What do Duke students do after graduation?
The Career Center recently implemented a new initiative in hopes of answering this question, tracking students’ post-graduation decisions based on data collected from its senior survey, First Destination Data Collection, Handshake, LinkedIn and other sources.
Academic departments have historically had difficulty tracking students’ paths after graduation. Prior to this new data collection method, the University collected undergraduate outcomes only through the senior survey.
However, this data was often skewed because the senior survey was not mandatory, resulting in response rates below 65%, explained Greg Victory, assistant vice president of student affairs and Fannie Mitchell executive director of the Duke Career Center. The survey also failed to capture students who entered industries that did not hire until April or later.
The Career Center’s new data collection mechanism is significantly more comprehensive, with an 84% knowledge rate that includes information about students’ careers as late as the December after their graduation.
Although the Career Center only has data for the Class of 2022 so far, the results of the new data collection method offer a glimpse into the lives of Duke students post-graduation.
The top six graduate schools students attended include Stanford, Duke, Cambridge, Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago. The top five industries Duke students entered were technology (21%), finance (15%), business or management consulting (15%), healthcare and medicine (9%) and science or research (6%).
Of the students represented in the data, 90% said they were either employed or continuing their education post-graduation.
Following the beaten path
According to the Career Center’s data, more than half of the members of the Class of 2022 who worked in industry immediately after graduation took jobs in technology, finance and consulting.
Victory believes that students often enter these fields after graduation because their recruiting processes are well-defined, leading to security in decision-making.
“I met a parent of a prospective student during Blue Devil Days who referred to [these industries] as car wash recruiting processes … once your car is aligned with that rail, the car wash pulls you through the rest of the way, and I thought that was actually a really brilliant way to explain it,” Victory said.
Victory says that Duke students’ post-graduation paths are often based on their familiarity with certain industries. Many students know what technology and business careers entail and that companies in these industries have many open positions geared towards recent college graduates.
William Julien, Trinity ‘23, arrived at Duke initially planning to follow the pre-med track, but quickly realized that he couldn’t see himself “grinding on that for the next twenty or thirty years.”
Instead, Julien decided to chart his own path, pursuing his long-time passion for film and changing his major to visual media studies with a concentration in cinematic arts.
In industries like filmmaking, Julien noted that there is no one path to success. To succeed, “you just got to go out there and just squeeze through the door that's slightly open,” he said.
Nevertheless, Julien recognizes the security in pursuing careers on well-beaten paths. While some of his peers are “set for the next four years of life,” he joked that he doesn’t know “what [he’s] doing in December.”
Still, Julien is not worried about this uncertainty and is excited to enjoy the journey.
“I’m going to be making movies for the rest of my life. That’s awesome,” he said.
While some students like Julien choose to pursue careers out of passion, Victory said that he has seen other students funnel into more popular industries “because they felt like everybody around them was doing that, and they felt like they were missing something.”
Victory also added that for individuals with a limited income background, career decisions are often driven by finances instead of by interest.
This was the case for Kyle Melatti, Trinity ‘22, who started working at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company following graduation.
“I wanted to be a lawyer someday, and I knew that you couldn't go to law school with zero dollars in the bank,” Melatti said. “Ultimately, it was a financial decision where I had to decide how I [could] make a little bit of money between graduating undergrad and actually going to law school.”
Although it was not his ultimate motivator, Melatti noted that he felt pressure with his public policy studies major to “follow the herd” and enter consulting. He joked that it was difficult to not hear the words McKinsey, Bain or BCG “almost every day, if not every hour” while at Duke.
Although it may sometimes be difficult to forge one’s own path, Melatti feels that Duke empowers students to succeed post-graduation in whatever field they pursue.
“I do think that if you are dead set on becoming a doctor or becoming a lawyer or becoming an engineer, Duke will be the place that will set you up to do that,” he said. “You can absolutely forge your own path, you can make your own major, you can become whoever you want to be.”
According to Victory, Duke students often believe that their major must align with the job they hope to pursue after graduation — but this is not always the case.
“Employers are less and less interested in the major; they don’t care. It’s the degree from Duke and the Duke experience that sells you,” Victory said.
From Melatti’s experience, Victory’s statement holds true.
“It was a totally mixed bag at McKinsey … I think, if anything, I knew less [economics] and finance background folks than I did liberal arts folks,” Melatti said. “I think that was actually a really strong benefit, because you never know what type of background is going to be the best to handle a certain problem or solve a client's needs.”
Still, Victory feels that Duke students are reluctant to buy into this idea. In his opinion, Duke needs “a significant culture shift” to divorce students’ senses of identity from their majors.
Victory noted that a caveat exists for international students, who must often major in STEM disciplines to meet the requirements of Optional Practical Training work authorization.
Gen Z’s professional future
Victory believes the trends towards post-graduate careers in technology, finance and business might change in the near future as the demand for jobs in industries like green technology, sustainability, artificial intelligence, social media and data science grows.
Victory also pointed to Generation Z’s career priorities as a factor driving changes in employment trends. According to a Handshake survey, Gen Z workers value work-life balance, opportunities for promotion, benefits that support flexibility and mental health, community culture, DEI commitments and social responsibility.
Social responsibility was an important consideration for Melatti, who worked on McKinsey’s social, healthcare, and public entities practice.
“I felt consoled to know that I could still serve the public interest, even in the private sector,” Melatti said.
Melatti recently left his job at McKinsey to enroll in Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, a pre-law program that prepares students for law school, before attending the University of Chicago for law school. After law school, he hopes to work in government and ultimately run for political office in his home state of Nevada.
“I want to go into public service after I graduate. That's been my motivation. That's why I was a public policy major. I’ve always wanted to give back to the communities that made me who I am today,” he said.
Aside from Gen Z’s focus on having a positive social impact, Victory noted that the changing emphasis on work-life balance has steered some students away from fields with long working hours, such as investment banking.
Victory also predicted that many Gen Z students will have “side gigs” that allow them to complement permanent employment. He hopes this may give students some flexibility in pursuing careers that do not pay as well.
Ultimately, the Career Center hopes that with more robust data collection will come more information and transparency about not only recruitment, but the rich and varied paths Duke students take after graduation.
“What deeper, more comprehensive data allows us to do is to give more of those examples about the alum who made it as a Broadway producer, because that was their dream,” Victory said. “Here's other people who are doing really great things in the fields that our students are interested in.”
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Zoe Spicer is a Trinity sophomore and a staff reporter of The Chronicle's 118th volume.