Taking the non-traditional path
Traditionally, employers are aware that college students follow a certain road on their way to graduation. The path college students take from school to career can even be described as a “pipeline.” Generally, most students enter college; spend a couple of years adjusting to the campus environment; spend a summer or two working or traveling; and finally graduate and enter the workforce. In most cases, the journey through this pipeline takes somewhere between four to six years. When I think back to my college educational experience, as well as the experiences of the Hispanic college students I’ve talked to over the last fifteen years, the educational pipeline is much different. For me and other Hispanic college students, using the pipeline metaphor might not capture our experiences as accurately as it should. Let me explain by using my journey as an example.
To start, I worked full-time almost five years before setting foot on a college campus. Part of the reason for working full-time was to contribute to the family household, buy a car, and save money in order to go to college. Once enrolled as a full-time college student, I either worked on-campus as a student employee or off-campus to earn extra money to pay for college expenses that my financial aid didn’t cover. And while I did take advantage of school breaks, most of my summers were spent going to school and working in order to graduate within four years (I actually did it in 3 ½). My experience as an undergraduate was not any different than many Hispanic college students today. And while I was fortunate to not have to interrupt my education, many Hispanic college students must do this in order to address many of the same financial factors I described earlier.
So rather than illustrating the Hispanic college student experience as a pipeline, I think it resembles a pattern of on-ramps and off-ramps; school, work and back to school. It’s an important difference for employers to understand, especially if it doesn’t fit the usual college pipeline characteristics. For example, a non-traditional student pattern can extend time-to-graduation timelines or limit involvement in campus activities. On the other hand, what this unique experience does provide you as an employer are highly responsible, committed, and driven interns. It takes a lot of determination and focus to get through this process. The confidence, maturity, and other work skills Hispanic college students obtain resulting from this non-traditional experience should be leveraged and utilized to benefit your organization.