It's the beginning of the end.

As summer looms ahead, so does the "real" world, and, for graduating seniors, the dreaded question: "What are you going to do after graduation?"

Kristin Ballenger, senior in College Scholars, already knows her answer.

Having spent her time at UT crafting a degree focused on financing and education in Title I schools – educational programs that give extra attention and assistance to academically at-risk students – Ballenger will walk across the stage to Phoenix as a member of the 2014 Teach for America corps. Through participation in TFA, Ballenger will hold a full-time teaching position while simultaneously working toward a master's degree in elementary education as a full-time student at Arizona State University.

"The major I was creating through College Scholars just fit right in line with Teach for America and what they did and the schools they taught because I wanted to teach low-income students," Ballenger said. "I thought it was a perfect fit for me to dive right in to teach in the schools that I created my major around."

Career Services Director Russ Coughenour maintains early planning always proves indispensable as students transition to post-graduate life.

"We feel if we can interact with the student in the freshman and certainly in the sophomore year, we can kind of plan a strategy with them," Coughenour said. "The idea would be to have an end in mind: What do you want to become? What do you want to do?"

Yet, approximately 75 percent of college students change their major at least once during their time in university, according to a statistic cited in a Pennsylvania State University academic advising journal.(LINK: http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/2013/06/disconnect-choosing-major/)

Jennifer Nguyen, senior in psychology, originally planned to attend medical school to practice clinical psychology before encountering organic chemistry.

Next fall, she will instead begin her graduate school career as a student of UT's Master's of Social Work program.

"When I realized I had a passion for mental health, I had to talk to my adviser about my options if I didn't want to go and Ph.D.," she said. "She explained to me that the MSW program would allow me to practice clinically and do everything a clinical psychologist does."

As Coughenour explained, finding a job is a balancing act between preference and availability.

"As professional counselors that are sort of classically trained, we want to, as best we can, recognize where the student's skills and interests and values lie," he said. "If a student is interested in a degree in an area that's not very much in demand at the entry level, we do have discussion about availability of jobs in that field."

While Coughenour expressed an optimistic view of the job market for college graduates, students with degrees in nursing, education, supply chain management and accounting are needed most.

In the 2012-13 academic year, employers that hired the highest numbers of UT graduates included 21st Mortgage Corporation with 31 hires, PhysAssist Scribes with 23, and Amazon and Oak Ridge National Labs/UT-Battelle with 21 hires each.

Coughenour encouraged students approaching their final days at UT to take immediate advantage of job recruiting opportunities. Career Services hosts multiple job fairs in both the fall and the spring semesters, bringing more than 600 companies to campus in search of fresh employees.

Career Services also holds a virtual job fair in early April each year, providing one more opportunity to secure employment before graduation. But good things don't always come to those who wait.

"There's no magic dust we can sprinkle on them," Coughenour said. "They've missed all the major job fairs, they've missed the on-campus recruiting season. We have to just start over with a new strategy with that particular student."