Attendants spent hours on a rainy Friday morning shaking hands and flashing confident smiles in a crowded, sweaty annex of a university student center. But students said much of the self-assuredness was faked.
Fifth-year senior Samuel Lopez of Clifton, N.J., said that, as a freshman, he had assumed his biochemistry and toxicology degree would make it easy to get a job. But now, like many of his friends, he is considering waiting out the tough times in graduate school or the Peace Corps, he said.
"After 2008, I lowered my expectations," he said.
Other students said they were feeling pressure from their peers.
Less than a month into her sophomore year, Raan Kim of River Edge, N.J., was scoping out employers for potential internship possibilities, she said.
"I think if the economy were strong, I would have laid back a little bit," she said. "But now I need to step up on my game, because everyone else is."
Richard White, director of Rutgers Career Services, said the university is pushing students to think about internships earlier, part of an overall focus on career planning for undergraduates and alumni.
"It remains both impressive and startling to me how much, how hard we're working and what we're putting out there for our students," he said.
The department will offer about 500 workshops, seminars and panels on career preparation and job seeking this year, up from about 300 five years ago, he said. More students are paying attention as well, he said: 4,100 students attended career counseling sessions last year, compared with 3,700 students the year before.
Adam Mayer, director of career counseling at Montclair State University, said his department has seen a similar uptick, partly because the university has overhauled its career planning program to give students more career-specific advice, and partly because the students are asking for more help.
"When things started to turn sour, students weren't as aware of what they needed to do in terms of direction," he said. "Now we have students continually coming to the office to get internships, because they realize that getting experience prior to graduation is absolutely essential."
But the outlook isn't completely bleak, White and other career counselors said. The good news is that students today are more focused than their predecessors, and universities are more prepared to help them with services that will likely outlast the economic downturn.
"Students know the unemployment rate is quite high," Mayer said. "There is definitely concern on their part. But what's heartwarming is that they're seeking services to change that."
(c)2011 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at www.NorthJersey.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services