As the single largest college at Purdue University, the College of Liberal Arts is home to some 6,300 students and offers 29.9% of all credit hours available to students. Twenty percent of Purdue students are liberal arts majors, and with more than 50 different programs being offered, it’s easy to see why. Despite the common misconception that Purdue is “an engineering school,” liberal arts is actually one of the main academic draws to incoming students. With that said, one would think that Purdue would make a concentrated effort to provide jobs and opportunities for liberal arts students. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Despite being the largest college at Purdue, the College of Liberal Arts does not offer a career fair for their students. The common consensus, it seems, is that liberal arts students all aspire to work for non-profit organizations, perform research, become social workers, or work in the performing arts. Not to take anything away from these professions, all of which are necessary and respectable, but the fact of the matter is none of these professions pay very well, and many of them don’t pay enough to help support spouses and/or dependents.
To me, the best way to explain this mindset can be seen in what my advisor said to me freshman year, after I asked an apparently ridiculous question about what kind of earnings I could expect after graduation. She replied, “Oh, honey…you’re already worried about what you’re going to be earning? That’s not a very common question. Most liberal arts kids go into social work or non-profit, so I don’t know what to tell you.” As a naïve first year student, I had no idea that inquiring about post-grad opportunities was unheard of. But since then, I have seen this myth come up time and time again.
A common argument to the lack of a liberal arts career fair is that liberal arts students are welcome to attend any other school’s career fair. To that, I say thanks, but no thanks. If they wanted liberal arts majors, they wouldn’t be at the Ag or Management career fair. Granted, their company may offer opportunities for liberal arts majors, but they are not likely to be specifically looking for us at that time.
Fortunately, we do have an excellent resource in the Center for Career Opportunities (CCO). There are an abundance of postings and it is frequently updated with new opportunities. However, the face-to-face introduction that students have with recruiters at job fairs is something that no amount of online internship-hunting and resume-submitting can replace. These first impressions lead to interviews and interviews lead to jobs. An online submission does not allow someone to make that first impression or show off a winning personality that could end up scoring him or her a job. Resumes and cover letters are great, but they are just pieces of paper. It’s hard to stand out amongst a sea of similar applicants with similar credentials.
Another benefit of attending career fairs is the overall experience you take away from them. It gives students a chance to get a feel for the competition that goes along with job searching. In order to stand out, you have to bring your “A” game and impress the recruiters. Attending a career fair and meeting companies in person greatly increases one’s chances of getting an internship. When the job search begins for post-graduation, almost every company or employer is looking for a candidate with experience. It’s easy to see how not having a career fair geared towards liberal arts will continue to affect us outside of Purdue.
It may seem like a lost cause or a pointless argument, but to me, and my fellow students, the issue is important. With all of our friends going off to their respective career fairs and coming home with success stories about interviews and probable internships, it’s hard not to feel bitter and left out. Sure, I could have changed majors and so could the 6,300 other students in my college, but that kind of defeats the purpose. The major that we chose is in liberal arts. I’m more than halfway done with my course plan and there’s no turning back now. The issue here is that Purdue isn’t doing what should be their main objective: to prepare us for the workforce. I encourage all of you angry, creative-minded liberal arts students out there to make yourselves heard. Question the Dean, Assistant Dean, and all five, yes, five of our Associate Deans as to why liberal arts students are not offered the same opportunities. The only way things will change is if we start speaking out and let the liberal arts administration know that their students do, in fact, want to have internships, opportunities, and good-paying jobs in the future.