Art School Grads Shouldn’t Forget College Career Offices

The decision to go to college generally brings up two big questions in the minds of students and their parents across the country: How am I going to pay for it? and, What am I going to do with it after I graduate? Those questions loom largest, perhaps, for those considering art school. So it is that the two most frequently visited pages on the Web site of the Maryland Institute College of Art are Financial Aid and Career Development. The Financial Aid site, as one might expect, gets most of its hits from applicants and their families before the student enrolls, while the Career Development page is most visited by undergraduate seniors, graduate students and alumni. In terms of actual people visiting the college’s Career Development office, alumni lead the pack.
Increasingly, at MICA and at other independent art colleges, career development is focusing its efforts at helping its past graduates. Art schools don’t see their relationship with students ending with graduation, and artists shouldn’t either.
“Last year, we saw more alumni than ever, 211 people, as opposed to 162 undergraduates,” said Megan Miller, director of career development at MICA. Those numbers may not tell the whole story, as “we may work with one alum 10 times.”
She noted that the work her office does with undergraduates is often substantially different than with alumni. “We try to help undergraduates prepare for a career after graduation, finding their interests and exploring their vision.” With alumni, on the other hand, “they tried something and it didn’t work out, or they feel stuck in whatever they’re doing, or they are thinking about graduate school” – something. As opposed to meetings with most undergraduates, consultations with alumni consist of “more directed conversations.”
The college also has an Alumni Office, but that focuses on a very different set of concerns.
Vicki Engonopoulos, co-director of the Career + Co-op Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, noted that the recent recession has led to a surge in the volume of alumni contacting her office, seeking a wide range of help. Some trained as designers and have “worked in one career for a number of years and want to explore other things they can do, such as a Web designer who wants to work in another area of the communications field. A lot of their skills are quite translatable, and we can help them transition.” Others want to start their own business and need help knowing how to start.
Some alumni with fine arts backgrounds seek information on design fields in which they might find a job, but a larger number seek information on how and where to find teaching positions and project grants. A large percentage “want us to review their resumes, CVs, portfolios and statements” before they are submitted somewhere. “They want another pair of eyes to review things to make sure they are doing things right.”
In many instances, the information that art college career development staff imparts to alumni is the same that is offered to undergraduates – how to write a resume and a cover letter, how to search for a job and present oneself well at an interview – but this time they are paying more attention. “Alumni may not have thought this stuff mattered as much the first time around, but now they are trying to survive, paying bills,” said Lonnie Woods III, director of career services at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, D.C. No hard feelings, the college’s career services office is available to help.
At all of these schools and others, the career development office’s Web pages include updated job listings, studio rentals, internship opportunities, available grants and other resources for current students and alumni.
The relationship between an art college and its graduates may last for decades, although most of the alumni who contact the career development offices are in their late 20s and 30s. The majority of the alumni who contact the Career + Co-op Center graduated within the previous five years, Engonopoulos noted, but “we won’t turn anyone away.” Even at New York’s School of Visual Arts, which provides “individualized career services to alumni for up to four years after graduation,” there are regularly scheduled Alumni Career Forums that are available to all past graduates.

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