30th January 2019
Danica Ross pinpoints some remarkable traits of the next crop of students
I have the honor of serving as an alumni interviewer of freshman applicants to my alma mater. In the nearly 20 years that I’ve held this role, I’ve spoken with hundreds of hopeful teenagers – and there are a few things that stand out about this class that are worth getting your head around before they join your office.
(Full disclosure, it goes without saying that my sample size here falls far short of statistical significance, but it does span gender, race, religion, and academic interests – so we’ll take it for what it is and note some interesting trends).
1. They didn’t take the same AP Econ … or US Government … or World History … as you did, even if the standardized test was the same
Brexit, government shutdowns, martial law in the Ukraine – today’s students, like the rest of us, are watching history unfold around them. They know it, and their teachers know it. Moreover, their teachers are adapting deeply entrenched curricula to incorporate current events. Of course, these students are still learning the same concepts we learned (yes, , yes ). But they are learning these things within the context of events happening around, and to them, in real time. Consequently, they have a much greater and deeper understanding of concepts that many of us learned only as theory.
2. They cannot be defined by one interest
I’ve interviewed candidates for the business school, the engineering school, and the college of arts and sciences, and one thing rings true across degree aspirations – these students are multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary. They are science majors who want to take fine arts classes, Poly Sci majors whose favorite class in high school was AP English, and Engineers who want to explore business classes. They do not view college as a time to hone expertise in one area, but rather as a time to gain additional knowledge and skills across multiple sectors.
3. Casual is their normal
I haven’t seen a single tie this year and I believe I saw only one blazer. I could be wrong, there may have been others that I don’t recall (after all, their wardrobe is really the last thing I care about) but I don’t think I am. To be sure, this is a trend that has been building for several years. But I have been struck by the decidedly casual attire of this class. T-shirts abound! As do sneakers and ripped jeans. Do I care? Not at all. But it is interesting that even in this setting, they opt for a very casual look.
4. They volunteer because they want to
When I was in high school, community service was all too often something that you did because you had to. In my school, you literally had to. It was a graduation requirement. For others the “had to” was a more enigmatic mandate based on an assumption that “it’s what colleges want to see.” To be sure, many people had deeply rewarding experiences with community service. But, over the years, I’ve also encountered a lot of students who could speak in great detail about the volunteer work they’d done. But the issues and values they’d remark upon during that part of the conversation were never mentioned in any other topic of discussion. It was clear that this work was compartmentalized as a box they had to tick. The modern student-volunteer is a totally different animal. They are more aware of social issues and they follow those passions and concerns to be agents of change. Sitting with them, their social engagement comes up again and again through anecdotes and as reference points for their how they’ve formed opinions and career aspirations.
Surely not all of these traits will apply to all of those earning their diplomas in 2023. But I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and it’s rare that I am struck by such consistent qualities, that are so markedly different than previous years. I know I’ll be paying close attention when this cohort enters the workforce.
Danica Ross is Grayling's chief client officer.
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