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FastWeb Column: Why Career Services May Be Your Salvation

This story was published in 2006 for FastWeb, an online education resource and scholarship search engine.

I’m always looking for new places to study, cozy bookshops or buzzy cafes. My new favorite destination is a cross between a library and a kindergarten playroom. It’s called University Career Services and it just might be your salvation.

Most colleges have some department like this, staffed by guidance counselor/librarian types. It’s meant to fill the gap when you left behind your parents, high school teachers and the administrators who know you. One of the most startling things about college is that there’s no one to check up on you. This is nice if you’ve skipped class or aren’t paying your library fines, but it puts all the responsibility on you when it comes to deadlines and meeting requirements.

I first visited UCS my third year to look at their resources on summer internships. They had a hefty collection of reference materials that referred me to other reference materials that referred me to company Web sites, which I like to think would have occurred to me without the help. Mission unsuccessful.

I returned this year to scope out how to prep for the GRE. I asked for help from one of the workers and had a much different experience. She plopped down on the floor with me and sorted through a stack of books taller and more formidable than Shaquille O’Neal. She was able to help find me the right study guides, but also work through the arduous task of signing up to take the test, finding the nearest testing site, and deciding whether or not I should drink seven cups of coffee beforehand. (My opinion was yes, hers was maybe.)

I’ve been back several times, once solely for this article. Almost every time I have seen a person sniffling in a corner. Poor downtrodden college students… they don’t know what to do, where to go or who to be. My feeling is that the students that shuffle into UCS are on their last leg. They’ve exhausted all their own resources and see seeking advice as a form of weakness. They’re fragile and one sarcastic comment could shatter them.

But UCS handles it. The workers swoop down on the soggy students like giant, mothering bats. They swab faces with Kleenex and block out anyone who might observe the tears. They’ll listen as you sob brokenly about how you’re a graduating senior and you’ve never had an internship and no company will want you because you’ve majored in astronomy and you ran out of résumé paper so you printed on normal computer paper and will that eliminate you automatically and …

Perhaps it is not a mistake that the acronym UCS could also stand for University Counseling Services. I’m not sure it was the University of Virginia’s intent to have a service that offers a shoulder to cry on as well as a helping hand, but that seems to be some function of the department. And I think it’s a niche that needs to be filled.

I would suggest visiting your version of University Career Services before you’re at your wit’s end. They are a valuable, under-utilized resource and will listen as you stress about whether you’re going to make something of yourself or not. They’ll be useful for technical questions about graduate school, internships, jobs, taking important tests, your own college’s administration or anything you would have asked your high school guidance counselor.

And take them something nice when you visit. They deserve it.

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