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Grad school: Crutch or Catapult?

(09/26/90 9:00am)

David Stone was not cut out for law school. Not more than a minute and a half of it, that is. "I went to law school for one day and about a minute and a half into the first lecture I said, 'I don't want to do this,' " the 1988 College graduate said recently. " 'I want to be a producer. I don't want to be a lawyer.' " Stone did not set out to be a lawyer. It was only after a year working for a New York theater production company that he decided that the legal aspects of his job made getting a law degree the logical "next step." His day in law school made him decide otherwise. "A lot of people are going to law school these days because everyone else is," or "because they don't know what to do and think it will be a good background," Stone said. Several career counselors across the country echoed Stone's assesment that some graduates use law school -- or to a lesser degree other graduate schools -- as a way to put off tough career decisions. "I worry that they're not clear about why they want to go, that there's a lot of pressure from their parents and their peers," Career Planning and Placement Counselor Jane Finkle said last week. Finkle said that when students choose law school early in their senior year "they know what they're going to do next year instead of taking a risk and trying something in the work place." The phenomenon occurs across the country, and, according to University of Michigan Law School Director of Placement Nancy Krieger, is not at all new. Krieger said some students feel medical school and law school are the only choices after college. "If you don't like blood, you go to law school," she said. But students who expect law school to postpone their career decisions by three years may be in for a surprise: they've already made a choice. Despite a growing number of dissatisfied lawyers seeking to transfer legal skills to other professions, Krieger said that "virtually all" law school graduates take traditional careers as lawyers. "For those people who have some direction, a law degree can be a wonderful added value for a career, but to graduate from law school and expect doors to open for you in the non-law world is, I think, probably naive," Krieger said. · According to a 1989 CPPS survey, more and more College graduates are choosing to put off graduate study for a few years while they try their hands at jobs and other short-term activities. Still, almost one third of the College class of 1989 went on directly to graduate school, and many more may find their way back to the ivory tower within a few years. Students who wade through the daunting battery of tests, recommendations, applications and even interviews can choose from a variety of graduate programs. And across the board, the chances of getting in are overwhelmingly good for University graduates. Last year, for example, over 90 percent of University applicants to medical school were admitted, according to CPPS Counselor Gail Glicksman. In fact, "the only school that sends more people to Havard Medical School is Harvard," said Frank Rybicki, a 1988 College graduate who serves on the Havard Medical School admissions committee. Like law school, most graduate study in any field leads to a job in that field. So the first step along the road to graduate school is choosing the right field. For applicants to doctoral programs in the humanities and sciences, this choice usually involves close consultation with an undergraduate faculty mentor or advisor, who in many cases provides the inspiration for choosing graduate study. In other cases students decided what kind of degree they wanted long ago. Students bound for medical school must complete a basic undergraduate science curriculum before they begin their medical training, and most students start freshman year. Fortunately for a growing number of University graduates, the door is not closed to students who choose to become doctors later. Many schools across the country -- including the University -- offer post-bachelor pre-med programs that can bring any student up to the required level in about two years. · But from there, the path to medical school is perhaps the most rigorous of all the graduate school application processes. In addition to the applications themselves, applicants must take the Medical College Admission Test, submit recommendations and pay some hefty fees. Perhaps the most widely feared part of the process is the gruelling MCAT, a day-long battery of multiple-choice and essay tests on physics, biology, reading comprehension, math and reasoning skills. The test directly examines achievement in the pre-med curriculum and calls for thorough preparation. To prepare themselves better, many students sign up for review courses at private test prep schools like Stanley Kaplan or Princeton Review which can cost more than $600. [See story, right.] Although the review centers promise a rise in scores, several CPPS officials said they were skeptical of the programs. Career Counselor Glicksman, who advises students applying to medical school, said that she has seen "frankly no" difference in scores between students who prep and well-disciplined students who prepare on their own. Despite common student fears, Glicksman said last week that medical schools do not set minimum MCAT scores for admission. "I suppose you can see that most successful applicants to medical school fall in certain ranges, but there are no specific cutoffs," Glicksman said. Moreover, Glicksman said that University students usually perform well on the standardized test, a tendency she credited to the University's science instruction. Registering to take the test is expensive. Although fee waivers are available, basic registration costs $105, with additional charges to send out scores. A typical list of ten schools can run about $250. Moreover, many schools require supplementary application fees which run around $50. But these fees pale next to the first year tuition. With few scholarships available, most students can expect to pay almost $18,000 for a year of private medical school or $6000 for a home-state institution. The application procedure is very similar for law school, except there is no required curriculum, and CPPS's Finkle said that law school admissions committees favor "diversity." Just as for medical school, applicants are required to take a standardized test -- the Law School Admissions Test -- and subscribe to a costly score compilation service. · During the early 1980s, when a tight academic job market was flooded with fresh Ph.D. graduates, placement offices across the country scrambled to transfer the graduates' academic skills to other fields. But now the academic job market has opened up, and most Ph.D. graduates are happy to fill the positions, according to David Laurence, the director of English programs at the Modern Language Association, the trade association for English professors. Answering the call for new professors, more than 90 percent of current Ph.D. graduates take jobs in academia, Laurence said. New doctoral graduates from the University and its peer institutions are so much in demand that they can even chose between different universities, said Mary Heiberger, the CPPS counselor responsible for graduate students. The outlook for current college students who want to become professors one day is also bright. Most professors hired in the 1960s to teach the "baby boom" generation will be retiring in the next few years and will need to be replaced, several career counselors noted recently. Steven Ochs contributed to this story.

SIDEBAR: Review programs target students

(09/26/90 9:00am)

The name Stanley Kaplan sounds familiar to almost every student. And it's not because he used to live next door. Stanley Kaplan and other test preparation services have made their names ubiquitous on college campus. Their advertisements appear regularly in student newspapers, on bulletin boards, and even in course rosters. And they have sucessfully convinced many students that taking standardized tests for admission to law, medical and other graduate schools without signing up for $700 "prep" is foolhardy. There are no precise figures on the percentage of students who use the courses for standardized tests, but placement officers and prep course officials say the percentage is "very high." Are the courses necessary? University career counselors consulted last week categorically said no, but prep course organizers all but guarantee a rise in scores for any student. Philadelphia Princeton Review Director Steven Hodas said last week that his students average a nine-point improvement on the LSAT, a significant rise on the test's 48-point scale. Hodas added that students who start with lower scores tend to show more marked improvement than students who start high. At the very top of the scale, Princeton Review students average only a 1.8 point improvement. Yet Career Planning and Placement Service's Jane Finkle, who advises students applying to law school, said last week that she sees students learning little more than discipline for their tuition. "I guess maybe the advantage of a prep course is some students do have a hard time disciplining themselves and the prep courses make them more confident," Finkle said. "Most of the time I haven't experienced that there's a real difference in scores." CPPS Counselor Gail Glicksman said last week that the courses have become such an institutional part of professional school applications that many students feel compelled to take them. "Some of the students feel that just paying the money will protect them in a superstitious sort of way," Glicksman said. Even Princeton Review's Hodas conceded that not everybody needs a prep course. "There's probably more prep going on than there needs to be," Hodas said last week. "People may feel that too many people prep -- nobody wants to be the one who doesn't." "There's kind of a herd mentality and a kind of cover-your-ass mentality," Hodas added.

For now, several history profs are a thing of the past

(09/11/90 9:00am)

As falls from innocence go, learning that many courses in the University's course catalog are not offered every semester rates right next to the truth about the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. But some history majors said they felt particularly disappointed this fall when they found that over one-quarter of the University's 36 history professors were on leave. Perennial favorites such as Jack Reece, Jim Davis and Susan Maquin are out. So are David Ludden, Carol Smith-Rosenberg and Mary Frances Berry. And don't put off taking the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: Thomas Childers will be gone next spring. Although History Department officials maintain that this year's absence rate is close to average, many students said this week that they have found this fall's European and diplomatic history offerings especially lean. "The European was hit real hard," History Department Graduate Chairperson Walter Licht said last week. And the department's two international diplomacy specialists, Marc Trachtenberg and Walter McDougall, are on leave simultaneously. Close to half of the approximately 200 registered history majors have chosen the European track. Perhaps five percent of all history majors opt for the diplomatic sub-specialty, according to History Department Undergraduate Chairperson Robert Engs. College senior Jill Harrison said yesterday that she recenty changed her concentration from the diplomatic track because she feared she would be unable to find courses she wants to meet the requirements. "There are some courses available," she said. "But when you're in your last year, you want to take small courses that interest you and there aren't that many of them." Department officials said yesterday that the University has found replacements for eight of the 10 history professors on leave this fall, but conceded that it is difficult to find visiting professors who can teach courses mirroring the department's curriculum. The problem is exacerbated because many students select courses by the reputation of the professor instead of by a particular course title. "Hiring somebody else to teach American Intellectual History, for example, wouldn't solve the problem because the students don't want to take it from a new person," Engs said yesterday. Department officials said this week that there is no formal way to coordinate leave to avoid gaps in a given specialty. "A department head could certainly urge his or her colleages to reschedule their leaves," Associate Dean Walter Wales said yesterday. "That's easier said than done." But Wales said that he knows of many cases in which professors have rescheduled their leave because of problems covering courses. University policy grants professors one semester of leave at full pay or two semesters of leave at half pay after every six years of service. This leave - known as sabbatical leave - is subject to review by the Provost's Office. But the requests are not often rejected, according to Wales. In addition, professors who receive outside scholarships are categorically permitted to take leave without pay regardless of their sabbatical leave. Because news of outside fellowships often does not arrive until April or May, it is especially difficult for department officals to plan ahead. Professors almost never reject these prestigious offers. Engs said the University has little impetus to discourage professors from taking these fellowships since it often costs less to hire a replacement lecturer than to pay a senior professor's salary.

In HRN, a job for Mighty Mouse or an RA

(09/10/90 9:00am)

As a residential advisor, Wharton junior David Kaufman was instructed in the ways of ethnic and racial awareness, fire hazards and the University's alcohol policy. Zoology was not part of his training. But after High Rise North resident Audra Bernstein and her roommates discovered a small mouse swimming in their kitchen sink yesterday morning, Kaufman was their only hope. "I didn't know what to do," the College sophomore said. "It was doing the doggie paddle." A week-old clog had left the sink full of water. Bernstein called the High Rise North desk. A desk worker offered to call Physical Plant. But University employees contacted during the course of the day declined to assist her with the hairy situation, even though University policy prohibits pets in the dormitories. And High Rise North records show that mousecalls must wait until regular business hours. A Physical Plant worker who last night claimed to have received the call said that his mechanics have no time for mousecapades on Sundays. "Emergencies only," said the worker, who identified himself only as Bill. Bernstein said yesterday that she was willing to undertake the urgent rodent removal herself, but feared that her suburban New York upbringing left her unprepared for the task. "I would have done it it's just that I figured that somebody else would have had mouse experience," Bernstein said. Called onto the scene in the early evening, RA Kaufman quickly sized up the situation, creating high-tech pest-disposal equipment out of a styrofoam cup, a wire coat hanger and a red aluminum recycling bin. "Everything is in my job description," said Kaufman, makeshift mousecatcher in hand.

Enjoy the show, and let's do lunch

(09/07/90 9:00am)

Despite the bold, bald, and occasionally ribald entertainment of Performing Arts Night, which opens tonight, performing arts leaders do not hide the fact that they don their masks in a recruitment effort to rival that of the Army. In their allotted four minutes, performing groups such as Penny Loafers and Penn Players will try to show how they differ from Penn 6-5000 and Pennchants, and are in no way to be confused with Penn Pipers and Penn Dixie, according to Penn Singers Business Manager Steve Querido, who called the evening a "must" for all arts-minded new students. The two-hour showcase effectively dredges up talent for century-old and verdant arts groups alike, said Bloomers member and College sophomore Leslie Wolf, adding that last year's performance by the women's song and dance troupe pushed her to audition. Other groups said that they rely on the two Performing Arts Night shows being held tonight and tomorrow night at Zellerbach Theatre for the majority of its tryouts. Yet despite the gala's importance in the University arts community, group leaders said this week that they put little time into preparing the acts, usually calling on popular pieces from their repertoire. Although it has been the true curtain call of New Student Week for almost 20 years, the program is not officially linked to orientation. Instead it is organized by the Performing Arts Council, an umbrella student arts organization which relies on the show's approximately $6000 gross to fund activities for the year, such as printing costs for its brochure Penn Performs. Performing Arts Night will take place tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. in the Zellerbach Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the Annenberg Center box office. Tickets cost $4 for new students and $6 for returning students.