Career Services for Students Taking a Leave of Absence in Fall 2020

Given the extenuating circumstances brought upon by COVID 19, students opting to take a leave of absence from Penn for Fall 2020 who have previously completed at least one semester at Penn will be allowed to participate in all career services typically provided to them while enrolled including:

  • Handshake access
  • Online resources available on the Career Services website
  • Individual career and graduate school advising
  • Virtual Career Services workshops
  • Virtual employer events including career fairs, employer information sessions, and “on campus” interviews

Students MUST, however, ensure that their graduation date is accurately reflected on Penn-in-Touch, on all employment documents (resumes, cover letters and employer applications), and on their Handshake profile. Employers, particularly those with regular, cyclical hiring patterns, often select students for interviews based on their expected graduation date. Internships are often reserved for students who will graduate in December or May after the internship is completed and who would therefore be in a position to accept a full-time offer. Students who have individual questions about how changes to their expected graduation date may affect their recruiting cycle should schedule an appointment with a Career Services advisor through Handshake. Students should speak with an academic advisor from their school to change their official graduation date if necessary. Failure to accurately report expected graduation date can result in a loss of the privileges outlined above.

There are many considerations, including personal and academic that might go into a student’s decision about whether or not to take a leave. We understand that this is not a decision into which most people enter lightly. If a leave is something you are contemplating, or for students who have already made a decision to take a leave, here are some commonly asked questions from a career perspective:

Frequently asked career questions about taking a leave of absence:

  • How will future employers or grad schools view my leave of absence? – While we anticipate that employers and future graduate schools will be understanding of the unprecedented circumstances and challenges facing students as a result of COVID, they are also showing signs that they are looking for candidates who demonstrate resiliency and the ability to adapt. In fact, major fellowships such as the Marshall scholarship added a special application question related to the pandemic this cycle –  “In what unique ways has the COVID 19 pandemic affected you and your candidacy ?”It will therefore be important for any student going on a leave to have a plan for how to make the most of that time in a productive way. Employers and graduate schools will expect you to be able to talk about what you did with your leave and how created opportunities or made the most of this otherwise difficult situation.
  • How can I productively spend my time during a leave? – There are many ways in which you maximize time away from Penn. Think of interests or talents that you may have always wanted to cultivate but never had time to pursue. Perhaps you can take online training courses, secure an internship or part-time job, conduct original research, volunteer for a political campaign, join a startup, find ways to benefit your local community, start a YouTube channel, podcast, or blog, write a book – the possibilities are endless!
  • Will I be eligible to participate in internships while on leave? – While there are many internships available during the academic year (especially now with so many remote options), you will need to pay close attention to the eligibility requirements of the internship itself. Some internships require that participants be currently enrolled students.
  • How do I look for summer internships if I am taking a LOA this fall? – Since you will still be able to access Handshake and all of the other Career Services resources, including CareerShift, we encourage you to leverage these considerable tools in your search. Naturally, as you have additional questions or need support with resume help, interview prep, or even offer negotiation, our advisors continue to be available to work with you during one-on-one advising sessions.
  • Will taking a leave of absence allow me to pursue a better job market next year? There is so much that is unknown, both about the current pandemic, and the future state of the economy so this question is incredibly difficult to answer. Regardless of what the job market looks like a year from now, a student’s ability to be competitive in it depends again on the story that they can share about their past experiences. This would be true whether that student took a leave of absence or not. A student who merely takes classes  and  only has those academic experiences to share will have a less robust story to share than a student who has also conducted research or completed internships while an undergraduate at Penn. Similarly, a student who finds ways to make an impact (on themselves, on others, on the greater world around them), will have a much more compelling narrative (and related skills) on which to draw moving forward.

Remember that each person’s situation is unique and so we encourage any student considering or taking a leave of absence who has questions to schedule an appointment on Handshake so that we can help you create a customized approach to your leave that will align with your career goals.

By Barbara Hewitt
Barbara Hewitt Executive Director