Foreign Service grad stats only half the picture

April 16, 2015

According to the Cawley Career Education Center’s post-graduation employment statistics, in the past decade, more students who graduate from the School of Foreign Service are entering jobs in consulting and financial services than are entering the public sector. At face value, the career center’s findings seem to show that more and more Hoyas are passing up the public sector altogether. However, these statistics do not necessarily reflect that SFS graduates have changed their career preferences—they show the difficulties that recent graduates face in an unfavorable job market.

The scarcity of public sector openings in a difficult job market has pushed students towards the private sector. And of the few public sector openings that are available, many require applicants to hold graduate degrees, so they are out of reach to even the most ambitious SFS alumni. Moreover, some graduates—especially those who come from low-income backgrounds—contemplate consulting and financial jobs out of consideration for their families or to pay off student loans.

Put simply, the career center’s data do not indicate that SFS students have stopped taking government jobs, only that they are less likely to do so immediately after graduation. As SFS Associate Dean Emily Zenick recently told The Hoya, the future jobs that SFS graduates may hold are not included in the career center’s survey. Students who want to serve the country may first enter their private sector jobs in order to gain the necessary experience to secure public sector positions in the future.

Nevertheless, students may have gravitated largely toward consulting and financial services for their first jobs because they receive less help in entering other fields. Of the 16 “employer partners” that the career center lists on its website, all of them are consulting or financial services firms. A school that heavily promotes its Washington, D.C. location should be able to say that it partners with D.C. or federal government to provide fresh graduates to their agencies. Students should not have to rely primarily on word-of-mouth from professors, friends, or the Internet to search for such opportunities without guidance from career center staff.

The Walsh Scholars’ Initiative, which the SFS Academic Council announced on Tuesday, aims to provide students with mentorship from a wide variety of high-profile movers and shakers in public service. While it might help reverse the shift in the SFS toward the private sector, with its application-based process and extremely small size—only five students can join the program—the Initiative does not address the problem that most SFS students are not benefiting from discourse and advice that inspire them to join the public sector.

Ultimately, economic conditions and insufficient qualifications for entry-level government jobs, rather than a mere attraction to the private sector, have lowered the chances that SFS graduates include public sector work in their immediate post-graduation plans. With more inclusive institutional support from the university, the numbers of graduates entering government work could increase and allow the SFS to more fully live up to its namesake as the School of Foreign Service.

File Photo: Georgetown Voice

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Thank you for writing this very relevant piece. We clearly face a major problem in matriculating top students into public service – due both to lack of interest and lack of opportunity. The Walsh Scholars Initiative is a young program intended to begin tackling the latter problem – to help students who already are interested in public service find a path to achieving those goals. Long-term, we need to foster a dialogue among many different parties on campus to tackle the former problem.