Education vs. employment
“It was a disaster,” is how one college senior described her final semester. Like many students coming to the end of their college careers, this student was submerged in schoolwork and the job hunt. This reflects the fact that it takes a lot to overwhelm Korea’s young people, arguably the hardest working in the world.
Another student in his last semester was performing better than ever in class, but was unable to keep up with the prowl on the job hunt. He just missed getting his application in for a prestigious company at which his family had good connections, because he chose to prepare for class and ran out of time. This is a student who had stopped exercising and sleeping normally in order to find more time.
This same student remarked that in addition to considerable homework, students must devote a large amount of time to writing cover letters. Companies expect long detailed answers to questions ranging from “What was the most difficult situation in your life and how did you deal with it?” to “If you had to fill a container with something, what would it be and why?” It’s not uncommon for a student to spend a week on each cover letter. Clearly, writing a few cover letters might be a real burden for a student on top of writing essays, reading textbooks, preparing presentations, and reviewing notes for their classes. However, students write more than just a few cover letters; it is normal to apply to 30 to 50 companies.
When a student’s cover letter is well received, the company schedules an interview. The student has no real method of rescheduling so if the interview conflicts with classes, the student has another difficult choice. When a student passes the first interview there is a second and, if the student succeeds again, there is a third. If a student is lucky enough to get called in for interviews with a few companies, she or he will probably miss several classes.
No wonder students find it difficult to keep up with both classes and the job hunt. Students who are falling behind with their homework as they work on their cover letters begin to miss multiple classes due to interviews. It soon becomes impossible for them to keep up with course content. If a previously good student fails a final exam the professor may be faced with the difficult decision off ruining the students GPA by giving them the grade they earned or fudging the numbers a bit and giving the student the grade they might have been capable of had the job hunt not interfered with their studies.
This conflict between education and employment is a problem that Korea needs to face for the sake of its youth, who are currently caught in an unfair situation. They must choose between taking advantage of the learning opportunities available during their final semester at university and giving themselves the best chance to land a good job.
Students often remark that after graduation it’s too late to start searching for a job. As one student told me, “Most companies prefer to hire students before they graduate. I don’t know the exact reason. It is a kind of custom.”
That belief pressures students to prepare applications in lieu of homework and skip class in favor of interviews. I talked to a young woman in her final semester who said, “It may sound ridiculous but I decided to concentrate on my classes in my final semester because I still had a lot to learn.”
We all have a lot to learn and university could be the ideal place for it, but learning takes time that many students feel they can’t spare. As a result their academic performance suffers while they struggle to finish job applications and prepare for interviews while graduate at the same time.
Those students that have found work face a new problem — they must convince their professors to pass them even though they might miss the second half of the semester and the final exam. If they don’t pass the class they may lose the job. If they attend class in order to pass it, they may lose the job. Their only hope for keeping the newfound job is to find sympathetic professors who will pass the students because they have a job and not because they have demonstrated an understanding of the class content.
There is no winner in this conflict. Students face unnecessary stress because they are forced to take on the equivalent of two full-time jobs. Parents pay good money which is more or less wasted when their sons and daughters can’t make the most of their educational opportunities. Professors must choose between compassion for their students and academic standards. Companies wind up with employees who are not as well-rounded or as healthy as they could be.
Our society will benefit if we can put students in a position to give education and the job hunt their full attention, rather than asking them to work on both at the same time.
The writer is an assistant professor of the College of English at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.