After Macalester: the many paths of post-graduation life

Estelle Timar-Wilcox, Staff Writer

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The “after Macalester” page of the college’s website advertises that “if you graduate from Macalester, you might become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate or write a bestselling novel or be chosen one of Popular Science’s ‘Brilliant 10 Young Scientists.’”

But it can take a while to get there — in the few months or years after graduation, you might be hopping between temporary jobs, living at home or working in low-paying positions. For some, that’s exactly what’s needed.

Hallie Kircher-Henning ’19 started her first year out of college with two job offers to consider. One was a steady, well-paying job as a legal assistant for an immigration law firm, a field where she’d spent some time as an intern. The other was a year-long position as an elementary school tutor and program coordinator with Reading Partners, an AmeriCorps partner.

Kircher-Henning took the Reading Partners job after getting in touch with a Macalester class of 2012 graduate who worked at that legal firm.

“She told me, if you know that immigration law is what you want to do, this is a great place to be,” Kircher-Henning said. “But she also was talking about the competitive culture of the legal assistants.”

After feeling caught up in a competitive culture at Macalester, Kircher-Henning was wary of the stories of legal assistants competing to see who would stay latest, who had the biggest case load and who could impress the attorneys.

“I want[ed] to try something completely different than what I’ve done… I didn’t see myself doing [Reading Partners] at all but I’m really glad that I did and it’s definitely a really refreshing opportunity,” Kircher-Henning said. 

Kira Pollack ’18 was looking for a reprieve from Twin Cities life, too. She spent her first months out of college at a summer camp in upstate New York, working as a counselor and then as an event planner.

“I knew I needed a bit of a break, especially after all the stress of senior year and capstones and the craziness that is life at Mac,” Pollack said.

Missy Stevavonic ’19 took on temporary work, too. Immediately after graduation, she started a six-month job with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in a Wisconsin park. This was  a much needed break from her senior year stress of working two jobs and writing two capstones.

For Stevanovic, the workload of high school and college came with a “feeling like you’re wearing a sweater that’s a little too tight constantly, you can’t take it off,” she said. “That is a very strange feeling to now be without because I’ve had it for so long.”

Despite the benefits seasonal jobs and temporary positions offer some students, it doesn’t always seem like the most viable option. Pollack is now working with the Conservation Corps, as she planned before graduation, but watching friends head to grad school or land fairly high-paying “real adult jobs” was a source of pressure.

“A lot of the stress was coming in comparison,” Pollack said. “A lot of my classmates jumped right into these career-type jobs… whereas I was telling people, ‘I’ll probably go to New York and I’ll come back and then we’ll see,’” Pollack said. 

Regardless of where students go after graduating, leaving Macalester comes with some significant challenges. Plenty of alumni find themselves in “the wacky wonderful world of unemployment” at some point, as Stevanovic calls it. Adjusting resumés and applying to jobs has become routine. For anyone who’s spent the bulk of their lives in school, job searching brings a daunting uncertainty.

“It’s not even about money, per se, but the knowing,” Pollack said. 

Social circles that were constantly around in college change, too. The “Macalester bubble” pops quickly after graduation as alumni spread out around the country (or, for 8% of the class of 2018, around the world).

“I felt prepared in the technical sense, but the social sense is a lot harder,” Pollack said.

“The support system that I had built up over the last four years has scattered to the four winds, and as proud as I am of all of the people that I surrounded myself with, it’s also a little devastating to not have that close knit community anymore.”

For some alumni, reconnecting with Macalester alleviates this sudden break from the community. Kircher-Henning has appreciated living in Minneapolis and being close to some friends from college. Pollack works as a class agent — she is one of 40 students from her graduating class tasked with reaching out to her peers and keeping them in the loop with Macalester fundraising events.

“It helps me be really on top of contacting some of my closest friends on a pretty regular basis, and I try my best not to do that in a transactional way, asking ‘hey, actually tell me about your life, I’m curious; here’s what’s going on in mine,’” Pollack said.

She’s found some community in Young Macalester Alumni Connect (YMAC), a group with chapters in several cities to connect alumni who have graduated in the last ten years. This has offered a chance for her to find people who “have the same way of thinking that Macalester students are so good at.”

“It can be hard sometimes in the real world to meet people who are asking the same questions and thinking critically, but who are still goofy nerds,” Pollack said.

These alumni aren’t quite winning Nobel prizes or publishing bestselling novels yet, but the first year out of school has had its perks for all of them.

“You don’t always have to go and do something for six months or do anything once you graduate,” Stevanovic said. “People need to do what they need to do”

Kircher-Henning, too, has been reflecting on the stories of alumni she’d heard while in college — mostly about people who were already off to grad school or working high-profile jobs.

“[They] are objectively doing awesome things… but I think it also minimizes experiences of people who just kind of made it through and the first year out is a really big time of exploration and self discovery, of who you are when you’re not a student,” Kircher-Henning said.

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