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And THEN What?

By Christina Cooke ’10

Go to college. Get involved. Try new things. Make new friends. Earn good grades. Grow. Mature. Succeed. Graduate. And then what? Year after year, thousands of college graduates find themselves unsure of what direction their lives should take. Some eventually figure it out, some not. At Rhodes, an entire arsenal of professors eagerly awaits, ready to advise soon-to-be graduates on taking the next big step.

“I’ve been advising students interested in pre-health professions since I came to Rhodes 23 years ago,” says Dr. Alan Jaslow, a professor in the Department of Biology. Initially, it was a voluntary addition to his teaching duties, but Jaslow now undertakes pre-health advising on an administrative level as the current director of the Health Professions Advising (HPA) program. Launched in February 2006, HPA offers a variety of resources, such as a handbook of important information on each health occupation, a timeline of classes to take each year in order to build toward a specific career, and various networking events with alumni practitioners and graduate school representatives that offer students a glimpse of what lies ahead.

But in Jaslow’s view, the crucial element for attaining success is to meet with the students as soon as possible to get them on the right track.

“The sooner we can meet with them, the better,” he notes.

And he means it. As part of the Open Rhodes summer orientation program, Jaslow leads a session in which he discusses all the coursework and research experience necessary for a career in the health professions—all before the students have even had their first day of class.

“Educating the students as soon as possible on what they need to do is key to helping them be in the best position for where they want to go,” he says.

Approximately 30-35 percent of the student population accesses HPA each year, and Jaslow keeps track of every one of them.

“I keep files on all my students, every one receiving their own dedicated folder,” says Jaslow as he slides open cabinet after cabinet. “Every time I meet with them—and I try to schedule regular meetings—I jot down what courses they’ve taken, what extracurriculars or research opportunities they’re involved in, where their GPA stands and any other information that will help me offer them the best advice possible,” he says.

Rhodes’ current acceptance rate for medical school and graduate school in the health professions is well above the national average, and Jaslow has no intention of allowing that tradition to diminish. In fact, Newsweek magazine rated Rhodes as “The College Most Likely To Succeed” based on our high acceptance rates for medical school, law school and other graduate and professional programs.

Such sterling statistics are native to other departments. For instance, the Department of Psychology which, in a recent study, was ranked eighth highest in the nation for number of graduates who eventually receive Ph.D.s.

“We’re very proud as a department of not only preparing students academically but also exposing them to a variety of research initiatives,” says Dr. Natalie Person, an associate professor and current chair of the department.

From her perspective, those research experiences are the vital difference that makes Rhodes students so successful. By the time graduation rolls around, all Psychology students have had an authentic research experience and more than half have served on faculty research teams. That kind of background makes Rhodes students the choice candidates for graduate study.

“When I take students to conferences, my colleagues who work in graduate programs want to meet them,” says Dr. Marsha Walton, a professor in the department. “Why?” she continues, “because they already know how well-prepared my students are so they want to recruit them for their schools.”

Seated: Judith Haas and Alan Jaslow; standing: Marsha Walton, Mark Pohlmann, Natalie Person

Currently, about 60 percent of Psychology students apply to graduate school and of that 60 percent, more than 90 percent gain acceptance. Although the research experience certainly prepares them, what aids in making the leap from aspiring undergraduates to established graduates is the close mentoring and rigorous selection process that the students undergo with their professors.

By the time Walton meets with her students, she expects them to have already researched which schools they’re interested in, what programs they offer, and have read through the publications of the faculty at each school. In her opinion, only through such thorough investigation will the students realize what they want to go to graduate school for and why.

“I want my students to go into this process with their eyes wide open, as wide as they can go,” she says. “I don’t recommend students for programs they’re not ready for and I don’t send students off without their knowing what they’re getting themselves into.”

Once the students have completed their research, the application process becomes much more of a matching process as Walton, Person and their colleagues work with the students to help them choose the schools that will offer the best education for their interests.

“If they’ve got the passion, dedication and grades necessary, we’ll help them find a place to continue,” says Person.

That mentality is precisely what Dr. Marcus Pohlmann, a professor in the Department of Political Science, employs when advising students interested in the law professions.

“I see myself more as a resource person than a student coordinator,” he notes as he reflects on his 24 years serving as the pre-law adviser.

Like the Department of Psychology, about 90% of students who apply to graduate law programs gain admission, a percentage that enthuses yet irritates Pohlmann. In his view, if students are smart enough to gain admittance to Rhodes, then they already have the credentials to be successful at some kind of law profession.

“No matter what students’ particular interests are or how their GPA has fared, chances are there are schools out there that are the right fit for them,” he says.

He sees no reason why that 90 percent acceptance rate couldn’t be 95 percent or even 100 percent. From his perspective, students are often hesitant to come forward and vocalize their interest in law school.

“There are a lot of resources available to students, but they’ve got to take the initiative and identify themselves to receive the guidance they need,” he says.

But Pohlmann, like Jaslow, makes himself available to students from the get-go to quell any fears or anxieties. At Open Rhodes he hosts a session to discuss the necessary components for a career in law. As a result, his mailing list now typically has well over 60 names and his advising time slots are chock-full of eager students. In order to keep his advice relevant, Pohlmann collaborates with the Law School Board Association to keep track of which schools Rhodes students apply to, what LSAT scores helped them gain acceptance, and any other factors that influenced the schools’ admissions committees in their favor. That way, when students come to him, he can take a look at their credentials and advise them on the schools to which they could realistically gain acceptance.

“When it comes down to it, applying to graduate school costs time and money,” he says, “and the last thing I would want is for any of my students to waste either.”

As any professor can attest, applying to graduate school can require just as much time and dedication as a full-time class.

“It’s a long and arduous process,” says Walton, “even more so now with all the additional information available via the Internet, so I completely understand why some students choose to wait.”

For those who wish to spend a year or two pursuing an individual interest before continuing on, Dr. Judith Haas, an assistant professor in the Department of English, knows the perfect alternative: study abroad. In addition to teaching, Haas co-directs the Postgraduate Fellowships program with Dr. Mike LaRosa, an associate professor in the Department of History. The two aid students in choosing the scholarship or fellowship that’s right for them and navigating the application process—and what a process it is.

“For some fellowships, we begin meeting with students as much as eight or nine months before the due date,” says Haas. Excessive? Hardly. Necessary? Absolutely. Haas and LaRosa endeavor to make sure the students examine why, specifically, they want to apply for a certain scholarship or fellowship, what they hope to gain from that experience, and how that experience will benefit them in the long run.

“We want the students to know the reality of what they’re getting into,” says Haas.

In order to ensure that the students are as prepared as they can be, Haas and LaRosa mandate that they submit their materials to their office for a simulated admission procedure in the weeks preceding the deadline.

“Through the mock interviews and application review sessions, we guarantee that students truly are a good fit for what they’re applying for,” says Haas.

Not all students make it through the vetting process, but the majority of those who do go on to attain success. At least one student per year has been named a Watson Fellow and the Luce and Fulbright Scholarships are usual staples on the list of awarded scholarships.

“I’m always on the lookout for exemplary students who would be a good fit for a postgraduate fellowship,” says Haas. “Making the information readily available is one thing,” she says, “but sometimes approaching a student individually helps ease those anxiety jitters.”

No matter what approach they take, Rhodes professors are passionate about and dedicated to furthering their students’ professional success.

“We’re a graduate school preparatory program, not a finishing school,” says Pohlmann.

And the students couldn’t agree more. In a recent campus survey, about 90 percent of the participants reported that they came to Rhodes with the expectation to continue on to postgraduate programs.

“The kind of students who apply to Rhodes all aspire to professions, not just a job,” notes Jaslow.

With that in mind, professors use these four years as an opportunity to cultivate their students’ readiness to go to graduate school, medical school or pursue a lifelong passion somewhere abroad—opportunities that for many lead to fulfilling careers. But no matter if students choose to enter graduate school or the job market right away, Rhodes ensures that they go forward prepared and with purpose.