating the myriad of factors that have impact on them as they progress through college. There’s rarely a “one size fits all” answer that really fits.
The staff in Career Services is here to help students (and alumni/alumnae!) sort out their choices and make decisions that lead to productive, fulfilling lives. Career Services does not screen candidates for employers or graduate schools. Employers and institutions do their own screening. We provide our students with as much information and support to be the strongest possible candidates for institutions which will, in the end, make their own decisions.
What services does Career Services provide?
Career Services offers guidance on all aspects of career planning, job searching, and graduate study.
We provide individual counseling through scheduled appointments and “walk-ins” (where students can come without an appointment to get quick questions asked and answered). In addition, we have extensive e-mail communication with students through specific distribution lists.
We maintain substantial databases of summer jobs, internships and full-time post-graduate positions, and help students prepare for their job search through assistance with resumes, cover letters, and interviewing practice.
We assist students with the application process to graduate and professional school, including advising on optimal application strategies, reviewing personal statements and graduate school essays.
We operate an exceptional Career Library with up-to-date resources on career fields, graduate programs and potential employers.
We bring alumni/alumnae to campus to participate in seminars on career fields and graduate study, and we also manage a network of alumni/alumnae career advisors who have agreed to talk to Penn students.
We run an extremely active On-Campus Recruiting program through which employers come to Penn to present their organizations to our students, as well as interview them for permanent positions and summer jobs and internships.
We make it possible for students to store letters of recommendation written on their behalf.
Take a look at our Web site: www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices for a more detailed view of all our services.
How can my child learn about what career options are available?
There are lots of ways for students to explore the vast range of career opportunities available to them.
Through a Web-based career exploration tool called SIGI 3, which Penn makes available at no cost, students can explore how their interests, skills and values correlate to a very wide array of career fields and the background, education, and skills needed for them. In addition to SIGI 3, there are other on-line career exploration tools on the Career Services Web site.
In cooperation with the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services, we offer annual Career Exploration Workshops which provide students with a formal structure in which to examine career alternatives that might suit their talents, interests and skills.
The Career Services Library contains a wealth of information on career fields and options within those fields.
Through extracurricular activities, jobs and internships, and volunteer service -- that is, by doing a wide variety of things -- students can “try on” different roles, experience different environments, and uncover the kinds of opportunities that exist in different types of organizations.
How Can I Help My Child Make the Most of Penn and Get a Good Start on Life After Penn?
For many young men and women, college offers a chance to try out new roles, to take more control over their lives and decisions, and to assert their independence. While some parents are excited by their childrens’ new-found sense of confidence, others find this stressful, as they may feel that their influence is waning. However, as we know from countless counseling sessions, your opinion and approval matter tremendously. Our research has shown that parents, not faculty members or peers, have the primary influence on students’ career choices. Even when students make decisions which they know will disappoint their parents, this often causes them some conflict and pain. Conversely, some students try to make decisions pleasing to their parents (for example, emulating their parent’s career path), and then agonize over why they are doing it – to satisfy themselves or their parents.
The fact is you really can help your child adjust to Penn. Express confidence in his/her abilities and affirm her/his ability to make decisions. This can make a significant difference in how your young adult makes the transition to college, and then to life after Penn. Self-confidence is a fundamental asset in any field of endeavor, and one way we all develop it is by knowing that there's someone important who believes in us.
Encourage your child to seek out and use a wide variety of resources to get the best information possible. While most students go to the Web to get information, information available through face-to-face interaction is still extremely important, and sometimes undervalued by students. The wide array of programs at Career Services, as well as our network of alumni/alumnae career advisors, makes it easy to get. In addition, by virtue of being at Penn, students have a myriad of wonderful resources to use. Faculty, house deans, advisors, and counselors in Career Services and other university departments are all available to help your child think through and understand the consequences of different choices.
You may also have access to additional resources though your own personal and professional contacts. Ask your child how s/he might want to make use of those resources.
Finally, just as you may with your son or daughter, we often see students who are troubled by career questions, whether it's a matter of second-guessing a decision, having difficulty finding a summer job, or being turned down by a first-choice graduate program. We often find that the best support to young people in these situations is to ask how we can help and then be guided by their answer.
Some thoughts on “success”
There is, of course, no one definition of success. The different individuals and cultures that populate Penn have varying views of “success,” and how it can be measured. At different stages of one’s life, views of what constitutes success may change, and we hope we’ve prepared students to cope with these changes that are inevitably part of their lives, and work.
In Career Services, we work with students and alumni/alumnae toward the following goals:
- Broad exploration of various career options
- Pursuing studies/work that use students’ greatest skills and talents
- Finding work that is consonant with one’s values, such as long-term economic stability, intellectual challenge, professional prestige, working toward a sustainable environment, and/or balancing family and work.
It may also happen that, while at Penn, your child -- perhaps for the first time in his or her life -- encounters obstacles that affect his or her academic performance. Pressures resulting from being away from home, managing time, intense competition, and having “too many choices” may cause some students to perform below their usual standards. Penn offers many support services to help students with such difficulties. Departments such as Academic Support Services and Tutoring (http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/tutoring/index.php), Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/caps/), Communication within the Curriculum (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/cwic/) and the Office of English Language Programs (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/elp/) can all be helpful.
Sometimes “failures” lead to unexpectedly successful outcomes. Changing from a major in which a student is doing poorly to another field of study in which he or she excels can open many doors. Taking a job which one is not sure about can help a student uncover hidden talents and enthusiasms that ultimately lead to outstanding professional and personal achievement and satisfaction.
[Top]Year-by-Year Timeline for Using Career Services
There are no “fixed” roadmaps that apply to each and every student, and Career Services has no formal structures in place that students have to follow in order to use the office. Some students are very driven and focused, and use our services almost as soon as they arrive at Penn; others don’t come to the office until second semester of their senior year. While we’re happy to help students whenever they get to us, the following is offered as an informal template for using Career Services.
Freshman year: This is the time for students to settle in and explore Penn and their new surroundings. New students should be getting to know the “lay of the land” and learning the school’s culture. Priorities for this critical time of transition include making new friends, adjusting to dormitory living and being away from home and to a new academic environment. Furthermore, freshmen must also learn how to manage lots of unstructured time. After their orientation activities, freshmen should begin to identify key campus resources that will serve as part of their support systems. Students should also explore the many options available in various curricular offerings and extra-curricular activities.
Uses of Career Services: While there is no pressure for them to do so, freshman are welcome to come and introduce themselves to a career counselor, and to explore the resources that Career Services offers in a systematic -- or haphazard -- way. Students may want to explore various career possibilities at this point. If they are planning to look for a summer job or internship, they can get help with their job search including learning about opportunities and places to which to apply, writing resumes and cover letters, and preparing for interviews (though as first year students it is not essential that they have career-related summer employment). For parents of students who are seriously considering medical school, more information is available at: http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/gradprof/healthprof/premed/medschoolmain.html.
Sophomore year: The primary focus for sophomores is declaring a major/concentration and becoming more engaged in the Penn community. Students make efforts to get to know faculty – by taking advantage of their office hours, clarifying academic interests, and building relationships. They should also start sorting out which extra-curricular activities really capture their interest and sense of mission. As a result, they should aim to get deeply involved in activities where they can make meaningful contributions that pave the way to further leadership development. Students may begin to formalize their career goals, or may feel somewhat unsure of “what’s out there,” and wish to learn about the range of options will be available to them. In addition to Career Services, the following offices may help students understand and sort out their options:
Office of International Programs (OIP) (http://www.upenn.edu/oip): OIP is a key resource for international students as well as any student that wishes to study outside of the United States.
Civic House (http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/civichouse): This office allows students to consider how they may participate in various community service initiatives, and
Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) (http://www.upenn.edu/curf): CURF provides assistance to students with a marked interest in academic scholarship by way of undergraduate research or post-graduate fellowships.
Uses of Career Services: Students can schedule appointments with career counselors to explore career choices, to discuss the steps involved in preparing for graduate school, and/or to organize and launch a summer job search. They can use a variety of career exploration materials found at our website (http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/discovery/careerdisc.html). Students can also take advantage of the Penn Career Network, our network of nearly 4,000 alumni/alumnae who have agreed to talk to students about careers. In addition, they can attend various career-field-related workshops that Career Services presents throughout the year.
Junior year: This is the time to begin refining thoughts for “life after graduation,” whether that be to work, to apply for post-graduate fellowships, or to go to graduate school. Typically, students begin to narrow down their options, allowing for more in-depth research on specific career preferences. An important source for testing career alternatives is through on- or off-campus internships. In this regard, the summer of junior year can be extremely important in terms of positioning students well for post-graduate options. In addition, this may also be the year for students to hold a leadership position in one or more of their extracurricular activities, and/or to do research independently or with a professor. If a student has not already formed relationships with faculty, s/he should do so, as these relationships may affect upcoming graduate school or fellowship applications as well as possible employment leads.
Uses of Career Services: We hope that during this year students will become quite comfortable with the materials on our Web site and in our library. We encourage juniors to schedule an appointment with a counselor to discuss both long-term goals and summer employment. Several competitive internships require applications by mid-November, so students should not wait until second semester to meet with a counselor. In addition, students may want to attend a workshop and participate in mock interviews that will help them hone their interviewing skills. For students applying to graduate or professional school, counselors in Career Services can help make the application process less stressful. Specifically, students will need letters of recommendation and “personal statements,” and may need to prepare for standardized tests required by their targeted graduate school(s). Whether graduate school is a short-term, long-term or even a tentative goal, students should open a recommendation file at Career Services. This file is a lifetime resource for students, who can have recommendations sent to graduate programs, whether as current students about to graduate, or as alumni/alumnae/ae.
Senior year: Senior year is a time of transition. Some students look forward to graduation and “moving on,” others do not feel ready. This is also a time that students have to implement their post-graduate plans: applying to graduate or professional school, competitive fellowships, or applying for jobs. This can be an extremely taxing time for students. “On-campus recruiting” -- through which employers come on campus to interview potential employees -- starts at the very beginning of the fall semester, and continues until spring. For some students, particularly those looking for business-related jobs, on-campus recruiting is an excellent resource; for others, the appropriate way to find a job is not through an on-campus recruiting program, but through direct application to employers later in the year. Collecting letters of recommendation for graduate school can also be stressful for students, particularly if a favorite professor is away from campus. Some students may need to finish particular graduation requirements, such as specific course distributions or language proficiency exams.
Uses of Career Services: At this “implementation” phase, counselors are available to address anything and everything that has to do with helping students face “life after Penn.” This may involve assistance with the graduate school or fellowship application process (applications, personal statements, storage of recommendations, etc…), as well as the job search process (resumes and cover letters, interviewing skills, etc…). Counselors can also be a good sounding board as seniors grapple with decisions about their next steps after graduation. Finally, the staff is happy to welcome these students back to Career Services as alumni/alumnae to seek advice, access networking and job listings, or reach out to students following in their footsteps.
[Top]Curricular Issues / Majors and Cconcentrations / Study Abroad
What is the connection between choice of major / concentration and ultimate career?
This is a very complicated issue, because some fields of study connect very directly to specific career fields, while others may not have intrinsic connections, though lead to impressive and stable career options. For example, a major in Electrical Engineering or Nursing will prepare a student for graduate study in the field or jobs as an electrical engineer or nurse. However, students with these majors, and the skills acquired from their studies, may also seek positions in fields allied to, but not directly connected, to those degrees. The electrical engineer might opt to teach physics in a private school; the nursing major may get a sales job in a pharmaceutical company.
Majors without clear “links” to specific career fields, however, offer students content knowledge and transferable skills that prove highly competitive both in employment and graduate study. The Career Plans Survey Reports Career Services produces detail the post-graduate activities of our students and can give you a picture of what students from different disciplines, majors and schools have pursued.
That’s all well and good, but a Penn education is a significant investment, and I want my child to be as secure as possible and able to earn a good living when s/he graduates. What is the connection between earnings and choice of undergraduate major/concentration?
In the long term, our research suggests that there is no clear correlation between undergraduate major/concentration and earnings. The issue is one of career path, and that (as discussed above) is only indirectly connected to area of study. While some fields (law, medicine) are associated with higher salaries than others, there is often no direct correlation between major and the ability to pursue these careers. English majors who complete their pre-medical requirements apply to medical school successfully; religious studies majors are admitted to law school. Examination of our longitudinal surveys of Penn alumni/alumnae will give you some idea of the career -- and earning -- trajectories of our alumni/alumnae. These can be found by clicking on each of the “Schools” links on the Career Services Web site, and then on “Alumni/alumnae Surveys.” What is clear from these surveys is that the well-rounded education provided by a liberal arts curriculum is an excellent foundation for a subsequent professional career.
My child is interested in “everything,” and can’t figure out what to major in. What should s/he do?
It’s extremely common for students to have a broad range of interests (that’s part of what made them appealing to Penn!), and to feel a bit overwhelmed about having to choose “one thing” to study. We encourage students to explore a number of different fields in their first few semesters, and to talk to faculty and upper-classmen in different majors. Our Web site has information detailing specific majors/concentrations and the jobs and graduate schools students pursued after graduation. In addition, academic advisors in all four undergraduate schools will work with students to help them choose a course of study.
My child wants to major in something that seems impractical. What are the risks or benefits of majoring in an obscure field?
The most important element in determining a choice of major should be the student’s interest in and ability to do well in the field. Why? Because in general, if students are interested and engaged in a subject, they will do much better work and have a much more rewarding experience at Penn. When students are really excited about their studies, they communicate that enthusiasm: to their faculty -- resulting in lifelong relationships (and substantive recommendations); to graduate schools -- resulting in broader choice of where to continue their education; and to employers -- resulting in a much wider choice of job options both during the summers and after graduation.
Often disciplines that seem “impractical” are highly attractive to a very wide range of employers and graduate schools. As examples, History and Sociology of Science students have found themselves in positions assisting on clinical trials, continuing studies in public health, and/or working for national or international health advocacy organizations, like the Red Cross. Philosophy majors can hold great interest for consulting firms, political candidates, and/or government organizations, in addition to law schools.
Suffering through a “practical” discipline in which a student has no interest or ability to succeed makes the Penn experience much less rewarding and successful, both while at Penn and after graduation. A vibrant, strong record of achievement in an “impractical” discipline serves students far better than a lackluster record in a “practical” subject.
Through elective courses students can fill in the “practical” gaps while concentrating on subject matter that wholly engages them. For example, an Religious Studies major who might be interested in a business-related career can take courses in finance and accounting to acquire skills that transfer easily.
Career Services counselors can help students develop effective strategies for presenting their “less well known” majors to employers and graduate/professional schools
My child is considering going to law school. What’s the best pre-law major?
There is no one “best” pre-law major. Law schools look for well-rounded students, with a comprehensive education. Thus different areas of study, from the sciences to the humanities, serve law school applicants well. Mostly, admissions officials at law schools are interested in individuals with strong, diversified academic records, who show evidence of having challenged themselves with upper level courses, independent studies, or honors theses. Students are most likely to engage in these demanding academic activities if they are pursuing a major that is inherently interesting to them rather than a major that they committed to because it is “practical.”
My child is enrolled in, or considering, a double major, or a dual degree. What are the pros and cons of dual majors or degrees?
While it can serve some undergraduates very well to do dual degrees or dual majors, it depends upon the individual student whether this is the best choice. Employers are impressed by multi-talented students, because jobs often require skills that cross over disciplines: the Engineering major with a second major in English can be very appealing to software companies or consulting firms; the Accounting major who also has a major in Sociology will have options in a wider range of career fields than will the student who only majored in one or the other. Likewise, some graduate programs will appreciate the intellectual flexibility developed through disciplined pursuit of different fields.
However, the “breadth” needs to be balanced by “depth,” which is often measured by looking at academic performance. Students are much better served by studying only one field -- and performing extremely well in that field -- than by studying more than one, but performing less well. In addition, majoring in only one subject may allow students to choose an extremely wide range of electives and thus take greater advantage of what Penn has to offer academically.
My child is hoping to study abroad for a semester or a year. When is the best time for him or her to go? What are the implications?
Studying abroad can genuinely broaden students’ intellectual and personal understanding of the world, and help students hone language skills, become more self-reliant, and experience the truly global nature of modern life. Penn offers an exceptionally wide range of study abroad opportunities, and approximately 35% of Penn students take advantage of these at some point in their college years. As with everything else, the individual student’s specific situation needs to be considered in answering this question. The answer really depends on the student’s post-graduate plans. In some cases it may make no difference when they study abroad. For others, timing can be important, especially for premed students.
For students planning to go directly to graduate or professional school:
Many students apply to graduate or professional schools during the summer before, and the first semester of, their senior year. It is very important that students check with a pre-graduate or professional school advisor before going abroad during this stage of their undergraduate careers to be sure that they are on track with the application process. A Credentials file should be established for letters of recommendation. Appropriate graduate or professional school admissions tests will need to be taken at the right time also. Other requirements may need to be take care of. As such, being away first semester senior year may make it more difficult for a student to apply to graduate or professional school if a student intends to enroll in graduate school the fall after graduation. Counselors in Career Services will work with students to help them plan their study abroad.
For students planning to look for summer jobs/permanent employment in the U.S.:
The job/internships students holds during the summer after their junior year is extremely important, and can have significant impact on their ultimate search for a permanent position after graduation. Many employers want students to have experience in their industry, and consider the summer of junior year as the time for students to obtain that experience. Being abroad during the second semester of junior year can make it far more difficult for a student to apply for interesting summer positions, as most employers will want to interview candidates, and being overseas usually poses a significant obstacle.
Likewise, many students will need to start their permanent job search during the first semester of their senior year. Penn’s On-Campus Recruiting services are most active for graduating students in the fall, so being overseas at that time makes using this service virtually impossible.
For students interested in, and eligible by virtue of citizenship or visa status to work overseas, where they chose to study abroad, and the relationship between that location and the location where they want to work should be worked out with a counselor.
The Office of International Programs offers detailed information on this, and other questions, related to study abroad.
My child is able to graduate from Penn in three years. Is this a good idea?
One obvious argument in favor of early degree completion is financial. A Penn education is extremely costly, and for many families, anything that can reduce that cost is positive. In addition, some students are ready to be “done with school,” so graduating a year early and getting started on their careers can be their best choice. In general, employers do not seem negatively disposed to students who graduate in three years. However, there may be meaningful opportunities lost by graduating early. The chance to do an honors thesis, to continue with research projects, to gain substantive summer internship/job experience, or to hold offices in clubs/activities with which the student has been involved all may be foreclosed if a student does not complete the full four years.
This may be particularly an issue for individuals considering graduate school, because admissions committees like to see exceptional academic accomplishments, such as honors theses or independent studies. Extra time also allows students who are graduate school bound to work with faculty on their research projects, to gain further methodological skills and exposure to the type of work that is done in a field.
Beyond academic experience, students may, through four years at Penn, gain additional social and intellectual maturity that make them even more attractive to graduate programs and employers. There are, however, highly motivated students who manage to achieve extraordinary amounts in three years. These individuals tend to be the exception.
[Top]Summer / Full-Time Employment Related Issues
What do employers evaluate when they consider job candidates?
Employers look at a wide range of factors. As with most career-related issues, what will be most important will vary depending on the type of employer. They will consider curriculum, gpa (grade point average) and skill set, employment/internship history and volunteer work, extra-curricular activities, and finally, “fit.” Depending on the employer, these will be weighted differently: some employers will care most about work experience in their field, others will focus on level of leadership activity, others on grades. In general, employers look for students who have performed well in a variety of arenas, and not just one.
My child is deeply involved in one or two extracurricular activities, but his/her grades might be a little better if s/he cut back on them and concentrated more on studying. Will that help him/her get a better job after graduation?
As mentioned in the section on what employers evaluate, some employers consider it extremely important that students have been involved in activities outside of class. Participation on athletic teams, in student government, in cultural and performing arts organizations, for example, all provide opportunities for students to work in teams and on projects that develop skills different from those honed in the classroom. In addition, these types of activities give students a chance to interact with members of the Penn community whom they might not otherwise have gotten to know.
If students spread themselves too thin, and get involved in so many organizations that their academic performance really suffers, we might encourage them to narrow down their activities to one or two that they find particularly rewarding, and focus on improving their academic work. However, if the difference in academic performance will be insignificant (for example, the difference between a 3.46 and a 3.52), then meaningful participation in extra-curricular activity can serve the student very well.
Finally, where extra-curricular activities are concerned, in general employers prefer depth to breadth. Substantial involvement in one or two activities in which a student has achieved a leadership role is far preferable to superficial involvement in a multitude of different activities.
What’s the difference between a “ job” and an” internship”? Are all internships unpaid?
While frequently the terms “job” and “internship” are used interchangeably, in the case of post-graduate positions, the term “job” is generally associated with work that is ongoing (has no end date), while the term “internship” is associated with a time-delimited position, usually one to two years.
In the case of summer positions, however, calling a position a “job” or an “internship” gets very murky, and often it is simply a matter of choice on the part of the employer. Some summer “jobs” are called “internships,” and visa versa, and all are time delimited. However, internships are often associated with the opportunity for students to learn something specific or new.
Internships can be paid or unpaid. The term “internship” does not necessarily imply that a position is unpaid, though often that may be the case. For post-graduate positions, those specifically designated as “internships” are quite likely to be paid. Likewise, it is possible that an employer may offer an unpaid “summer job.”
Career Services’ internship and permanent jobs databases enable students to search both for paid and unpaid opportunities, as in some fields the unpaid opportunities may be more extensive than the paid ones.
What resources are available to help my child find a job?
Career Services provides a number of different ways for students to locate permanent and summer positions. Through PennLink, our on-line database of summer internships, jobs, and permanent positions, students can search for opportunities using a range of search criteria including location, type of industry, and type of job. In addition, we subscribe to a number of print and electronic job newsletters. Through our distribution lists we notify students of opportunities as we hear of them.
Through our extensive On-Campus Recruiting program, we make it possible for students to interview on campus for permanent and summer positions. We average approximately 12,000 interviews per year, of which about 25% are for summer jobs.
My child has just finished her/his freshman year. How important is it that s/he have a career-related summer job or internship?
It is not essential that students have a career-related internship after their first year. However, it can be helpful for students to take a job or internship during the summer (and even time during the school year) that enables them to explore career fields that they think might interest them but that they have not yet experienced.
Given our financial situation, my child needs to earn as much as possible during the summer and the school year. How do employers look at students who have a lot of work experience, but may not have much career-related experience?
Employers ultimately want employees who are hard workers, and a track record of serious hard work is impressive. While there may be some fields where lack of any experience can be an obstacle to permanent employment, Career Services counselors will work with students to overcome these obstacles. There may be classes that offer practical experience, or other ways for students to develop the skills a particular employer might seek.
[Top]Preparing for Graduate or Professional School
How do I help my child best prepare for a subsequent degree?
Your student has several tasks while at Penn. She should take advantage of the superb liberal arts education available at this institution in order to becoming a broadly educated person with a sophisticated understanding of our complex, global society. She will also develop her intellectual abilities and her communication, analytical and quantitative skills during her four years as an undergraduate at Penn.
In addition to developing general knowledge, another significant goal during these years is to choose a major, or more focused area of study, and thus to explore a field, or fields of study, that she finds compelling and rewarding. By so doing, she will learn about her own intellectual proclivities and talents, and ultimately develop confidence in her ability to succeed. This confidence, in turn, is a key component of success in ANY TYPE of graduate program. Parents who are supportive of their college students’ undergraduate intellectual explorations are assisting their children prepare for further academic achievement down the road, no matter the area.
Parents may ask themselves if any particular major best prepares a student for graduate school. The answer to this question depends upon the type of degree pursued. For law, business and medical school, no one major provides an edge over another. Faculty in these professional degree programs like students to have a solid liberal arts education or good general knowledge. Of course, medical schools do require students to take a series of required courses before admittance. Ph.D. programs in particular fields of the Arts and Sciences usually require applicants to have extensive preparation in the area of study, (along with recommendations and mentoring from faculty in that field.)
Other ways to encourage your student to prepare for subsequent graduate study are to remind your student to cultivate relationships with faculty, and also to encourage her to visit Career Services to find out about pre-requisite courses and practical or volunteer experiences necessary or useful for application for graduate study in particular fields, and to get assistance with applications.
What does “graduate school” mean? That is, what is the range of graduate and professional school options available to Penn graduates?
The term “graduate school” encompasses courses in fields of study as different as a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, a Master of Public Health, an M.B.A., a J.D., or an M.D., and many more besides. The thing to keep in mind about graduate study is that it is more technical and specific than undergraduate schooling, and it sometimes combines both academic and practical training. Professional masters degrees, like the MBA or the Master of Public Health, Public Administration, Public Affairs, or Social Work, are practical degrees that prepare their students for specific career paths. Their curricula are frequently multi-disciplinary, and can include practicums. Many of these professional masters programs prefer applicants who have work experience.
Aren’t the graduate school training and credential always good to have, even if you are not sure that you want to be in a particular field?
Graduate school training is a very useful credential if one has a reasonable idea why one wants a particular degree. Some POOR reasons to go to graduate school include: not wanting to work in an entry level job or to deal with a challenging job market; belief that one must keep up the academic momentum of the undergraduate years or one will never get back to study; belief that a graduate degree automatically translates into higher pay or allows one to circumvent the apprenticeship period of most career pathways; belief that one must set out on a vocational course because of time pressure even if one is uncertain about its suitability.
Some GOOD reasons to go to graduate school include: using the training and credential as a stepping stone to achieve well thought out career goals; or taking advantage of the opportunity for education in a field that is of strong interest and obvious vocational fit.
Is graduate or professional school necessary for being competitive in the job market?
This depends upon the field. If one is working in software development, for instance, an undergraduate degree may be sufficient. Some business leaders, for example, are presently questioning whether an MBA, at least early on in one’s career, is an appropriate vehicle with which to develop one’s “soft skills,” such as leadership, teamwork, communication and the ability to think creatively. There may be a growing preference for individuals who have forged their skills in the crucible of real life experience.
Other fields absolutely require graduate training; e.g. medicine and other areas of health care, law, library science, or academic careers. Once again, good background research will enable your college student to determine his most appropriate educational pathway. In addition to conversations with faculty, career and graduate school counselors and friends and alumni in the intended field, along with internships and entry level experience, your student can find a wealth of information on the web and in our Career Services library.
Is it a negative to take time off before going to graduate or professional school?
Again, given the broad range of types of graduate programs, and their varied requirements for admittance, there is no one, particular answer to this question. Many of the professional degrees mentioned above prefer applicants with two to three years of experience in a relevant area of work. Certain career pathways require a profound level of personal commitment, e.g. medicine or a Ph.D. in a field of the arts and sciences, and it is best if an applicant has had enough related experiences in order to make an informed judgment about what the practice of medicine or a career as a professor entail. On the other hand, certain fields, like a Ph.D. in Mathematics, or Economics, require applicants to have quantitative skills in top form, and it may be best to apply to Ph.D. programs in these areas for right after graduation. Again, gathering information about the field is the best way to prepare oneself for a particular graduate degree.
Are there any particular majors that are better than others for specific graduate programs?
Law, business and medical schools do NOT favor any particular major. Graduate programs in other areas may require a good general foundation in a discipline. Your student should talk to faculty and pre-graduate advisors or other individuals in the field.
How can I support my child in his or her quest to find a good vocational and graduate school fit?
Give your child some breathing room to explore different disciplines with the understanding that one never knows at the outset where such explorations could lead. Encourage him to take advantage of internships or research opportunities in a field of interest, and to talk with people who work in those areas. Have confidence that your son will ultimately sort out the confusion of vocational choices because he is capable, intelligent and resourceful.
What does it mean that my daughter wants a Ph.D. in an academic subject? Will she ever be able to find a job?
If your daughter is considering pursuing a Ph.D. in an academic subject, she is committing herself to a program of intense study and research. To get through the rigors of a doctoral program, she must have a passion for what she does and rigorous intellectual self-discipline. There is, however, great reward in completing major research projects and contributing new insights to a discipline.
As to the question of finding a job, there are opportunities for Ph.D.s both within and without academia. Academic jobs do often require individuals to relocate to another part of the country, however, graduates from doctoral programs work in universities in a range of capacities, in research organizations, higher education administration, think tanks, government, and the private sector. You can find very useful information on our website about job market pathways and opportunities for Penn’s graduate students and post doctotoral fellows.
What can Career Services provide your student in his efforts to prepare for graduate school?
Career Services has three full-time advisors who serve undergraduates and alumni considering or applying to graduate or professional school. Our advisors help students in some of the following areas: determining the fit between graduate programs, career plans, and vocational interests; educating applicants about the nuts and bolts, and timing, of the application process; pinpointing optimal application strategies; and financing professional or graduate school. Our advisors also read applicants’ personal statements and provide critiques. Finally, we also encourage our students to meet with faculty for current, cogent advice about the most appropriate programs in their disciplines.
A Pre-Medical Guide for Parents
For many parents, guiding a child down the path toward medical school can be a confusing and challenging experience. We hope this will answer most of your questions. For more complete information about the pre-medical resources developed by Career Services, click on:
How successful are Penn’s pre-med students in gaining admission to medical school?
Penn is a premier school for pursuing pre-medical coursework. Medical schools know that it is a rigorous institution, and that students who excel here are well prepared for professional success. Penn students also have access to excellent research and clinical volunteer opportunities, which enhance their medical school applications.
Every year, Penn students fare well above the national average in applying to medical school. The statistics we have regarding applicants for Fall 2008 admission to medical school demonstrate Penn’s strength as a “pre-med school.” Nationally, only 46% of the individuals who applied for Fall 2008 admission to allopathic (MD degree-granting) medical schools were admitted. However, among the 346 Penn applicants (both current students and alumni) for Fall 2008 admission, 245 of them, or 71%, were accepted.
How do students prepare for medical school?
Part of the preparation for medical school is academic. Although students may pursue any major they wish, they must complete a standard “pre-med curriculum,” which consists of introductory biology, general chemistry, introductory physics, organic chemistry (all with lab), English, and math. In addition to these courses, some medical schools require upper-level classes in biology and biochemistry. Click here for more information about pre-med courses at Penn.
Students must also take the MCAT exam, which tests their mastery of the basic sciences, as well as their verbal skills. The test consists of four parts: (1) Verbal Reasoning; (2) Physical Sciences; (3) Biological Sciences; (4) Writing Sample. The Verbal, Physical, and Biological sections of the test are the most important. Each of these sections is graded on a numeric scale, from 1-15; the highest score a student can receive is a 45. Nationally, the average score on the MCAT is 24. Nationally, the average score of applicants admitted to medical school is 30. The average score among Penn students is over 32.
However, students need more than strong grades and MCAT scores to fare well in the application process. Aside from the academic work, students must also demonstrate their commitment to the medical profession by becoming involved in clinical volunteer work and/or clinical research. With several hospitals in walking distance from campus, and its own renowned medical center, Penn is an ideal place for exploring all the facets of health care.
What are the benefits of going to Penn, as opposed to doing a combined BS-MD program?
The University of Pennsylvania does not have a joint BS-MD program with Penn’s School of Medicine . There are other schools that do have joint-degree programs, which allow students to complete both a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree in six or seven years. These programs are attractive to some students because they provide a guaranteed and streamlined route toward earning an MD. However, there are certain advantages to pursuing undergraduate work at a school like Penn, as opposed to doing a joint-degree curriculum. The most serious drawback to the joint-degree is that students are put onto a very fast track at a young age. Students do not have the opportunity to explore a wider range of course work or to seriously consider whether medicine truly is the right career fit for them. Even those high school students who “know” for sure that they want to become doctors often do not really understand much about the profession, and an intensive joint-degree program does not give them the time or the flexibility to weigh all of their career options. Also, by having four years to complete their undergraduate work, students at Penn have the time to take classes that will enhance their ability to be good doctors. Courses like "Medical Sociology,“ "Bioethics,” and “Health Care Systems,” among dozens of others, help students to understand the social and economic aspects of health care, thus preparing them all the more fully for medical school and beyond.
Do pre-medical students need to pursue a science major?
No. Pre-medical students can major in any discipline—whether science or non-science. Medical schools do not require or even prefer a particular major, and if a student pursues a non-science major, the basic pre-med courses can be taken as elective courses.
Medical schools expect students to pursue a balanced, well-rounded education, no matter what they major in. Medicine is an interdisciplinary field; it requires not only a sophisticated understanding of science, but also an ability to communicate and empathize with others. Therefore, those who major in one of the sciences must be sure to take electives in the humanities and social sciences. Those who major in a non-science field will take the required pre-med courses, and should also consider taking one or two upper-level science courses to enhance their preparation for medical school.
How can I best support my child along the pre-med path?
Being a pre-med student can be extremely stressful. The academic course work is rigorous, and since students are graded on a curve, the competition can seem intense. In addition to being academically difficult, the pre-med path requires a great deal of maturity and flexibility, in terms of finding time to do volunteer work, research, and other kinds of extracurricular endeavors. It is not unusual for students to feel overburdened and anxious at times along the way.
For some students, this anxiety may be compounded by the fact that they sailed easily through high school, and therefore do not have experience in coping with school-related stress. For the first time in their academic careers, they may find that while they are working hard, they are not getting A’s. This can be very unnerving, as they may not know what to do, or who to turn to, for help.
Parents can play a critical role in helping to alleviate this stress. If your child mentions feeling “stressed out” or seems nervous about faltering in his or her pre-med work, it is essential that you not dismiss such concerns. Talk openly and understandingly about them. Try to make specific suggestions, and point your child toward resources at Penn that might provide needed support. The University’s Tutoring Center offers both individualized and group tutoring sessions for all of the pre-med science courses. The staff at CAPS(Counseling and Psychological Services) can help students with test anxiety, or with other personal problems that may be distracting them from their academic work. Also, be sure encourage your child to make contact with professors and teaching assistants, for questions about problem sets and exams.
My child wants to take “time off” after graduating from Penn, to pursue something else for a couple of years before applying to medical school. Isn’t that frowned upon by the medical schools?
Traditionally, pre-med students applied to medical school after his or her junior year. However, that has definitely changed. Today, a majority of Penn’s applicants to medical school are alumni, not graduating seniors. Among those who applied for Fall 2008 admission, only 33% were seniors. More importantly, students who take time off are not at a disadvantage. Medical schools are pleased to admit qualified students, regardless of whether they apply directly from college, or whether they wait 1, or 2, or 5, or even 10 years before applying.
Why do students take time off? Some need extra time to complete required course work, or to prepare for the MCAT exam. Others want to take a break from school in order to work and earn some money before starting medical school. Still others go into the Peace Corps or travel abroad on a fellowship or participate in Teach for America or Americorps. And some want to explore another career before committing themselves to medicine. The important thing is that students apply when they are ready, both emotionally and intellectually, to go to medical school.
My child started Penn as a pre-med student, but now seems to be having doubts. What should I do?
It depends on the source of the doubts. Some students start to shy away from medicine because they are struggling with the pre-medical science courses. If your child is having academic difficulties, please encourage him or her to seek extra help from the pre-health advisors in Career Services, from Penn’s Tutoring Center , and from their professors and teaching assistants. Sometimes, students just need a break from the “pre-med track” and want time to explore other possibilities. This can be a great thing for students to do. Looking at other options, whether in the health care field or outside of it, can either lead to other exciting opportunities, or help students realize that medicine truly is the right career fit. Students who are interested in health care, but who do not want to pursue a medical degree, can begin investigating other career possibilities from information we have on the pre-health section of the Career Services web site.
My child has experienced some academic difficulties with the pre-med science courses at Penn. Will the Penn name compensate for that?
Although medical schools regard Penn highly, students must still perform well here. The average GPA of Penn applicants who are successful in gaining admission to medical school is around 3.6, and 3.5 in the sciences.
Even if a student has low grades or a low MCAT score, doesn’t it make sense to just apply and see what happens? Is there any harm in trying?
Actually, yes, there can be serious drawbacks to applying hastily to medical school. When students are rejected, and then re-apply, they are not working with a “clean slate.” They have to overcome the negative judgment made against them by the medical schools—they have to prove that they have significantly improved upon their first application. It is much better to delay applying, use the extra time to gain some more life experience, and to put together a stronger application.
Getting into medical school requires hard work, maturity, scientific ability, discipline, and a spirit of compassion. Medicine is also an immensely demanding profession, and anyone who enters into it must feel that it is the right vocational fit. If all these factors are present, more likely than not, your child will be successful in the application process.Good luck in supporting your child through this arduous but ultimately rewarding journey to medical school.
[Top]How You Can Help Penn Students with Their Careers
Join the Penn Alumni Career Network
As mentioned above, the Penn Alumni Career Network (PACNet) is a university-wide service, run by Alumni Relations, that links students who have career-related questions to professionals who can answer them. As a Career Advisor, you will have an opportunity to talk with students to provide information on your career area, employment outlook in your field, requirements for entry, and other issues specific to your job/industry. You will not be expected to provide any formal placement assistance.
The information you provide is available through a searchable database on the Alumni Relations web site. Students will be able to select members based on geography, industry, job type, and/or undergraduate major. These on-line listings are restricted to the University of Pennsylvania community only. By use of domain restriction and password access, no one outside of Penn will be able to access your information.
If you have questions about PACNet, please call Claire Klieger at 215-898-7529.
Post job and internship opportunities
We would be delighted to receive job descriptions from you or your organization and help find qualified Penn students. Penn has recently transitioned to a new online job listing software platform -- PennLink, a partner with NACElink (career services' professional association).
We are inviting everyone who is e-mailing positions to us to go to our website, click on "Employers" in the menu on the top of our page, and choose "post a job". This will take you to the PennLink site for employers, where you will be instructed to register and post your job(s). You'll get to create your own user id and password, which you can use for future postings. The PennLink site is password restricted to members of the Penn community only. There is no charge to post a job to PennLink, which is accessible by all Penn students and alumni/alumnae.
If you have any questions, feel free to talk directly to our Jobs and Internships Coordinator Shannon Kelly (firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-898-4827).
Updated August 2010