NEW LONDON — Career center officials at Connecticut College have known for more than a decade that far more than second-semester seniors needed to use the center. But as recently as four years ago, just 16 percent of freshmen connected with career counselors.
Last year, the center began holding a workshop for freshmen during freshman orientation, and 79 percent followed through during the rest of the year.
Ted Steinberg, a sophomore from Boston, remembers the workshop as an introduction to resources.
“You took a personality test. … and it just really got you to start thinking about your strengths and weaknesses. It was really one of the first times I really got to think about my strengths and weaknesses, as a student, as a worker,” he said. “They have a resumé builder, cover letter outlines, how you want to describe yourself.”
Steinberg worked at a nonprofit in Boston this summer, as a marketing intern, and he said without taking advantage of the center, he would have ended up as a summer camp counselor again.
“It’s great to have this office really help you through it, and understand what you have to do,” he said. “They motivate you and get you excited to look forward to the next step in the process. You’re really working together, and they’re the best advocate for you, and they just want to help you get what you want.”
One of the carrots, as director Julia Browne puts it, is a stipend for unpaid internships. That’s available to any rising senior who takes the required workshops at the center through the years, as long as the center judges the internship will be substantial.
Only 10 percent of the internships Conn College students pick between their junior and senior years are paid, so the school ends up spending $3,000 per student for the majority of students. About 75 percent to 80 percent of students have internships that summer.
Tuition pays for the cost of these stipends. “This is a line item, almost $850,000, part of the college’s operating budget,” Browne said.
Lori Balantic, a staff member at the center, told about 20 freshmen this week, “We don’t want you to pick a job yet.”
She asked the students if they were under pressure to pick a practical major at the liberal arts college.
One girl from Hong Kong nodded. Her parents want her to become a doctor.
“Don’t major in something someone else wants,” Balantic said. “We want you to major in something you enjoy, you’re passionate about.”
One student listening to her talk was Heidi Muñoz, a freshman from Hyattsville, Md. Muñoz is taking a course called “Women on the Loose,” Italian, a course on religion and public life, and a history course this semester. She doesn’t know what she wants to major in. “Not knowing what I want to do is messing with my brain right now,” she said.
Browne said the career center’s goal is to get the students to articulate how their classes, extra-curricular activities and internships prepared them for work, no matter how removed the topic may sound from the business world.
“I would never discourage someone from majoring in art history,” Browne said. She would instead ask them: “Where are you going to go with that? How are you going to use it?”
She sees the early engagement as useful for helping students realize what they don’t want as much as what they do. One young woman was interested in psychology, but after working as a research assistant as an underclassman, she realized that wasn’t her thing. Now she’s on track to go into advertising.
Freshman Serena Cipullo, who grew up in the Virgin Islands, thought it was cool that the career center was introduced during orientation.
“So many people graduate from college and have a hard time finding a job and figuring out what they want to do in life,” Cipullo said.