How to Evaluate Graduate School and Job Offers

When graduation is staring you down, it’s easy to feel panic.  Should you go to grad school? Should you enter the workforce? Should you sit in your parents’ basement and play video games?

Part of the problem is that you just don’t know what’s next.  In all honesty, you can’t know.  Your college classes and professors and mentors and friends have done their best to prepare you, but the whole point of graduation is that you are now on your own.  ”Real life” has commenced, and that can be simply terrifying.  You don’t know whether you’ll like your job, or whether you’ll really connect with your course of graduate studies, and you won’t until you actually start.

So how do you make a decision when you can’t know the right answer?  You make the best decision from the options available. 

Judge your opportunities across three criteria:  Power, Potential, and Planning.

Grad School

You’ve decided you need more preparation to enter the workforce.  Depending on your chosen career path, this can be a great choice.  I do strongly advise, however, that you not close your eyes to taking a gap year.  Always leave that option on the table. Evaluate whether you would gain more from a gap year than from going straight to graduate school. If you do choose to take a gap year and work, you may find that you are far more prepared and far more effective when you come back to school.

Take my situation as an example.  Just about a year ago, I was trying to decide between two law schools.  Both schools were great, and both schools had given me the option to defer my enrollment for a year.  Deciding to take advantage of that deferment was the best choice I could have made; I’m now starting law school with a wealth of new skills, experience, and knowledge, including, quite simply, a better understanding of being an adult.

“But, MJ,” you might ask, “how did you then choose between the two schools?”  Let’s look at these three criteria to find out.

  • Power:  What comparative advantage does one school have over the other?  Both schools will give me a J.D., and the same basic skills as a lawyer, but does one school have a better job placement percentage?  Does one school have greater prestige? Have you researched the prestige and experience of the professors in your field at each school? What is the average incoming GPA/LSAT/MCAT/GRE scores? How selective is the school - what is their acceptance rate? Who has a greater alumni network which will open doors and qualify me for opportunities that the other just can’t?  Does one school have a better percentage of graduating qualified students who can pass their professional exams?  Does one school have a better academic reputation than the other? Does one school send graduates onto the type of employment I am considering?

You choose a graduate school in order to position yourself better for your chosen career.  If you aren’t choosing the school which gives you the best position upon graduation, you’re wasting your time.

  • Potential:  What are the median salaries of graduates from the two schools?  Does one school graduate students with far higher debt levels than the other?  If so, is this balanced by a commensurately higher salary?  If one school offers you way more money than the other, it can be easy to be persuaded by the zeroes at the end of the scholarship offer.  But will that be worth it over a thirty or forty year career? 

Choose the school that will give you the best position ten, twenty, thirty years down the road.  Don’t be seduced by short-term gain; your career lasts your whole life, not just the remainder of your twenties.

  • Planning:  Your choice of graduate school will likely determine your future.  The location of your school determines your immediate job prospects and the debt load you’ll shoulder will affect your finances for years, so it’s crucial to pick the school that’s the best fit for how you want your life to play out.  Now, will everything work out exactly the way you want?  Of course not.  Choosing the school that ticks the checkboxes you need, though, puts you in a far better position to be prepared for both immediate job prospects and the debt load you’ll shoulder going right and the potential for circumstances which deviate from your plan. 

Sit down and sketch out a rough outline of the start of your career.  Where do you want to be immediately after graduation?  Where do you want to be in three years? In ten?  Which school gets you to your checkpoints? Check out the Graduate School Guide on the Career Services Website to help you evaluate your decision. 

For me, then, it came down to Notre Dame Law and Michigan Law.  Two great schools.  Two great scholarship offers.  I can’t say a bad thing about either school or either admissions process.  When I evaluated the two schools across the three criteria, however, the answer about which was the right school for me quickly became clear.

Attending Michigan Law was the right choice for me because it positions me better immediately upon graduation for the initial job that I want to launch my career to get me where I want to be in ten years.  I want to be the best lawyer in Detroit; attending Michigan Law is the best way to prepare for that.

Entering the Workforce

Let’s say Grad School is definitely not for you.  You’re so fed up with writing never-ending essays, answering pointless questions on tests, and sitting in boring lectures. You just need to get out, find a job, and spend your time writing never-ending emails, answering the same pointless questions from your clients, and sitting in boring meetings that really didn’t need to happen. Aren’t you glad to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel?

In all seriousness, the work that you do is enriching and should be chosen carefully. Just like you want to have multiple grad school options, you’ll want to have multiple job offers to ensure you make the right choice. Let’s look at the questions you should be asking:

  • Power:  What comparative advantage does one job have over the other?  Will one job give you better training, or let you take on more responsibilities?  Which job will make your head hurt less?  If you’re going to spend all your time at this place, who are the people with whom you’ll be working?  What’s the culture like at the company?  Which supervisor will you have a better relationship with? Studies show that the number one reason people leave a job is because they don’t get along with their boss; will that be you in six months?

You choose your first job in order to position yourself better for your chosen career.  The first position leads to the next one, whether that is internal to your first company or a lateral movement to another company.  Which job kicks your career into gear? 

  • Potential:  What potential for advancement will you have?  Do people often spend multiple years and receive multiple promotions at the company?  What’s your starting salary going to be?  What does the system for pay increases look like?  Are there opportunities for continuing education?  

Choose the job that will position you best to be where you want to be in ten years.  It’s easy to be lured by zeroes at the end of a signing bonus.  Are you trading long-term success for short-term gain? Your career is your life, not just a new car or a slightly nicer apartment.

  • Planning:  Your first job determines so much about the initial course of your adult life.  It, and every job you take over the course of your career, will determine so much about who you are.  Your future starts now.  What choice will you make?  What will prepare you to take advantage of the things that go well, and what will protect you when things inevitably go wrong?

Sit down and sketch out a rough outline of the start of your career.  Where do you want to be one year into your first job?  Where do you want to be in three years? In ten?  Those answers will tell you which job offer to accept.

Make good decisions based on the criterion we’ve established and the insights they provide. Be willing to take chances and strive after something daring. Don’t miss out on something that could make your life better.  Breathe, focus, plan, evaluate.  Talk your thoughts out with your friends, your family, and your God.  Trust your gut, and, whatever you decide, attack each new day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.  I can’t wait to see what great things you can accomplish.  If I can ever help, just let me know.

Student Spotlight: Gabriella Forte

Gabriella Forte, a sophomore from Jacksonville, Florida, exemplifies what it means to be a dedicated student. Majoring in Politics and minoring in Theology, she has a lot on her plate, yet carries the load with grace and poise. Gabriella spent last summer as an intern for the U.S. Attorney in Jacksonville, and looks forward to the exciting opportunities that this summer holds. 

How do you usually go about getting a summer job?

All of the jobs that I have had so far have been given to me. Each boss I have had has come to me and asked me if I want the position, which is not normal. This past summer, I was not sure if I wanted to go into law after college, so I figured that an internship would show me whether or not that would be the right path. I was looking for different legal internships but no one wanted me because I was a freshman, undergraduate, undeclared political science major, with no experience at all in the field. I was starting to get really frustrated. I called my sister during the process and I was telling her that I was really struggling to find an internship. She said, “Well, my AP calculus teacher’s husband is a U.S. Attorney, and she mentioned in class that he was hiring interns". She offered to put in a word for me, and he got my number through her. He called the next day at 8pm saying that if he could have my resume and cover letter by that night, he would put in my application. Unfortunately, at that time, I did not have a resume, but I stayed up until 4am writing a resume and cover letter and I submitted it to him and got the job!

What was it like to work for a U.S. Attorney?

Overall, it was incredibly exciting. I got to meet FBI, Homeland Security, and Secret Service agents. I was able to tour government facilities and go through a lot of exciting cases with my supervisor. Some were very gruesome because the man that I did most of my work for worked on child exploitation cases. Going through those cases was very hard and, at first, I did not like them at all. Over time, however, those became my favorite cases because it gave me something to work towards. I was able to see the effects of these peoples horrible acts and help to put them away for it. 

What was the highlight of your experience?

I think the highlight of the internship was my boss’ trial at the end of the internship. The case’s subject was a man that thought he was communicating with a 14 year old girl, who, thankfully, was an undercover officer. I had to transcribe his interview with the police, which was over 100 pages long! That was a lot of fun to do. It was really neat to see my work being projected on the screen during the trial in front of the entire jury. The trial was very difficult because all I had known about the case was preliminary, and at the trial, a lot of nasty details came out that I was not expecting. It really broke my heart and made me realize how much darkness there is in the world. That is definitely one of the scarier things that came out of the internship.

If an Ave student was interested, could they apply for this same internship?

Absolutely! My boss is Catholic, and the joke around the office is that he favors Catholic students, even though the work environment is not at all conducive to the Catholic faith. I know he would be very pleased to have another Ave Maria student!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I really would love to do something with religious liberty, but I’m not exactly sure where God is calling me. I’m still discerning.

What are your plans for this year to get closer to your goal for the future?

Right now, I am applying for two internships - one with with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in DC, and one with the Family Research Council, also in DC. I applied for a couple of study programs as well. I submitted an application for Alliance Defending Freedom Arete Academy, and by tomorrow I will have submitted an application for the Hudson Institute. All of them would be amazing opportunities so I will be happy no matter what happens, but I am really hoping to get into the Arete Academy because it integrates politics and the Christian faith.

What is the highest honor/ award that you have ever received? 

My high school was named “Bishop Schneider” after a bishop we had two bishops ago. He founded three schools in my area and started two summer camps for individuals with mental and physical disabilities. In addition to that, he volunteers on death row all the time and comes to the high schools in the area regularly for sporting events and to say mass. He has so much humility, peace, and joy and just exudes the love of Christ. There is an award given to a senior each year that, in essence, says, “You represent the qualities that Bishop Schneider exhibits”. I received that award when I graduated and it was very humbling. I definitely don’t think that I deserved it. He’s such an amazing man!

Do you have a favorite space in your home?

My favorite spaces are the kitchen and my bedroom. I love to cook. My sisters and I will go to Publix at one in the afternoon and not be finished cooking until my parents come home at 7pm. When we are home together, that is what we love to do…just be in the kitchen and cook homemade meals and desserts. Also, my bedroom at home is my favorite place to be if I get stressed out. Last year, Father Dunn told me about perpetual eucharistic adoration on the computer. I pull that up on my tablet and set it up so when I walk into my room it is like a mini adoration chapel. 

What has been your happiest moment?

Two summers ago, my family and I took a vacation to South Carolina and stayed in the mountains. We had never done anything like that before. We went white water rafting and zip-lining. My family usually likes to plan everything out to the smallest detail, but this vacation was not planned out, so it was just spontaneous fun the whole time! There was a lake that the cabin we were staying at was on, so we did some activities on the water, which was amazing. We also found out that there were waterfalls nearby, and being from Florida that was so exciting and so bizarre. Being outside together, laughing, and tripping over sticks was such a joy. 

Why did you choose Ave Maria University?

I wanted to come to Ave because I was going to study theology. I started looking for Catholic universities in the state of Florida, so Ave Maria stood out immediately and I fell in love with it. I wanted to make a prudent decision though, so I put Ave aside and looked at other places like CUA, Franciscan, Villanova, and Belmont Abbey. When it came down to the end of senior year, I decided that maybe I wanted to study politics instead. CUA had a great politics program, and it was right in the heart of American politics, but it had two barriers. First, the distance from home, and second, the cost. However, they had a Presidential Scholarship, which I met all of the qualifications for except for the ACT; I had a 29 and I needed a 30. I took the ACT again, and super-scored, it was a 30. Unfortunately, CUA doesn’t superstore the ACT, so I didn’t make the cut. About an hour later, Mary Reed, from Ave, called me and said, “We just got your new ACT score and it bumps you up into the next scholarship bracket!”. I was looking for a clear sign, and there it was.

An Introvert's Guide to Networking

As a college student, I am often asked 3 questions:

What do you want to do with your life? (Yikes.)

How do you intend to get there?

Who do you know who will help you achieve that goal?

The first question is huge and sometimes overwhelming. The second question is also big and confusing, and requires a lot of Providential input. But the third question— this is the one I have the most control over, and the question which has the potential to control the other two. 

The pressure of building a solid professional network is already present in the minds of career-seeking students. But it can be difficult to get out of your comfort zone to speak with someone new. You're not alone if you find networking scary, pointless, or confusing. Here are a few reasons to network, and some tips for doing it well.


Before you enter a professional event or social situation, ask yourself what you want to walk away knowing. For myself, I always want to walk away knowing a person. I desire to know where she is in life, how her past led her there, what brings her joy, and where her hopes lie. In short, I desire to establish a relationship by knowing and being known by another. At the end of a good conversation, I will exchange contact information with the individual in order to maintain the relationship, and BAM! I have inadvertently added a real person to my network..

If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. We typically make friends by falling into conversation about some mutual point of interest, and if we want to keep in touch we will exchange phone numbers. Networking does not just mimic relationship-building; it actually is relationship-building.

If you have friends, you can network.

I would advise introverts (and, well, everyone) not to enter a professional event with the intention of building your network. With such an intention, the people in the room may become “potential connections” rather than people. Conversation goes differently if you are eager to display your resume and inquire about job opportunities. Often, people can tell when they are being used as a means to some end. They do not appreciate it, and ultimately neither will you.

Talking to People

This might be the scariest part. To ease your nerves a bit, feign confidence up front. Stride toward an individual or a small group, depending on what you are most comfortable with, introduce yourself, and express interest in the person or persons. Try to pose meaningful, open-ended questions. “Where are you from” and “How long have you been with this company” are fine, but they tend to bring conversation to a halt. 

Instead, try to get a feel for what the person enjoys talking about. Maybe he is proud of his latest project at work or the progress his toddler is making with the alphabet. This should go without saying, but when the person speaks, listen to him. Do not let your mind wander away from the conversation, and certainly do not interrupt.

When it is your turn to speak, talk about what you enjoy. Tell stories and be vulnerable. The more you reveal about yourself, the more this relationship-turned-professional-connection has the potential to benefit you. If you have no idea what you want to do with your future and the question comes up, lay out your options and interests. Perhaps your new friend can help, or perhaps he has a connection who can help you take the next step.

Talk In-Person

One of the biggest temptations for introverts is to do the majority of their networking online. Online networking—for instance, through email or LinkedIn—is a great tool for publicizing your name and repertoire for future employers. But it should not be your primary tool. 

Before going digital, I maintained a physical portfolio of the professional relationships I had formed, including individuals’ names, occupations, contact information, how we met, and something memorable about them or our encounter. 

With this information, I could call or email someone with the following:

“Hi,Jared! We met last year at the Pro-Life luncheon in Tallahassee. You might remember that you helped me clean up after I dropped a glass of water on the floor! How have you been?"

"Last time we spoke, you mentioned that your daughter was deciding on which college to attend. Where did she end up?"

'Right now, I’m looking for a summer internship and would love the opportunity to work with your pro-life organization if there are any openings. If not, do you know anyone in the field who I could get in touch with?” 

It's far easier to find commonalities with someone you've me and spoken with than with someone who you've only emailed. Try giving people a call first, and following up with an email later.

Digital Connections

After joining LinkedIn, I began to form my digital network out of my preexisting relationships, which made remembering personal information much easier! LinkedIn also provides a huge advantage in your networking--the ability to see friends of friends. These people, called 2nd level connections, are individuals you are not connected to yet, but whom you could be connected to easily through your mutual friend.

As a result, LinkedIn allows you to find many more people than you could have found otherwise, including people that are in exactly the field you wish to enter.

A mistake introverts might make with online networking is connecting with as many people as possible…including strangers. One time, an older man with an unusual name and strange profile picture asked to connect with me on LinkedIn. No note of introduction, and the only thing we had in common was a mutual friend. I reached out to that friend and asked her how she knew the man. “I don’t,” she replied. “He wanted to connect with me, so I let him.”  

These sorts of individuals will most likely not make or break your employment opportunity. I advise you to only connect digitally with people you are familiar with in reality. We would not approach a stranger on the side of the road and request them to join our professional network, and the same prudence should be applied to the internet. 

The Secret Weapon

Often, I imagine that networking means reaching out into the big world, blindly searching for people who might be able to help me find a future career. With this image, networking seems daunting. Here is my preferred image of networking: looking to my right and left at those who are already near to me. 

Yes, it may not seem like “networking,” but establishing a professional relationship with the people you already know and love is—in my experience—the most useful form of networking.

In the spring semester of my freshman year, I was considering a career in law. Before undergoing preparation for law school, I wanted to discern this path by participating in a legal internship. I began applying for all sorts of law internships, but because I was a first year undergraduate with no experience in the field, nobody wanted to hire me.

During a casual phone conversation with my younger sister, I explained that I was frustrated because I could not find an internship. To my surprise, she replied that her AP Calculus teacher told the class earlier that day that her husband—an Assistant United States attorney—was going through internship applications. I asked my sister to put in a good word for me, assuming nothing would come of the encounter. 

The next evening, the teacher’s husband called my cell phone and said, “If you want an internship with the United States Attorney’s Office, send me your resume, cover letter, and transcript first thing tomorrow morning.” I got the internship and spent my summer writing legal documents, organizing discovery, transcribing prison calls and interviews, meeting with federal agents, and attending court proceedings. 

The experience was exciting and enriching. Through the internship, I formed relationships with individuals who then became part of my professional network, and they connected me with other professionals in varying fields. In addition, the internship taught me enough about myself to dissuade me from pursuing a career in law. But I never would have had the experience if I hadn’t turned to the people who were already around me.

So what's the secret to networking? Don’t discredit the power of your closest relationships, and be open to finding relationships at every turn. 

How to Keep Moving Forward During Spring Break

This week is referenced by perhaps the two greatest words in the college students' vocabulary. Do you know what they are?

"Spring Break"

I would have also accepted, "Open Book," "Multiple Choice," "Class Cancelled," or "I'm not going to set my alarm."

For working professionals such as myself, we refer to today as "Another Monday." But even so, there is a joy and gratitude in the air for the chance that spring break offers.

It is fitting that, this year, spring break began the same week as the season of Lent. The two seasons go hand-in-hand. Lent allows us to withdraw from the world and refocus our attention on Christ. Spring Break is an opportunity to withdraw--just for a little while--from the routine of academic life, while also being a time to recharge and refocus our attention on our personal, academic, and professional goals.

The point of the break is not to do nothing, but to pursue the fullness of your vocation and being in ways that may get left behind during the busy academic semester.

Here's some good ways to spend your break:

Read a book. The most successful people in the world typically have a reading list. Bill Gates is famous for reading 50 books a year (basically one per week), and it is a good practice to spend 30 minutes a day engaged in reading or learning about something new. Pick up a book related to your schoolwork, or better yet find a book on a professional topic that interests you. The more general knowledge you possess, the better off you will be.

Go outside. Sitting on the couch for a day is not necessarily the worst thing in the world, but take advantage of the spring weather and enjoy the outdoors. Consider having a picnic, going camping, playing sports, or doing yardwork. Fresh air can help you come back from the break feeling renewed and relaxed.

Connect with friends. Invite someone to lunch for a chance to catch up. (Re)connecting with friends is important not only to maintain your relationship, but to help it mature and grow as you spend these crucial years in formation at college. Don't be afraid to ask them deep questions, or learn what they plan to do with their life.

Watch good TV. That's right. Go ahead and finish up that show or start a new one. With so many networks and media streaming possibilities, the consumption and discussion of entertainment seems to become a bigger part of our cultural experience everyday. But the opportunities to see and discuss something meaningful, thought-provoking, or artistic seem rarer than ever. Find something worth watching, and be able to discuss it with friends. It helps you to be well-rounded and engage in the world around you. 

And of course it's relaxing....

Catch up on current events. If you have not been keeping up with the news, now is the time to read through your favorite news sources, blogs, etc. Or if you are not typically given to reading the news, now is a great time to find and subscribe to top news outlets. Share your selections with your friends, and consider spending a set amount of time each day reading about what's happening in the world around you.  

Journal. If this is not already a frequent practice for you, spring break is the chance to make it one. People who regularly synthesize their thoughts and reflections in the written form are vastly more creative, better communicators, better decision-makers, and have greater confidence. Journaling is a great way to start or end your day with focus, which is the goal of spring break. Here's a tip: buy yourself a nice bound notebook and a good pen, and you will actually look forward to journaling everyday.

Arrange informational interviews. This is the second-most valuable thing you can do in preparing for a career (apart from an internship). Reach out to people in your network (family, friends, professionals you know, colleagues of people in your network, etc.) for a quick chat about their career. Ask questions you have regarding that career, especially if this is a field you want to enter. Get their perspective on the job; don't ask questions for things you could find on the internet. Keep it personable, positive, and grateful. These people could be mentors in the near future, or could help you find that next job or internship. (But above all, don't ask "can you get me a internship this summer?" There's better ways to ask that question...)

Go shadow. Shadowing is a one-day or one-week experience to simply follow a professional around and observe what they do for their work. Take advantage of the time off to gain valuable first-hand exposure to the career you want. Ask around in your network, or find someone at a company nearby to you. Be sure to bring a pad to take notes, and talk with anyone you can while you're there (as long as you don't interrupt their work).

Listen to podcasts. There are some amazing podcasts out there which are informative, entertaining, and original. They're a great way to continue learning, and you can play them anywhere: in the car, in the gym, or on your way to class. Some of my personal favorites include Things You Missed In History Class, TED Radio Hour, and RadioLab. Find some that you appreciate and add them to your routine.

Exercise. Physical activity is obviously important for your health, but it's also important to improve your brain function, your immune system, your creativity, and your confidence. Getting some exercise over the break is a great way to prepare for the rest of the semester. 

Sleep. Catching up on sleep is important. We're only beginning to understand the value of a regular sleep schedule, and all those late evenings and all-nighters certainly don't help your brain function, metabolism, or immune system. Take time to rest, get into good sleep habits, and learn how to avoid distractions or stress that will keep you up at night.

Apply to jobs and internships. All you juniors and seniors know you have to do this, right? The time to apply for jobs and internships is waaaay before this (many deadlines close by January-February), but use the free time to organize your applications, collect necessary materials, connect with recruiters, and set up interviews.

Some places even allow you to intern for the week. Keep that on your radar. If you're trying to convince businesses to set up a summer internship with you, offer to use the week as a trial for their summer program.

Volunteer. Do something nice for someone else. Spend some time at a local nursing home, visit those in a local prison, or volunteer your time at a homeless shelter. Give back to your local community through trash clean-ups, blood drives, or tutoring at the local grade school. The time off is a blessing, so what better way to use that extra time than to serve those in need?

Catch up on school. If you've fallen behind on your reading or have an impending deadline in the week or two after the break, get a jump on those assignments now. It will allow you to finish out the last half of the semester strongly, while also freeing up your time at school to focus on your diverse interests.

Conduct research. Whether at school or on your own, spring break presents a good chance to do some research on a topic related to your major or career. If you are at school, it may be worth asking your professor if there is some project you can research for him or her. If you are away, look into working with a college or high school back home, or perhaps in doing independent research on your own time.

Plan. There are only two months left in the semester, so know how you're going to spend the time once you get back. Become familiar with some time management tools or worksheets. Purchase a planner so you can see exactly where your time goes each week, and how you can use it best. Those who fail to prepare are preparing to fail.


With these tips and practices, you cannot fail to have a wonderful, fruitful Spring Break. Enjoy the well-deserved time off, and be sure to come see us when you return!