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Finding Work Experience in the US: What I Learned (and What I Wish I'd Known)



At this point in the year, international students like myself are starting to think about what to do for the summer. If you’re an international student and you haven’t started thinking about it yet, you should.

It’s not always easy to find a good internship or summer job that will provide you with valuable work experience, a good line on your resume, the chance to be in a different part of the country, and networking opportunities in your field.

But here’s one thing I learned from my experience finding work last summer: If you’re capable of getting admitted to an American university, you’re also capable of finding some decent work experience for the summer. You just have to apply the same dedication in how you research job opportunities and prepare your resumes.

And you should also have the same willingness to rely on the resources available to you, including people who have been through it before. Having gotten used to relying entirely on myself, I didn’t take advantage of other resources that could have helped me. In the end I did get a job I really liked working at a school in California, but it cost me a lot more pain than it needed to.

I talked to a bunch of my friends to find out what advice they could give me (and you!) for applying to jobs and internships this summer, and here’s some of what they suggested and some of what I learned through my own experiences.

Resume

You might be surprised at how much you need to modify your resume to fit American standards. When I first decided to apply to internships in the U.S., a good friend of mine, who is American, showed me her CV and then spent at least an hour explaining how and why I had to make certain changes in my resume.

I was actually converting my resume into a CV, which is what you’re expected to submit for teaching positions, and I had to add lots of stuff, such as minor part-time jobs, presentations, conferences, projects I've been working on, etc. Now my CV runs 4 pages and it will become longer in the future.

But this is not the best format for everyone’s resume. For college students, probably, your education is the biggest asset, so it should come in the beginning of the resume. It's so different for different cases. That's why university career centers can be very helpful in compiling your resume - they'll help you get the right emphasis and format for your resume.

Finding Job Openings

Internet search

When I started looking for summer jobs last year, I knew I wanted to do something related to teaching English as a second language. I started out just looking on websites that post job listings, and found some that were specific to ESL teaching. And ultimately this is how I ended up finding my job.

I think the fact that I found some specialized job sites was important. The internet is the biggest pool to fish out a job, but the search can be overwhelming if you don’t narrow it down. You can ask your professors if there are some specialized websites containing job offers for your particular field.

Networking

But, actually, among my friends I was the only one who found a job this way. Most people I know got their summer jobs through networking. You’ve probably heard of the importance of being “in the right place at the right time,” but it also helps a lot to be connected to “the right people.”

One of my friends contacted the organization she had worked for in her home country, and they offered her a paid summer internship. Some other guys asked their fellow countrymen and got referred to particular websites or people.

I hope I’ll be able to use networking to help me get a job for this summer. The head teacher at the school where I ended up working last summer said she would recommend me for a job at another school she used to work at.

Career fairs

I should just mention career fairs as a resource for finding out about jobs. My university, like many others, holds a career fair a few times a year and invites employers from different fields to talk about their job opportunities.


A standard career fair (Photo: Gabe Chmielewski/Mays Communications)

The people representing their companies at the fairs were knowledgeable enough to answer my questions, but I found the companies represented were mostly looking for business, engineering and communication majors – which are not what I study. It’s probably better if you can find a more specialized career fair; for example, my university arranged a trip for graduate students to attend an international development career fair in Washington, D.C.

Start early



This is probably the biggest piece of advice I wish I had taken when I was job hunting last year. I started my search in mid-April, which turned out to be too late.

Several times I found myself in the situation when I had gone through a tiring process of completing an application only to discover that the job I wanted to get had been already given to someone else. I found out that sometimes employers don’t indicate the exact closing date for applications, and leave the job posting up even if the position’s already been filled.

I got in touch with the company where I ended up working in late May, and applied to work as an English teacher for international students. But all the positions had already been assigned by the time I submitted my application. The company ended up offering me a position as a welfare leader instead. I did like the job, but it wasn’t what I had been hoping to get.

Also keep in mind...



When it comes to summer employment for international students, there are two main factors to consider: whether you will get paid for the work you will be doing (many internships are unpaid) and whether you are eligible to work for that particular organization (many employ only U.S. citizens and green card holders).

Private businesses are usually the most flexible about money and eligibility issues. In fact, most of my friends and I got their employment within private sector.

And one final thought. You might get rejected. Everybody gets rejected at some point while looking for a job. I know I did, and I’m sure I will again. Don’t let rejections frustrate you. Instead, analyze critically why you haven’t been offered this job, learn your lesson, and continue your search.

Good luck with all your endeavors! Trust yourself and believe in the best!

P.S. – Thanks to everybody who inspired me in writing this article and helped me by offering their suggestions!

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US remains top choice for Indian students going abroad

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About 69% of Indian students traveling abroad for their studies chose the United States, according to a Oxford International’s Student Global Mobility Index. Other popular choices were the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Education Times reports the main influencers for deciding where to study abroad – for Indian students and others – were parents. (April 2024)

Malaysian official: Schools can’t turn away from global tensions

FILE - Malaysian's Zambry Abdul Kadir is shown at the 56th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 12, 2023.
FILE - Malaysian's Zambry Abdul Kadir is shown at the 56th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 12, 2023.

Zambry Abdul Kadir, Malaysia’s higher education minister, said protests spreading across universities in the United States show that schools can’t ignore political tensions.

Helen Packer, reporting in Times Higher Education, said the minister reminded educators that universities are key in the development of leaders, individuals and societies. (April 2024)

Social media breaks are difficult, but necessary

FILE - A person uses a smart phone in Chicago, Sept. 16, 2017.
FILE - A person uses a smart phone in Chicago, Sept. 16, 2017.

Between online classes, maintaining social connections and working on projects, college students can have a hard time disengaging from the demands of technology.

In Florida International University’s PantherNOW, Ariana Rodriguez offers strategies for taking a break from social media. (April 2024)

Many master's degrees aren't worth the investment, research shows   

FILE - Graduates at the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio, May 5, 2018.
FILE - Graduates at the University of Toledo commencement ceremony in Toledo, Ohio, May 5, 2018.

Nearly half of master's degrees have a negative financial return, according to new research by the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, an economic research organization.

The study indicates that many graduate degree programs do not increase lifetime earnings enough to be worth it.

While 23% of bachelor’s degree programs yield a negative financial return on investment, 43% of two-year degrees and master’s degrees fail to deliver a return, according to the study by Preston Cooper, a senior fellow at FREOPP.

Cooper assessed the return on investment for 53,000 degree and certificate programs to determine whether a student’s lifetime earnings outweigh program costs and the risk of not completing their degree.

His findings show that a student’s field of study was the overriding indicator of return on investment at the undergraduate and graduate level.

FILE - Students walk past the 'Great Dome' atop Building 10 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, April 3, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass.
FILE - Students walk past the 'Great Dome' atop Building 10 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, April 3, 2017, in Cambridge, Mass.

Engineering, computer science and nursing bachelor’s degrees have high financial returns on investment, while programs in education, fine arts, psychology and English usually have low returns.

Graduate degrees in medicine and law tend to have strong payoffs. But a large share of master’s programs, including the MBA, frequently have low payoffs, according to Cooper.

Although workers with master’s degrees earn 16% more than those with only bachelor’s degrees, Cooper says the figure fails to account for students who had “higher preexisting earnings potential.”

“MBA students typically have high preexisting earnings potential, having often chosen high-ROI undergraduate majors such as finance and economics,” Cooper writes. “So the MBA adds little value on top of that.”

The study indicates that high starting salaries are predictors of high returns on investment. Degrees with starting salaries of $57,000 a year or more deliver the best lifetime returns.

But the return on investment of a degree can vary depending on the educational institution.

“Students interested in fields with low average pay can still find some schools that do well transforming those fields of study into high-paying careers,” Cooper writes.

The name for the University of Southern California is displayed at a campus entrance in Los Angeles, April 16, 2024.
The name for the University of Southern California is displayed at a campus entrance in Los Angeles, April 16, 2024.

The quality of an institution also matters, said William Tierney, professor emeritus of higher education at the University of Southern California.

“An MBA from Harvard is a likely ticket to a good job,” Tierney told VOA. “An MBA from the University of Phoenix, less so.”

But students pursue graduate programs for more than just financial reasons.

“Some degrees open up careers in fields that students may enjoy, such as in the performing arts,” Robert Kelchen, head of educational leadership at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, told VOA.

“Others can help gain access to social networks or simply help students learn about a topic that is of interest,” Kelchen added.

Cooper told VOA that it might make sense for students in degree programs with low returns on investment to switch majors if they can still graduate on time.

He found the worst outcome for a student’s return on investment is dropping out of college “because they must pay for one or more years’ tuition and spend time out of the labor force.”

Lawmakers who fund higher education have a responsibility in ensuring “higher education delivers on its promise of economic mobility,” Cooper said.

FILE - A graduation themed printed mural is seen on the Howard University campus, July 6, 2021, in Washington.
FILE - A graduation themed printed mural is seen on the Howard University campus, July 6, 2021, in Washington.

Nearly a third of federal funding, including Pell grants and student loans, pays for higher education programs that fail to provide students with a return on investment, according to the study.

Cooper’s view is that “some schools should shut down low-ROI programs and reallocate institutional resources to programs with a better return.”

“There's definitely this narrative out there that higher education is always worth it, and you should always try to get that extra degree because it will increase your earnings,” he told VOA. “That's reinforced by colleges who make lofty promises regarding their graduate degree programs' outcomes, which all too often fall short.”

Harvard students end protest as school agrees to discuss Gaza conflict

FILE - Harvard University students said on May 14, 2024, that they were voluntarily dismantling their encampment in Harvard Yard, shown here on April 25, after university officials agreed to meet and discuss the school's investments in Israel and businesses that support it.
FILE - Harvard University students said on May 14, 2024, that they were voluntarily dismantling their encampment in Harvard Yard, shown here on April 25, after university officials agreed to meet and discuss the school's investments in Israel and businesses that support it.

Protesters against the war between Israel and Hamas were voluntarily taking down their tents in Harvard Yard on Tuesday after university officials agreed to discuss their questions about the endowment, bringing a peaceful end to the kinds of demonstrations that were broken up by police on other campuses.

The student protest group Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine said in a statement that the encampment "outlasted its utility with respect to our demands." Meanwhile, Harvard University interim President Alan Garber agreed to pursue a meeting between protesters and university officials regarding the students' questions.

Students at many college campuses this spring set up similar encampments, calling for their schools to cut ties with Israel and businesses that support it.

The Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking 250 hostages. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, and Israel's military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Harvard said its president and the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Hopi Hoekstra, will meet with the protesters to discuss the conflict in the Middle East.

The protesters said they worked out an agreement to meet with university officials, including the Harvard Management Company, which oversees the world's largest academic endowment, valued at about $50 billion.

The protesters' statement said the students will set an agenda that includes discussions on disclosure, divestment, reinvestment and the creation of a Center for Palestine Studies. The students also said that Harvard has offered to retract suspensions of more than 20 students and student workers and back down on disciplinary measures faced by 60 more.

"Since its establishment three weeks ago, the encampment has both broadened and deepened Palestine solidarity organizing on campus," a spokesperson for the protesters said. "It has moved the needle on disclosure and divestment at Harvard."

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