Can you get a job? That’s probably the most asked question of parents who visit a liberal arts college. One school that I recently visited, Hobart and Willam Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, hands parents and students a comprehensive career services brochure that answers this question quite nicely. This 2,200 undergraduate liberal arts college does an excellent job at showcasing recent graduates. All are working; some have also completed advanced degrees at schools that you’re quite likely to know.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges is neither the most selective nor the highest profile liberal arts college. Ranked 65th among National Liberal Arts Colleges in the most recent US News college guide, you’ll have to go to the second page to find it. A test-optional school that attracts students with a B+ or better GPA and 1240+ SAT scores, this college accepted 60 percent of its applicants for the class that entered in 2016. But if you pick up this brochure, you would come to believe that Hobart and William Smith will prepare its students as well as the liberal arts colleges that turned most applicants away.
It’s not always about the brand name of a liberal arts colleges; it’s about how well it supports the students and alumni. Hobart and William Smith students are likely to graduate with at least one internship–the school will even provide a stipend to allow them to work at one unpaid position–and may participate in brief “experience” programs where they may visit with professionals in media, fashion, finance and non-profit management in New York City, government and politics in Washington DC, or the arts and media in Los Angeles. Through these programs, and more, Hobart and William Smith students receive no less than they would from many better-endowed colleges.
Liberal arts colleges are often criticized for being “less relevant,” as if more specific pre-professional training will be better for life for 18 to 22 year olds. They would receive an earlier exposure to the business world, as well as the training that the larger business community used to provide to new employees. However, colleges cannot be expected to provide “hands-on” instruction about individual work places and their office culture. Their students might receive some exposure to that as an intern, but will not work in an office setting long enough to really know what its like to go to work there each day. Some college-bound students might know exactly what they want to do in a working life, if they have already been surrounded by it through personal interests or their parents. But there are many, like me at 17 who saw how their parents lived their work life and whispered “no, thank you,” to no-one who could hear.
A liberal arts education offers several advantages when it is supported by strong career development services, such as those offered at Hobart and William Smith. The academic instruction is more personal. Undergraduates get to work more closely with their professors; there are no graduate students to help them with their research and writing. The good schools also have loyal alumni. While Hobart and William Smith was not a “top 50,” in overall US News rankings, it was among the top 50 in alumni giving. Nearly 30 percent of their alumni, on average each year, make a contribution to their alma mater. You’re not going to see that at many state universities. Clemson, last year’s national champion in NCAA Division I football, has an alumni giving rate that averages 22 percent.The average at UNC-Chapel Hill, the most recent NCAA Men’s Basketball champion? It’s about 18 percent. Of course, those schools have more alumni. But Hobart and William Smith alumni did not need to bond behind athletic success to be encouraged to contribute to their school, volunteer to help current students make connection, or simply remain in touch.
If you’re still skeptical about the career development services of a very good liberal arts college, contact the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Ask for their brochure: A Liberal Arts Education With Results. After you read it, I doubt that you will be skeptical again.