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Advice to students: Follow your heart into the job market (Released: 8/16/96)

by Ken Ross, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- University students should follow their hearts rather than their purses when they choose academic programs.

That's the advice of Cynthia Sedgwick, director of career services at the University of Connecticut.

In other words, don't let mom, dad or the media push you toward a career just because a particular field seems to pay high salaries to new graduates, she says. That approach may leave the student destined for failure.

"First and foremost, students have to be in touch with their skills and interests as they approach their education," Sedgwick says. "And sometimes the passion is more important than the skills."

Still, it is important that students tie their passions to an understanding of the job market -- to know how to use a college degree so they can make informed choices about majors.

Sedgwick isn't concerned if students do not visit the Career Services office during their first year, but she recommends that they explore choices by their second year of college. Then when they declare a major by their third year they should have a good idea of how that major relates to the working world. One way they can explore possibilities is through internships or mentorships as undergraduates so they can "try out" careers before they commit to one. Some employers offer "early identification" programs to bring in undergraduates as interns. It gives the companies a chance to see how students react to the work environment.

"It's important to have an interest in your field," Sedgwick says. "It may not be a good idea to go into a field because starting salaries are high unless you are interested in that area."

Although the highest demand for graduates continues to be in technical areas, Sedgwick says, employers also are interested in people with the communication skills and analytical and critical thinking skills they get in liberal arts programs.

No matter how tough the job market is, Sedgwick says, students can find jobs if they plan and use a combination of resources -- especially networking.

"The job market is a highway," she says. "Anyone with the right attitude and the right skills can get a job."

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