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Vilsan ’19: Revamping Brown’s career services

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, October 23, 2017

Every year, Brown attracts some of the brightest students from around the world — in part due to its promise that Brown students often find rewarding and successful employment opportunities upon graduation. While Brown does have an excellent track record and has recently enhanced its career services, it can still improve its hands-on advising and targeted job placement programming that would appeal to the entire student body. It is no secret that Brown admits a disproportionate number of students from the highest income percentiles, and Brown cannot claim to be a value-added institution if it relies on students’ privileged backgrounds to propel their careers. Especially during the busy fall and spring recruiting seasons, Brown students could benefit from an expanded career counseling division that dedicates enough time and resources to address each individual students’ specific needs.

Career counseling appointments at Brown, particularly in the early weeks of the fall and spring semesters, are booked weeks in advance. This substantial demand is no surprise given that CareerLAB currently only has four career advisors for a student body of approximately 6,600 people. By comparison, Harvard offers nine career advisors for its undergraduate student body of about the same size, and Penn has 14 counselors for a student body of 10,400 students. Although Brown students continue to enjoy excellent employment opportunities, it is clear that we are at a disadvantage when it comes to the availability of personalized counseling services. Brown’s career counselors are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful when you can snag an appointment, but they have no way of providing truly customized advising to each student in 30-minute intervals. We cannot expect one counselor to act as a personal mentor for thousands of students. Brown should try to follow its peer institutions’ example and rectify its shortage of counselors.

Further, the number of Brown students that actually use CareerLAB programming is surprisingly low. Of non-first generation students, only 33 percent reported using BrownConnect to obtain a job or internship offer, according to The Herald’s fall 2016 poll. It might be the case that high-income students have the means and connections necessary to secure jobs without career services. But if that is the case, Brown cannot take full credit for its post-graduation statistics. Admitting students that have guaranteed spots at big-name brands upon graduation says nothing about Brown’s ability to mold and prepare students to become successful professionals. Among Ivy Leagues, Brown ranks sixth in social mobility — the proportion of students from the bottom 20 percent who attain incomes in the top 20 percent. If career counselors are unavailable, you learn to do without and use personal connections instead. A system that assumes students have their personal connections to fall back on obviously disadvantages students from low-income backgrounds, who don’t have those connections — and undermines the University’s stated goals of increasing its students’ socioeconomic diversity.

To remedy its current unequal access to advising, Brown should approach career development in the same way it approaches academic advising. Upon arriving at Brown, all freshmen are matched with academic advisors and Meiklejohns. Many students find this one-on-one mentorship incredibly useful. In contrast, the process of accessing CareerLAB’s services is purely voluntary and takes a hefty amount of student initiative, not to mention that it can be intimidating for low-income students. Brown students could benefit from a more structured career advising program to help them reflect on their professional ambitions in the same way that they benefit from academic advising to help them reflect on their academic passions. At Northeastern University, this idea is put into practice. Northeastern matches students with career advisors with whom they can meet regularly to discuss anything from job searches to salary negotiations. The university also offers students courses that teach them how to best prepare for the application and interviewing process. Brown students could make use of the extensive and customized advising similar to what Northeastern offers.

Brown can and should pride itself on its post-graduation statistics, and the recent transition to Handshake demonstrates the University’s continued push to improve its career development services. CareerLAB’s recent efforts to target students who could most benefit from career counseling is also admirable, as first-generation students can be matched with employers interested in hiring first-generation students through BrownConnect. But unless CareerLAB broadens its appeal among the larger student body and bolsters the resources it has to accommodate their needs, it will remain a tool that a minority of Brown students use. (Despite the career center’s efforts to reach out to first-generation students, only 24.4 percent of them reported using BrownConnect.) Revamping CareerLAB won’t be easy or cheap, but to truly be a value-added institution, Brown must put its money where its mouth is when it comes to actively helping students pursue their career goals.

Fabiana Vilsan ’19 can be reached at fabiana_vilsan@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.