Friday, August 26, 2005

The plight of the “December Graduate”

I've talked to a fair number of seminary graduates who finish in December, and they all tell the same story: December graduation is tough.

Now, placement is not easy for any seminary grad, but I think finishing in December is a lot tougher than in May for most graduates. To introduce my reasons, I'll recap some of what my research in this area has shown:
  • 40% of those who started the candidacy process LESS THAN 6 months before graduation were not placed by their graduation date (regardless of when they graduated)
  • On the other hand, of those who started candidacy MORE THAN 6 months before graduation, only 11% were not placed by their graduation
  • Further, of those who started earlier than 6 months out, less than 3% were not placed within a few months of graduating
  • And generally speaking, the earlier the graduates began their search, the more likely they were to be placed by graduation
I would suggest that this research indicates that May is the perfect time to graduate from seminary. Why? Because the school year preceding a May graduation is a full 9 months with only a brief break for Christmas, while the school year preceding a December graduation (generally the only other option) includes the significant summer break. In other words, the 9-month school year for the May graduate is an ideal timeframe for candidacy.

Let me explain: the candidacy process, like so many processes, depends on momentum to some degree. While the Christmas break can slow this momentum down somewhat, the length of the summer break will, in most cases, bring it to a halt. Even if the candidate remains diligent during these breaks, there is no guarantee that the churches they are pursuing will keep the momentum up; on the contrary, most search committees I've talked to find summer and the advent season to be the most difficult times to maintain momentum.

This means that things will slow down for both, but May graduates have the entire spring semester to regain momentum. December grads, on the other hand, find that the end of their last semester brings another time for slowing down-- because after mid-November, churches lose focus on the search process and get tied up with holiday activities, as a congregation and as individual members and member-families.

Even the diligent December grads who follow the advice of the statistics and begin their search more than six months before graduation face this problem, but in my conversations I have found that few December grads actually begin looking before the summer break. For most December graduates, the timeframe for candidacy begins with a sudden realization that they have only four or five months before they finish, and they hurriedly begin their search in August. Those who wait until their last semester is underway face an even tougher challenge, the statistics say: 50% of graduates who began their search three months or less from graduation were not placed when they graduated.

So is the lesson that December graduates should begin their search in the spring before their last fall semester? Maybe-- but this doesn't help them tremendously, because at that point they are “competing” with those May graduates who are just a few weeks from graduation (and therefore available for a position also in a matter of weeks), while they themselves are unavailable for eight months or more.

I think the real lesson to be learned here is that, if possible, plan to graduate in May.

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