Wellesley College’s Office of Institutional Research (OIR) released the findings of a comprehensive survey on graduating seniors’ plans and alumnae occupations in Dec. 2015. Among the most important results highlighted is the proportion of Wellesley seniors who attend graduate school after college; the survey lists this figure for students graduating with majors in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Popular alumnae occupations for the classes of 1960-2015 and average and median starting salaries for 16 majors in the classes of 2014 and 2015 are also identified. The results help shed some light on how the job market has evolved since the 1960s and how Wellesley alumnae have made their career decisions based on their majors and the state of the economy. Particularly interesting findings include how The information from this survey is available to those with Wellesley College accounts via the Surveys and Reports page on OIR’s website.
Since 2006, the proportion of Wellesley graduates working full time immediately upon graduation has increased slightly to 72 percent in 2015. This trend coincides with the decreasing percentage of Wellesley College graduates attending graduate school full time after graduation. That figure has decreased by a more notable 10 percent from 25 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2015. This percentage reached a low point of 14 percent in 2011 before briefly rebounding to 23 percent in 2012. It has fallen steadily since then. While more Wellesley graduates seem to be delaying when they first attend graduate school because of jobs and fellowships, the vast majority of Wellesley College graduates attend graduate school at some point in their lives. According to the Wellesley College website, 80 percent of Wellesley graduates attend graduate school within 10 years of graduating.
The recent Wellesley trend of declining full-time graduate school enrollment differs from the national trend. The drop in graduates enrolling in graduate school immediately after college in the United States began with the recession, but ended in 2012 before steadily recovering. First-time graduate enrollment declined between 2010 and 2012 before rebounding to around 480,000 in 2014. Total graduate school enrollment in the United States has taken a similar path, with a decline between 2010 and 2012 and subsequent recovery to 1.7 million graduate students in 2014. These findings were released by the CGS/GRE Survey of Graduate Enrollment and Degrees in its survey Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2004 to 2014.
A common theme studied in the OIR study was how graduate decisions and outcomes for Wellesley students in different major areas differed. While social sciences majors were more likely to secure employment after graduation, natural sciences majors had the highest graduate school enrollment rates after graduation. 23 percent of natural sciences majors attended graduate school full time and 73 percent of social science majors secured full time employment after graduation, according to the 2014-15 Wellesley Senior Exit Survey. That same survey found that Wellesley 2014 and 2015 graduates working full-time reported a median starting salary of $54,000.
From 1960 to 2015, 52 percent of the 20,000 alumnae participants work as lawyers, physicians or surgeons, business consultants, post-secondary educators, businesswomen, primary school teachers, post-secondary administrators, financial analysts or researchers and non-profit employees, in that order. The percentage of financial analysts or researchers jumped from two percent of graduating classes in the 1960s to nine percent today. The proportion of Wellesley alumnae lawyers fell slightly from its peak of 11 percent of graduating classes in the 1970s to eight percent of graduating classes in the 2000s. The percentage of alumnae as higher education teachers declined from ten percent of graduating classes in the 1960s to three percent of graduating classes in the 2000s while the percentage of physicians or surgeons declined to four percent of graduating classes in the 2000s from nine percent of graduating classes in the 1970s.
The proportion of Wellesley lawyers, doctors or surgeons and higher education teachers has stayed relatively constant over the decades. The OIR study states that there is a time effect with these professions, meaning that Wellesley graduates often work in jobs or fellowships for a few years before going to graduate school. In addition, lawyers attend law school for three years while doctors and surgeons attend medical school for four or five years before completing residencies that can take up to seven years. Many Wellesley graduates seeking to teach often work in a prestigious teaching fellowships such as the Fulbright program before attending graduate school and entering the workforce. This makes the reported percentage of Wellesley lawyers, doctors and surgeons and high education teachers appear lower than in past decades.
While the time effect shows that the decline in Wellesley lawyers is not as pronounced as the data suggests, some current Wellesley lawyers argued fewer Wellesley graduates enter the profession, with Jenessa Boleda Coccaro ’01 simply writing, “exponentially higher debt.” An average law school student in the United States graduated with a debt of $97,306 in 2010.
Wendy Harlan ’90 agreed with Coccaro and pointed to other factors that can make law practice less attractive for current Wellesley graduates.
“For those who do manage to get high paying law firm jobs, they are often miserable. Long hours, and work that is both stressful and boring. There is also lots of publicity about women not climbing the ranks in proportion to their law school graduation rates,” Harlan explained.
Alisha Carlile ’00 also highlighted the high student loan burden of law school graduates and noted that the law profession has recovered slowly from the recent recession.
“Things just started to pick up in 2003-05 after the 2001 recession, and then another huge slow down in legal hiring in 2007 due to the financial crisis. There has also been more detailed reporting of the woes of the legal industry and high unemployment rates of recent grads,” Carlile noted.
Wellesley alumnae and students were quick to chime in on why Wellesley alumnae seem to be entering the fields of finance and business at a high rate today.
Assistant Vice President of Global Strategy at State Street Amy Iseppi ’08 pointed to the popularity of the economics major at Wellesley today as one reason for this trend.
“The jobs promise a steep learning curve and strong training,” Iseppi said, also noting that jobs in these fields tend to be lucrative.
Katy Ma ’18 concurred with Iseppi and discussed the strong alumnae network in business and finance as a factor that draws Wellesley students to these fields.
“The willingness of alums in business to help and mentor Wellesley students definitely contributes to this trend,” Ma wrote.
Wellesley College indeed has several groups devoted to introducing current students and alumnae to business through lectures and alumnae connections. Some of these organizations include Wellesley Women in Business for current students and Wellesley Business Leadership Council for alumnae.
Victoria Lai ’01 discussed her own experience in the fields of finance and business and noted that “the field of startups and entrepreneurship has changed quickly since 2001 for all colleges.” Due to recent movements like crowdfunding and a marked increase in individuals’ ability to raise money online, it has become easier than ever before to raise a lot of funding in a small amount of time.
“I went into politics and law after graduation because the only business opportunities I saw were in finance and consulting. Twelve years after graduating, I discovered that I’m good at entrepreneurship, and it didn’t require a Goldman or Bain internship to learn how business operates,” Lai said, saying that she wished she had been aware of non-finance business fields in 2001. Lai has since founded the Ice Cream Jubilee shop in Washington D.C. and is an entrepreneur.