English BA –> University Admission Counselor

There are a lot of great college and university jobs that don’t involve being a professor. We recently interviewed alumnus Keena Griffin to learn about how he got into the field of higher ed admissions. Keena works as an admissions counselor for Concordia University Chicago. He says,

I started my career after graduation by working for the Illinois College Advising Corps (ICAC), which was a partner organization with the University of Illinois system designed to help underserved high school students navigate the college admission process to choose the right school for them.  The jump to becoming an Admission Counselor was a natural step from there.  With ICAC, I loved seeing the excitement of high school students who realized that college was not only possible for them, but that they had multiple options to choose from.  Now I have the opportunity on the collegiate side to work with incoming students and help make the admission process manageable.

Keena urges students interested in this career path to get involved:

For anyone interested in working in college admissions or a non-teaching higher education role, it’s important to get involved on campus as soon as you can – but it’s never too late either.  Illinois is a great place to start because the campus has every resource you can imagine.  Working in admissions means knowing a little bit of everything about the school, just like an English degree teaches you a little of everything about different people and subject areas.  Supplementing your classroom experience with internships, volunteer experience, and interpersonal experience is critical to any field you explore with an English degree because you have the chance to shape your own path.  If you like working with people and you enjoy seeing young adults start to shape their own life courses – then college admissions work is definitely for you.

Keena credits his studies in English with giving him the skills to advance in this line of work:

Getting a degree in English was the best thing I could have done in college.  Learning to connect with and understand people’s stories and being empathetic with people’s backgrounds is a key to success in any endeavor – professional or otherwise.  At the same time, the courses in UIUC’s English program helped me develop marketable skills such as critical analysis and interpersonal communication (which is somewhat of a dying art). I’m able to focus on the important details of any situation that can present a problem, and help develop solutions.  My classes on critical literary theory (my favorite subject) taught me how to approach and interpret literary texts from multiple perspectives, and I use the same techniques when problem-solving issues that occur in work or life.

You can read the full interview with Keena here. You can contact Keena and other alumni working in a range of fields by getting in touch with Kirstin Wilcox, Director of Internships, to join the Alumni Mentoring Network.

When Should I Seek an Internship?

“When should I seek an internship?”

This is a question I get a lot.

The answer is “Yes.”

That is–there’s no right or wrong time to look for internships. There’s not even an optimal time to get an internship. This freedom is one of the perks of being an English or Creative Writing major.
An internship that helps you explore a career that interests you is a good thing to do at ANY stage of your college career. You don’t have wait until your junior year, nor do you need to panic if you’re a sophomore who hasn’t lined anything up yet.

Majors in business or engineering or other pre-professional fields are often seeking jobs in a handful of large corporations that like to test-drive future hires in junior year internships. Success in one of these fields is therefore closely tied to getting the “right” internship after sophomore or junior year, one that may lead to a job offer sometime during one’s senior year. Students who aren’t on that schedule have a more challenging job search than students who are.

English and CW majors, on the other hand, have a lot of options.

English/CW majors CAN seek out summer internships (often in HR, marketing, project management, sales, client services, or claims) with companies that hire full-time employees out of their internship programs. If that’s a path that interests you, it’s good to start attending career fairs as early in your college career as possible and start getting to know the companies you’d like to work for after graduation. The fall Business Career Fair often offers a lot of internships for the following summer, and the more research you can do in advance of the fair, the better your experience will be–and I’m happy to help you identify some promising openings, plot your strategy, and make your resume and “pitch” career-fair ready. With effort, focus, and determination, you CAN land an internship after your sophomore or junior year that could lead to a full-time job–just like any STEM or pre-professional major.

But…a lot of people major in English or Creative Writing because they don’t want those kinds of jobs with those kinds of companies. They may not know enough about what they want to do after graduation to be willing to put the effort in to build a relationship with a specific company that will lock them into a job they don’t know that they want.

Many students will find employment with nonprofit organizations, small companies, employers in the entertainment industry, tech, or software industries. Many of these kinds of organizations don’t adhere to a strict internship/hiring cycle, and many don’t come to career fairs. They may or may not offer internships at all. They may look favorably on full-time job applicants who have held meaningful leadership roles in volunteer organizations, who have been involved in student newspapers or journals, who have held relevant part-time jobs, or who have produced independent creative work.

So a better question to start with is not “When should I apply?” but “What do I want?” If you have your eye on a particular company or a particular industry, there are a lot of things you can do to start figuring out what’s available and how you could get started:

  • Keep track of internship openings on I-Link (you can use the “Advanced Search” option to limit yourself to internships in specific industries that interest you. (Any given search may not yield a lot of results–it helps to set up a regular time each week to see if any new openings have appeared)
  • Start researching particular companies in the field that you’d like to work with. Most company websites have a “careers” tab where they list internship opportunities (if they offer any).
  • Join our alumni mentoring network to start talking to professionals in that field. If there’s no one in our network who works in the particular area you want to explore, use LinkedIn to locate other alumni who might be willing to talk to you.
  • Look for paid internships or part-time jobs on campus that will help you build relevant skills. Campus opportunities in, say, movie production are pretty limited, but a part-time job or internship that gives you skills in video-editing, storyboarding, project management, social media, or marketing could give you skills that are transferable to that industry.
  • RSOs are a good way to get involved, make friends, and have fun–and they can also be a valuable resource for job skills. Look for organizations where you can not only be an involved member but also play a role in making things happen. Managing a budget, event-planning, fundraising, membership recruitment, publicity, social media, and outreach are all skills that you can cultivate through your involvement.

Keep in mind, too, that “internship” does not necessarily equal “meaningful post-graduation job.” It can help you understand better what you want from a career, build skills you you want, recognize skills you didn’t know you had, or send you in a different direction of career exploration.

Bottom line? If an internship sounds interesting to you, go ahead and apply.

By the Numbers: English and Creative Writing Majors Get Jobs

.You don’t have to major in a quantitative or preprofessional field to be employable.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has now collected campus-wide data, for the second year in a row, on what students plan to do when they graduate. The numbers in this chart are from the full report on the Illini Success survey for 2015-16.

Why Graduating Seniors Should Talk to the Director of Internships

1. Our department’s “Director of Internships” does a lot of other things, too: putting students in touch with helpful alumni, reviewing resumes, suggesting possible career paths, helping students articulate their skills.

2. There are jobs for people with English and Creative Writing skills, and Kirstin Wilcox can help point you towards them.

3. It will make your parents happy.

4. It’s really not as painful or awkward as you think it’s going to be.

5. It’s easier than locating a job cannon and more likely to succeed.