Interns who see themselves as victims of injustice need to get a grip. They don’t realize that beginning as a photocopying, data entry, fax sending, mail delivering and list-checking maven is the road to internship success. These are basic skills that can lead to an opportunity to learn more advanced skills.
Internships are not the only way to get experience. A real job in the summer might provide more of an education depending on the student’s interest. Working as a camp counselor at a summer camp makes a lot of sense for students who want to go into education, for example. No matter what field, telephone or door-to-door sales job develop critical communication, time management and work ethic skills. Flipping hamburgers may seem like a dead end job, but don’t tell that to current McDonalds President, Jim Skinner, who started that way at 15 in Sydney Australia and became a store manager.
Students should have realistic expectations about their summer job or internship. A famous 20th century TV commentator, Tim Russert, worked on a garbage truck during the summer, which gave him added value in the eyes of one of his first bosses, U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
While on the subject of realistic expectations, students also need to understand that they have to pay their dues as interns. I had an intern once who, when asked to make a copy of a contract by a paralegal in a lawyer’s office, quit. Presumably, he thought he should be writing the contracts, not copying them.
Contrast that with another student of mine who took a job with a public interest lobby group in D.C. He told me that all the interns were sitting around complaining about having nothing to do. He volunteered to do all the copying that he could during the first two weeks. The next week he was put in charge of a major campaign for the organization, and the complainers were working for him. Students who tell me that that they were given nothing to do are telling me that they failed.
Students have real bargaining power to learn more if they have something to offer their boss. In addition to a hard worker who has a good attitude and good people skills, supervisors are looking for skills in short supply. They include web design, Microsoft Access, Excel and Publisher, and writing skills.
These kinds of skills get the attention of supervisors and can lead to an experience way above expectations. A student working for an established public relations firm wrote me recently “the people here just think I am a genius because I can make things ‘pretty and organized’ as they say. Today was the icing on the cake when the principal of the firm came to me and asked if I was able to do something in excel then put it into a word document and hyperlink that document. I completed the task while he was standing there. I honestly think he would have hired me on the spot.”
While lecturing to my 125-student freshman class and assuming that many of them would wait until the night before to write their first paper, I got the bright idea of asking them if they understood the lesson of the Three Little Pigs. As a six year old, I was scared, if not traumatized by the thought of being eaten by a wolf if I didn’t work hard and the fear still remains for me. Every time I think of cutting corners, a voice goes in my head tells me that I will suffer the fate of two lazy and stupid pigs. The students’ reactions shocked me.
The first surprise was that only half the class had even heard of the story. I was in for a much bigger shock when I tried to tell the story to the clueless 50% and several students interrupted to tell me that I got it wrong. They said that the first two pigs escaped and ran to the house of the third pig and lived happily ever after. The wolf just moved on as if the frustration was enough of a punishment. I was incredulous to this new rendition.
The most disagreeable finding from my student’s research was that cleverness, not hard work, is the key to success. Apparently, the people who have rewritten Three Little Pigs have forgotten Thomas Edison’s dictum, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
I was in for a final, but enlightening shock when one of the new versions had the brick-building piglet who invited the other two to live in the new brick abode was a female piglet. She showed compassion for her little brothers by protecting them from the consequences of their laziness. The wolf remained a male, of course. It wasn’t the feminist twist that got me but that the creative people behind these rewrites were propagandists seeking to control the minds of six year olds. Or, perhaps they were just hoping to get more sales.
Readers may object that the original Three Little Pigs was also propaganda since it was selling the idea that hard work and cleverness pays off. While this objection is not groundless, it also indicates why our cultural messages are so confusing to today’s 20 year olds who prefer instant gratification instead of hard work. Too many of them have built their financial houses out of plastic. These more nuanced and competing messages may explain why Game Boys, X-Boxes and Play Stations have replaced such tales since there is no ambiguity in fictionally blowing up cars and killing people.
Children like clarity. Put all this together and it may explain why college students spend less than 10 hours a week on school work outside of class, why 60% of recent college graduates live at home with their parents and why employers complain about the work ethic and willingness of new hires to pay their dues.
It is not that teenagers don’t know how to plan. They do quite well in planning their senior prom, or setting up a house party when their parents leave town, or researching which video games to buy. The lack of willingness to plan their future; however, is at the fault of their priorities, their utter confusion generated by high school education and college prep, and their fear of growing up. Parents can help their children develop a strong basis for their careers after college by encouraging them to have a plan.
In Part Two of my book, 25 Ways to Make College Pay Off: Advice for Anxious Parents from a Professor Who’s Seen It All, I discuss how parents can help their children focus some of their thoughts about college during this hectic time in their lives. Getting your children to think about their plans is critical to future success. You can help by first emphasizing that acquiring skills, building character and exploring careers are essential to their future success. Once you have done that, you need to convince them that a college education is not just completing course requirements for the degree but rather, four years of experience. Their full time job in college is gaining more experience each and every day.
So far, I have discussed getting your child to THINK about plans and that maybe that is all you can do. If so, that can be enough. However, it would be better if you can get them to complete a planning document like the one described in Chapter 6 of my book. A template is presented which your children can copy to a word file from my website for personal use only to record and update their colleges for their entire college career. The template requires a college student to:
o Write a mission statement
o Take a skill and character self-assessment inventory plans to improve
o List activities that explore careers
o Present financial plans to cover the costs of the four years
o Plan how they will complete the degree requirements
If your children can complete the planning document at the beginning of college, they can update it once or twice a year. Plans are like pie crust, made to be broken. (Actually, the Russian Communist dictator, Joseph Stalin used the pie crust analogy when talking about treaties, which you should probably not tell your child.) The information in this document is an indication of intentions and not a contract that you children must follow. It is important that you make it clear that plans are flexible. I find teenagers have difficulty understanding that if they have a plan, they still have flexibility to change it along the way.
If your child refuses to complete the template, don’t give up. Just use the ideas in the template to ask questions and start conversations. The goal is to get your child to focus on the connection between college and their career future. Good luck!
When you think about it, parents who buy the four-year degree for their child are in the same situation as all of us in buying our cable TV service. We really don’t want half the channels, but we are forced to buy the package.
The most serious objection to the idea of unbundling undergraduate education comes from those who would argue that college ought to be more than a vocational experience. They typically argue that undergraduate programs will build a better citizenry and create intellectually well-rounded critical thinkers.
The citizenship argument is not convincing given the continuing low rates of voter turnout and participation in civic groups even as the number of college graduates increase. There are many other reasons for these low rates, but, as many college presidents collectively and individually complain, four-year college programs don’t seem to be turning out active and reflective citizens.
The term “critical thinkers” is so vague that one wonders how critical thinkers can actually use the term with a straight face. Intellectual well roundedness does not describe most college graduates. The vast majority of college students when forced to take courses outside their area of interest are academic bulimics----cramming and then spitting out information on tests and papers.
Four years of college experience may still be the optimal path for many students attending college right out of high school because they need the time to mature as well as the academic and non-academic experiences provided in four years. However, even these students could benefit from what one Dean of continuing education calls “chunking their degrees.” They could select specific credentials such as technical writing, public speaking, civic engagement and human relations at the general level and accounting, survey research and using spreadsheet programs at the more technical level. Together these chunks might take three or four years, but they would be coherent and focused on specific sets of skills.
Most important students could choose what they considered important not just for their careers but also their lives. The four-year college degree is like mothers telling their kids to eat their peas before they have dessert. That’s okay for children; but not for today’s college students.
Controversy over whether or not professors should influence their students’ views on political and cultural issues continues to grow. Examples and research show that the faculty is to the left of the rest of the country. The controversy is not over the ideological predisposition of the faculty, but over how much faculty members try to shape what students think. I have seen many instances of it at Syracuse and read about it at many other colleges.
You might say this sounds like mind control and that they have no place in the university. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Education is about mind control. I like to define education as mind-changing experiences whether it is learning how to work Microsoft Excel or developing a more informed view on some current political issue. The question is: what is supposed to change?
I see education as changing how students think and not what students think. Professors are in the business of helping students ask and answer appropriate questions, seek a variety of opinion, use information to make informed decisions, problem solve, and above all, detecting B.S. In short, we are in the business of developing skills and character.
To illustrate how dangerous the efforts to tell students what to think rather than how to think are, one only needs to look at how most faculty define citizenship. They emphasize that a good citizen questions authority, watches out for the trampling of civil rights and works for change. They rarely teach that in the vast majority of cases, citizens should respect authority. They should at least listen to government leaders enough to judge whether they support or oppose their ideas. They should obey the law. They should support their government by paying taxes and not throwing their trash out of a car window.
Ultimately, what professors do to help develop the minds of their students is about the democratic process and citizenship. Telling their students to be for or against the war in Iraq, or affirmative action, or gay rights or illegal immigration is autocratic. It shows little faith in the capacity of students to think as individuals and is the root of autocracy. Helping college students develop the capacity to reach an informed position is democratic and the duty of faculty members.
Plan a Career-Ready College Education by Designing the Ideal Resume You Hope to Have by Your Senior Year
I suggest that college freshmen create an ideal resume that will be ready by the fall of their senior year. While this may sound like an eager move, I recommend it to help you set goals and guide you through your academic years. GPA, academic honors and a major or majors is far from enough. Employers want to be provided clear evidence that you have the work ethic, communication and analytical skills gained through my 3C Skills Program. They also want to see some serious attempts to explore careers while in college.
This ideal resume may include a few of the following items:
The point of this list is that coursework serves as a starting point. The proof is in the “doing” in the world outside of the classroom. Career-ready college graduates see everything they do in their four years of college as an opportunity to practice their skills. The kinds of activities listed above will provide that opportunity. The best option is for students to take courses that get them into the real world. Colleges are offering more courses, even in Liberal Arts Program, to provide practice for the entire set of skills. You need to take such courses even though they are more time-consuming and aggravating. Planning a college senior year resume will also help college freshmen think about college choices. Even if you are past your freshman year, it is never too late to think concretely about the future.
A template for planning four years of college is provided in my book, 25 Ways to Make College Pay off: Advice for Anxious Parents.
In my previous blog that described the college application process as a learning opportunity, I emphasized that parents are key players in getting students to take responsibility for their future. But how do you get parents to see that it’s not only “the skills stupid,” but also the opportunity for career exploration that will ultimately lead to a job after college? Fortunately, a majority of parents are predisposed to the truth so you only need to remind them to encourage their children to approach the college application with the due diligence of a business investor. But there are parents who want their trophy kids to get in the top colleges and their not-so-trophy kids to just graduate college. Some parents might write the application for their children or, worse, hire someone to do it. There are also parents who can’t handle the truth that their children are not ready for college and may never be ready. These parents have to micro-manage their children to get their application finished by the deadline. These parents present a roadblock to your goal, as a guidance counselor, to have 100% of your students take responsibility for their college applications. So, how do you educate these parents?
The best thing to do is to emphasize the investment risks of a college education. Make sure to remind parents 55% of students do not graduate college in 4 years, and 65% graduate with a debt of over $24,000. Presenting the risks is necessary because the only thing parents hear from academic institutions at all levels is that higher education provides countless opportunities. Even though opportunity only comes to those who take responsibility, parents and students are as vulnerable to the hype generated by the college industry as they are to the automobile industry. Most parents also personally know many high school graduates who returned home as college dropouts. Too many parents have seen the movie “Failure to Launch” and don’t want their kids living in their basements because they couldn’t get a job. In this economy especially, parents should recognize the importance of their children taking the college application process very seriously.
I have written elsewhere that students who complete the college application process properly and ahead of deadline have exercised most of the skills in the 10 Skill Sets that will help them do well in college, and more importantly, prepare them for a successful career after college. They organized the information they received instead of being overwhelmed by it. They detected the nonsense in most college recruitment material. They demonstrated good writing by preparing a winning college essay. They compared costs systematically, which is at the heart of money management. They developed solidone-on-one communication skills and managed their time properly.
Guidance counselors need to point out to students and parents that the college application process is a window into their children’s future college and career performance. Like everything in life, success is about how you play the game. Even if students don’t get into their top college choice, a high quality application and a systematic approach to making a choice will tell parents their children are headed for college graduation and a desirable career. If their kids don’t pay much attention to the college application process and finish their application too close to the deadlines, they better prepare themselves for having their children living with them well into their late 20’s. Who better to deliver that message than guidance counselors?
My previous blog presented the idea that guidance counselors could take on the role of skills trainers for high school students without increasing their workload and, in fact, be more effective in preparing students for career paths after high school.
I also suggested an initial task for 9th and 10th graders, and I would like to follow up on that. For every service that guidance counselors perform, they could require prerequisite work on the part of the student. This will help students develop the skill sets “Taking Responsibility” and “Gathering Information.” For example, if their students want help finding an internship or job shadowing experience, students must prepare a resume and do an initial search BEFORE they see the guidance counselor. Students who want help choosing a college must provide a list of criteria they will use in making a decision, and a preliminary list of at least three colleges they wish to explore with a discussion on how their choices fit or do not fit their criteria.
The last suggestion raises an interesting point. What if the student doesn’t even know what the phrase “criteria in selecting a college” means? The obvious and most brutal answer is somebody should educate the students on the use of the term “criteria” and how criteria can be used to reach a decision. If this is not possible for one reason or another, the question is whether or not students should (1) graduate high school and (2) go to college.
Guidance counselors have a tough job for several reasons. They have a huge number of students to help. They have the “college for all” pressure coming from students, parents and school administrators. To top it off and make the job truly impossible, they are dealing with adolescents.
So when I write that guidance counselors need to become skills trainers for careers, college and citizenship, they might shudder. In the next few blogs, I will show how guidance counselors becoming skills trainers will not only be a great gift to students but will also reduce the guidance counselor’s workload.
Let’s start with the most important of the 10 Skill Sets, “Taking Responsibility” which includes motivation, ethical behavior, time management and money management.
The following focuses on motivation and time management. The life of a guidance counselor would be much better if students started thinking about and researching career and college options on their own in the 9th or 10th grade. A student who sees the importance of systematic information gathering and analysis (two more skill sets) would not be panicking in the beginning of their senior year showing up and asking “what college do you think I should go to?”
Guidance counselors with a skills trainer outlook would plan to lay the groundwork in the 9th grade through workshops and other materials. Doing this would emphasize to students that choosing a career and applying to post-secondary educational programs requires hard work and meeting deadlines.
Guidance counselors could require a questionnaire to be completed in the 9th or 10th grade to stimulate students about what careers they might want to pursue and what they might want to do after high school. If the student blew off the assignment, the guidance counselor could send a letter to the parent or read the riot act to the student. The message would be, “We can help you if you act responsibly and take the initiative in planning for your life after high school. If you do not, you are going to end up nowhere.”
These suggestions may sound naïve, especially coming from a college professor, but they are based on my experience with college students. I have had students come to me for suggestions on where to find a summer internship without doing their research. When they admit that they are ill prepared and imply that I am to be their “Intern Agent,” I tell them to come back to see me when they learn to take responsibility.
I know, I know—I have tenure and guidance counselors don’t. It takes guts and persistence, but if you don’t lose your job over it, it will pay off. Students will treat you in a more professional way and that alone will help guarantee their success in college, careers and as citizens.