Competition rises as TFA applicants abound

Yale seniors entering Teach for America this fall get a two-year break from job hunting in a bad economy, but getting a teaching position with the nonprofit may be as competitive as the rest of the job market.

With the rise in applications for TFA, a nonprofit that hires college graduates as teachers in underserved areas, the program’s acceptance rate has declined in recent years, said Emily Blatter, TFA’s campaign coordinator on Yale’s campus. Still, the students who accept their offers from TFA are doing so at a steady rate, she said, making the program the biggest employer of graduates of the Yale class of 2009. Yale seniors interviewed who have accepted their TFA offers for next year all said that TFA has become anything but a back-up plan, and for many it was among their top choices going into the job search process.

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Blatter said applications nationwide increased from 35,000 during last year’s admissions cycle to 46,000 this year. Because the latest federal budget cut the $21 million previously allocated to TFA, Blatter said the number of people accepted could not keep pace.

Application numbers specific to Yale are not yet available for this year, said Phil Jones, director of Undergraduate Career Services. The application and acceptance numbers for Yale students applying to TFA since 2004 follow the trends of the job market and economy at large, he added. Application numbers fell between the 2004-’05 and 2006-’07 school years, but they have increased since, he said, along with the declining economy. Since then, the number of Yale students accepting their offers to TFA has increased.

“People might have applied in the past as just an option,” Jones said. “But if you look at last year’s offers, the number of people accepting that offer increased, and that may be a function of the perception that there aren’t other opportunities out there.”

With the increased interest comes increased competition. None of the 12 seniors interviewed said they saw TFA as just another way to defer a tough job market.

Many, like Allison Cantway ’10, who accepted their offers as early as November, knew that TFA was their top choice.

Even though some students like Jean-Philip Brignol ’10 said they applied to TFA as one of many options, Blatter said she thinks the people who follow their applications through to the final interview stage are fully invested in a possible future with Teach for America. But Mary Dohrmann ’10, who was accepted to TFA in March, said she also knew of people who were accepted in the fall and, after agreeing to join the corps next year, changed their minds.

“I’m positive that some people apply to other things and just apply to TFA as a backup,” said Kathleen Borschow ’10, one of the student campus campaign coordinators for Teach for America. But Borschow said that although some students do withdraw their applications midway through the process, TFA’s high yield suggests that most students who apply see TFA as an attractive option.

All 12 TFA-bound seniors interviewed said that though they had entertained the possibility of other options — ranging from financial industries to nonprofit work to graduate school — Teach For America was a top choice by the end of the interview process.

Dohrmann and Brignol said the process felt like applying to college in many ways, and Dohrmann said this aspect made it a comfortable option in comparison to the rest of the job market.

“They are a well-established program that does a really good job of demonstrating how they would provide you support as a corps member,” said Jacqueline Erickson ’10, who was considering other jobs in the nonprofit sector until she got her TFA acceptance in the fall. “A lot of nonprofits aren’t national nonprofits – they’re more locally based and that sometimes doesn’t give them as much credibility.”

The final round of decisions for Teach for America will be released on April 19.

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