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For liberal arts students, exploring career options earlier on in their college years (first and second year) is instrumental in not only refining academic interests and identifying basic career planning steps but it also helps students form a clearer vision of the future. Opportunities for career exploration, like those provided through the LSA Opportunity Hub, support liberal arts students by bridging the gap between classroom learning and careers in tangible ways. Examples include smart goal-setting and action planning with the support of a career coach, completing internships and job shadowing, participating in networking events, and so much more.
For recent LSA grad Erin Tolar, this was no exception. She maps out her personal journey, from first-year student to incoming securities analyst at the world’s leading investment banking and securities firm, Goldman Sachs.
“Coming into college,” she says, “I knew that I wanted to do something in the business world. But I wasn’t sure what.”
When asked to identify the experiences that had the biggest impact on her career exploration, she recalls the first ever economics course she took.
“Economics is very theory-based; there aren’t right or wrongs or room for memorization. You have to look at the world and explain why things are the way they are. It allows you to think non-linearly and draw meaningful conclusions. This is why I fell in love with economics and chose it as my major,” Erin shares.
Erin is not alone; discovering a keen interest or passion for a particular subject early on during a student’s formative years at college is salient to a lot of LSA students’ experiences. In one-on-one discussions with Opportunity Hub coaches, students have shared how they entered college with a predetermined plan to pursue the pre-med track, only to discover their love for statistics, anthropology, or a subject they hadn’t had exposure to. These moments of thoughtful discovery have often been attributed to the liberal arts and sciences; a liberal arts degree allows students a taste of diverse career possibilities and encourages them to change trajectory accordingly.
In describing the value of the liberal arts in her own words, Erin states:
The liberal arts provides access to a broader range of classes and opportunities that often intersect. For example, learning about the criminal justice system is a side interest of mine. I often take what I know about economics and apply those learnings to the study of criminal justice issues. So my liberal arts education encourages me to think broadly and deeply.
The second pivotal moment in Erin’s exploratory journey was the summer accounting internship she completed after her first year. While reflecting on that experience, she remarks on what she liked and disliked about that role.
“I enjoyed the quantitative aspect of the role but the office was too quiet. I didn’t get the chance to regularly communicate with my colleagues so I started feeling a bit lonely and disconnected. Plus, the work pace was slow so the days went by slowly. Coming out of that, I knew I wanted to work somewhere more high-energy and fast-paced,” she says.
Then after her sophomore year, Erin secured a second summer internship in sales.
“I really liked working with clients and enjoyed the relationship-building aspect. But it lacked the quantitative work I had come to enjoy in my last internship. I realized I needed to find a markets-related internship that allowed me to keep up with the world and do work that was relevant to what was happening in real time,” she says.
Which led her to the third pivotal moment: networking with LSA alums in sales and trading. Through her connections, she was able to source an internship with Goldman Sachs in Manhattan, a role that helped her understand how seemingly normal happenings, like a handshake in Washington or a small-scale policy change, can impact global markets and the daily movement of financial assets.
It’s clear why internships are such powerful vehicles for not only career exploration but self exploration too. With direct access to the working world, emerging young professionals like Erin can more easily assess what they have an affinity for and how they can make inroads into a certain field or profession.
“At Goldman Sachs, I worked a ton but every hour that went by was fun and exciting. The best part about it was that everyday was different — not a day went by where I wasn’t learning something new about financial assets and making pitches or meeting new professionals to interview and job shadow. It was a mentally stimulating, team environment,” she says.
Erin also shares the high-impact opportunities she leveraged during her time at UM such as the semester she spent studying abroad in Sydney, Australia; being an active member of Greek life; the student organizations she participated in such as Relay for Life and the fundraising events she spearheaded on behalf of the American Cancer Society; and the hours she spent tutoring and mentoring low-income students in Detroit’s inner city.
“My time at LSA was a very big learning experience. I would never have thought I would have grown or matured this much. Michigan introduced me to my lifelong best friends and provided much-needed access to such a diverse student body and countless events. Coming to UM was the best decision I ever made,” she says.
When asked what specific recruiting or networking advice she would share with students interested in pursuing a role in finance, Erin attributed her career readiness to two things: internships and networking with LSA alums.
The most valuable thing for me was the relationships I built with LSA alums. You focus so much of your time and energy on perfecting a resumé, but making relevant connections and strengthening these relationships over time have been keys to my learning and success.
There are many lessons we can learn from Erin’s experience. For one, don’t let doubt or discomfort be a roadblock when reaching out to an alum or other professional connection, especially when the opportunity presents itself. There’s also no need to show you know absolutely everything about the role or the industry. Simply relaying your excitement, willingness to learn, and resourcefulness is adequate. If they don’t respond, don’t take it personally. Be persistent in following up, ask for advice, and keep them informed of the outcomes. There’s nothing a committed alum appreciates more than knowing their advice made an enduring impact.
Ultimately, putting in the time and effort into early career exploration such as intensifying existing bonds with LSA alums, will eventually pay off—in dividends.