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Preparing for life after college – Career services, CPT, and alumni networks

Liberal arts degrees in the United States can open up many doors and opportunities for international students.

What are you going to do with the rest of your life? You may have been thinking about this for many years, or at least your parents have. If you study in the United States, the best colleges have resources to help international students like you prepare for life after college.

When you select a college or university to attend, you seek academic programs that match your interests. Just as importantly, your institution should provide excellent preparation for a career when you finish your degree.

Utilize Career Services

On your college campus you will find many different offices and centers set up to meet different needs. One of these is a career services or professional development center. As colleges instruct students with the knowledge and skills they need to be productive citizens in society in their chosen fields of study. However, getting that first job out of college is not always an easy task. So, what are colleges doing to help?

According to Richard O’Rourke, Associate Director of the Office of Admissions at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), “Your international student advising center should be the first stop when exploring employment opportunities off-campus.” Every year, the International Student Services office at UIC holds International Student Career Week to assist international students through career fairs, networking opportunities, job offers, and the pathways to work visas.

Additionally, academic colleges within a school often provide career services to students as well. At certain institutions and in certain disciplines, there may also be classes that help students prepare for and secure paid internships. O’Rourke says that, “Due to high demand, for instance, UIC Engineering guarantees a paid internship to all incoming international first year and transfer students,” while in the college of business they hold “career workshops and fairs throughout the year.”

At the University of South Carolina (USC), there are also multiple resources for international students through both the Career Accelerator and the University Career Center. Jason Rickey, Career Accelerator Adviser at the University of South Carolina, explains how they provide “a dedicated advisor, access to on-demand advising hours, unique workshops, and exclusive internship preparation assistance. Through the Career Accelerator students develop four professional building blocks: skills, relationships, experiences, and distinct personal brand, all of which combine to give them an immediate, competitive advantage in launching their careers.” During Career Fair Preparation Week, USC hosts workshops to get international students ready to meet with employers at fairs and during interviews.

Explore Curricular Practical Training

The experience that students can get before completing their degrees is vital toward future success. Under current F-1 student visa regulations, international students are eligible to apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during their studies which would allow them to gain vital experience in their field before graduation. CPT allows for this work experience if such a job or internship is seen as integral to the curriculum for their program.

For example, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Kirti Kewalramani, a political science major from Thailand, interned at the Illinois Senate Democratic Victory Fund. She found this opportunity through the UIC Careers site that allows students and alumni to search for jobs and internships. Ms. Kewalramani met with several members of the Illinois State Senate, and eventually worked on the election campaign for Senator Tom Cullerton.

On-campus work can also be an excellent source of potential internships in your field of study. Jason Rickey at USC, mentioned, that a student from Mexico majoring in biomedical engineering participated in an on-campus internship in the Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research this past semester. During his internship he helped troubleshoot issues with 3D printers, assisted in manufacturing an impregnation system for carbon fiber reinforced nylon filament, and developed a slurry-based impregnation system. Rickey explains that the student’s experience “has been very helpful as he prepares to graduate and eventually start a company which will use technology to help people and improve their quality of life.”

Connect with Your Alumni Network

Being a graduate of an American university or college puts you in a unique group. Over the past few decades, U.S. institutions have invested much time and effort maintaining close connections with their alumni as they grow and develop in their careers.

According to O’Rourke, “Alumni are very willing to serve as student mentors and offer career advice.  Take advantage of alumni connections through your campus career center and connect on social media sites such as LinkedIn.  You will also find many opportunities to engage with alumni at college networking events both on- and off-campus.” A great example of how one UIC student connected with fellow alums to address a problem in his home country is Harish Patel from India. During his graduate research, Patel learned of the epidemic suicide rate in poor Indian farming communities suffering financially due to GMO seeds being introduced.  Through his UIC alumni network and contacts in India he launched IshiVest, a fair-trade, chemical-free ethnic clothing company that donates 10% of all profits to sustainability efforts in India and the U.S.  O’Rourke reveals that “within the first 30 days, he received 366 financial backers and clothing orders from 18 countries.”

On campus alumni networking resources can also be vital in the last few months of an international student’s studies in the United States. At USC, Rickey believes “networking with alumni who know the program, industry, and valuable location-specific information can provide international students with inside information and an upper hand.” Many institutions also have strong alumni groups on LinkedIn that international students can access to broaden their range of contacts in their field. Top colleges and universities are committed to help you succeed. Be sure to take advantage of these resources as you prepare for life after college. Find your best-fit university today!