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    From College to Career: The Struggle Is Real

    Even the brightest, most prepared students struggle with transitioning.

    Erica Young Reitz

    Through a workshop-style format, Senior EXIT discusses topics such as finding community, managing money, making decisions, relating to parents, discerning calling, and adjusting to the workplace. We introduce students to alumni and other working professionals who share struggles and success stories. Most importantly, we help students know they are not alone. They meet other students in the same shoes, and they are reminded that God goes before them.

    In the same way that those of us at Penn State noticed we needed to do more, other professionals across the nation have joined this crucial conversation. A few years ago John Seel, a senior fellow at Cardus, asked a provocative question in an article entitled, “Who Is Responsible for College Seniors?”:

    It strikes me as remarkable that there is so much support for students to get into college, but comparably minimal support to help students flourish in their callings after graduation—to identify and be accepted in a career that is shaped by a kingdom vision for being an agent of shalom within the wider world. Colleges and universities, particularly faith-based institutions, could do far more to equip students in their post-college life trajectory.

    While I agree that many Christian college and universities are only starting to become more attentive to the imbalance of support for incoming freshman versus graduating seniors, I’m encouraged that a number of schools are rising to the responsibility of sending out students well.

    About a year ago, I sat around a table with a group of Hope College seniors who raved about their undergraduate experience. From internships to academics to spiritual growth opportunities, Hope has exceeded their expectations. They credit Hope for equipping them for employment in a competitive job market and positioning them for success in their work. When I asked the students if they believed Hope had prepared them for life after college, one area they still felt uncertain about was “adult living” and some of the practical realities of establishing themselves in the “real world.”

    Jonathan Hagood, director of the senior seminar at Hope College, takes seriously the charge to help students during college so they can thrive beyond it. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of consulting with him and his team of faculty, staff, and volunteers as they launched “Life After College” last month—a 40-day experience for any graduating senior who wants to “develop realistic expectations about the world of work and a biblical perspective on how to pursue faithfulness as a Christian in all aspects of life.”

    Messiah College, another campus committed to preparing their students for post-graduation, recently started a Senior Chapel series—a space for addressing important conversations and content related to the transition. This series is one of many unique programs that equips students. For example, the Career and Professional Development Center offers a top-notch “Into the City Program.” Through this program, students leave campus for an overnight immersion in a major metro area where they gain exposure to professional workplaces, network with alumni, and see the transferability of their degree. For many students, these trips are the highlight of their college years.

    Messiah students not only gain real-world previews, but also learn to reflect upon them through “The Experiential Learning Initiative.” Modeled after a program at Elon University, this initiative requires all students to have a practical learning experience in order to graduate, and to have a “deliverable” (a website, digital storytelling video, presentation, or other creative assignment) that shows they can translate their learning and contextualize it into transferable skills. “Students across the United States study a similar curriculum,” career coach Meg Jones Hoover says. “We think their experience is what sets Messiah students apart.”

    New initiatives to prepare students continue to pop up on campuses across North America, especially as institutions own their part. For example, Houghton College president Shirley Mullen reports that Houghton is doing more now than ever. They feel a sense of responsibility to “help students think deeply and pervasively about how they are going to steward their education for the sake of the world,” she says.