Despite the recession and economic downturn, Swarthmore students have continued to secure post-graduate employment in impressive numbers. This steady trend owes itself primarily to diversity in fields of study and to a strong institutional relationship with alumni of varied career paths.Career Services conducts a survey after graduation each year asking new alumni to describe their post-graduation plans, whether they be employment, graduate school, travel, or other. According to Career Services Director Nancy Burkett, around 70-75 percent of seniors respond each year, and the percentages of students pursuing careers or graduate studies have remained steady and relatively unaffected by changes in national unemployment rates.
“You might expect with the downturn in the economy in 2008 that more students might have gone into graduate school following graduation,” Burkett said. The non-partisan Economic Policy Institute described the job market for college graduates in May of 2012 as “grim,” as the unemployment rate for college graduates younger than 25 averaged 9.4 percent, with another 19.1 percent performing jobs for which they were overqualified.
From 2008 to 2012, however, an average of 61 percent of each of Swarthmore’s graduating classes secured employment, while an average of 21 percent of new alumni matriculated to graduate school, with the rest of the class reporting travel or “other.” These percentages remained relatively constant throughout 2008 to 2012, with the biggest change occurring from 2008 to 2009, when the number of students with employment dropped eight percent and those going to graduate school increased by three percent.
Post-graduation plans also differed from major to major.
“What tends to happen is in certain majors, students cluster around job types or job families,” Burkett said. “Economics majors cluster around economic consulting, and biology majors cluster around scientific research. Many of those students target their careers in those fields.” With the social sciences and humanities, though, these targeted job groupings disappear. “The type of employment is more diverse, because majors like political science prepare you for a wide range of fields, and there’s not just a certain path laid out before you,” Burkett said.
Burkett explained that separating out trends from the survey data would be difficult because of the characteristic variety of Swarthmore students’ goals and priorities. “It’s rare that two Swarthmore graduates go to work for the same employer,” Burkett said. Though many Swarthmore students, at least in their first year after graduation, pursue careers in teaching, scientific research, economic consulting, and non-profit work, the employment plans are still remarkably varied when compared to those of other institutions. “Swarthmore graduates are incredibly diverse in their interests, in their passions, in their commitments, and that plays out in the careers they choose upon graduation,” Burkett said.
This diversity helped shield Swarthmore students from the nationwide economic troubles of the past years, Burkett remarked. “Fundamentally, our diversity is our strength,” she said. Burkett said that at many colleges, a majority of students enter fields such as consulting or investment banking. This is not the case at Swarthmore, where students explore numerous fields outside of areas which traditionally hire a large number of recent college graduates. “When the recession resulted in job downturn for many of these areas — consulting, finance — our students weren’t as impacted by that,” Burkett said.
A strong alumni network also protected Swarthmore graduates from the impact of the economic turmoil. Burkett said that many job postings and internship postings are from alumni in a wide range of career paths, and that alumni support continued throughout the recession.
Despite the steady numbers of employed graduates, Maisie Wiltshire-Gordon ’13, a special major in philosophy and literature, still seemed cautious regarding her job prospects after graduation. She said that though she felt optimistic, she recognized that she was only at the beginning of her job search.
“If you look at the national numbers, jobs have been added for college graduates, but some members of last year’s class have been looking for jobs for a long time and still haven’t found anything,” she said.
Wiltshire-Gordon was also curious as to why the other 20% of each class was neither employed nor pursuing graduate studies, and attributed this to rejection from jobs and graduate schools.
Burkett felt that the futures of Swarthmore graduates appear bright, and said that job posting numbers and employers recruiting on campus were both up. She believes that students will be presented with a number of diverse opportunities as they begin their search this year.
If Swarthmore students continue to pursue a wide variety of disciplines and interests, and if alumni connections remain productive, it seems that post-graduate employment will hold steady, no matter the economic forces buffeting the nation.