One of the best things a student can do to start preparing for a career is to visit the Career Services & Cooperative Education Center. It's never too early to get acquainted with our staff and the services and resources available in our office. Our staff can assist students in several ways:
Encourage your student to visit the Career & Co-op Center. A career counselor can help your student explore reasons for his academic difficulties, and brainstorm solutions and options. Staff in our office can also refer the student to other important resources here on campus, such as lining up tutoring services at the Centers for Learning, or counseling services at the Counseling Center. If a student is considering changing majors because of difficulty in coursework, our career counselors can help your student explore other options for majors through discussion, research, and assessments of interests, skills, and values.
Picking a major can be a difficult decision for students with wide-ranging interests and abilities. Parents can encourage their students to visit the Career & Co-op Center to discuss their options with a career counselor. Through conversation, vocational assessments, and research into possible majors (and related careers), the counselor and student can often come up with a "short list" of majors that are interesting and within the student's ability to do well. Further activities facilitated through the Career & Co-op Center could include preparing for and conducting informational interviews with persons in careers the student is considering and arranging for an internship to "try on" a potential career field. Internships can be very useful, and can sometimes be done as early as a student's first year in college.
Keep in mind that the most important things to consider in determining a major are what subjects are of most interest to the student and how successful the student can be in those subjects. Students who are interested and engaged in their subject will likely do better, have a more rewarding academic experience, and communicate their enthusiasm for their education and the opportunities it provides. By expressing that value to faculty, to graduate schools, and to employers, students open up a wider palette of internship and job opportunities.
Also consider that what may appear to be "impractical" to you doesn't mean all employers see it the same way. Great numbers of employers seek well-rounded students from disciplines such as history, English, philosophy, and political science, because they recognize the value of a liberal arts education in providing a background in critical thinking, written communication, analysis, and research. The Career & Co-op Center's online resource "What Can I Do with This Major?" provides major-specific career information that can help liberal arts students brainstorm career paths, strategies, and links to get started with.
All that said, DO encourage your student to visit the Career & Co-op Center where a career counselor can help identify further strategies to build experiential education opportunities (i.e., internships, professional association memberships, campus activity involvement, etc.) into their academic program so that they can pursue the education they desire while making themselves marketable to employers or graduate programs.
Internships are available to any student who wishes to pursue one. The best place to begin the process of finding an internship is the Career & Co-op Center. By meeting with a career counselor, your son can become acquainted with the steps involved in preparing resumes and cover letters, searching for opportunities, and presenting himself effectively to employers seeking interns. The career counselor can also discuss ways to "network," a great way to find "hidden" opportunities for internships and other experiential learning.
Studies consistently show that students who complete one or more internships during college find employment in their area of interest more quickly after graduation. Many employers actually hire their interns for full-time positions following their internships. By completing internships, students not only gain "real world" job experience, but they also gain a network of professionals to turn to for advice, references, and job leads. Student interns also have an opportunity to "try on" a career field that they're considering. Sometimes the best internships are those that confirm that a particular career path is NOT the right way to go!
Students often need to work during their college years, so your son is in good company. One of the concepts we like to stress in the Career & Co-op Center is that EVERY job has value. We help students identify that value and also help them describe the transferable skills they've developed as a result of their college jobs. That said, there may be opportunities for your son to obtain an internship that not only offers a reasonable pay rate, but also provides work and experience in his area of professional interest. In addition, many academic disciplines at UMass Lowell offer students an opportunity to complete internships for academic credit during the academic year, which may provide freedom to pursue more lucrative work during school breaks. All of these strategies can be beneficial to building your son's marketability once he graduates.
Decisions about graduate or professional schools depend a great deal on the career area of interest. For example, a student who definitely wants to become an attorney needs to get a legal degree. A physician needs a medical degree. However, it's harder to decide about advanced degrees in fields that don't necessarily require one. In the Career & Co-op Center, we help students explore their ideas and concerns about careers and graduate/professional schooling. Sometimes, the fear of not finding employment after obtaining a bachelor's degree drives students to pursue graduate study before they've decided what to do for a career. These students may benefit from delaying going to graduate school until after they've obtained some entry-level job experience to learn more about their interests. Each student is unique, so there is no one right answer about what advanced schooling is required.
The best ways to help your son are to help him understand that his career decisions are his responsibility, and to encourage him to use the resources available to him to research his career options (professional fields, organizations). Visiting UMass Lowell's Career & Co-op Center would be the logical place to start that process.
Different employers place varying emphasis on a candidate's GPA. Some employers require a certain minimum GPA to be eligible for consideration, while others do not. Usually, an employer seeks an entire range of skills, qualities, experiences, and aptitudes, all of which combine to create the right mix for the particular job opportunity. Factors such as involvement in college activities, leadership experiences, extracurricular employment showing a strong work ethic, internships, and community service can be compelling reasons to hire a student for an entry-level position, regardless of GPA. When a student comes to the Career & Co-op Center, we work with the student to showcase the best of all the student has to offer a potential employer. That said, we encourage all students to work for the highest GPA possible.