Meet Shorelight Alumni: Eduardo Gets an Optional Practical Training Role at the Urban Institute

University of South Carolina
finance
career planning
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By Ruqyyaha Deane
Published on May 14, 2024

Eduardo earned a degree in finance with a minor in environmental studies from the University of South Carolina. Today, he’s working as a financial analyst at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC.

EduardoChileUniversity of South Carolina

Eduardo, an international finance major from Chile, stands on the University of South Carolina campus in his graduation cap and gown holding the certificate for his International Student Achievement Award.

Meet Eduardo Sosa Yepes, a recent University of South Carolina (USC) graduate, now employed as a financial analyst at the Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington, DC. Read on to learn about Eduardo’s journey from Chile to the US, his experience in the finance degree program at the University of South Carolina, and how he turned academic and community achievements into a successful path to Optional Practical Training (OPT) and a promising career. 

A Drive to Achieve at USC

At USC, Eduardo earned a bachelor’s degree in finance with a minor in environmental studies. His stellar academics, combined with his dedication to extracurricular activities and community service, resulted in his winning the university’s International Student Achievement Award as an undergraduate – a big accomplishment, as it usually goes to graduate students.

Early on, Eduardo made a plan to achieve his dream career right after graduating. He noticed that most companies preferred students who had some work experience, so he actively pursued internship opportunities while also managing his full course load.

“[Companies] want you to be an overall student, a good student showing what the values and qualifications are, but also they want a little bit more,” Eduardo said. “They want that professional experience, that peer leader experience, that kind of leadership experience that differentiates you from the crowd.”

As his senior year was underway, he didn’t waste any time, starting his job search a full six months before his graduation date. He searched LinkedIn for opportunities, as well as to make professional connections. Once he started applying to jobs, he created spreadsheets and documents to track all the applications in progress.

Pursuing Optional Practical Training (OPT) after USC

Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) was a strategic decision for Eduardo, because this work visa for the USA would enable him to gain hands-on professional experience and remain in the US after graduation. However, figuring out what is OPT and how to apply for it required careful planning and attention to detail. He sought help from USC’s International Student Services and Scholar Office and connected with peers who had successfully received Optional Practical Training (OPT), particularly to get a better understanding of the intricacies of immigration regulations and paperwork, refining his interview skills, and more. 

When the job search began in earnest, Eduardo was confident in his preparation. “I applied for 160 to 180 jobs. I got 60 rejections, and I did around six interviews,” he said.

His persistence paid off when he received an Optional Practical Training (OPT) offer for a financial analyst position at the Urban Institute. Located in Washington, DC, the institute is a prestigious research organization dedicated to addressing critical social and economic issues.

“It was actually my dream job as a finance major,” Eduardo said. “I love finance. I find it very interesting, but also the mission and the values of Urban aligns with my values. You want to work in an area you feel that you’re good at, and [at] a company that aligns with the same values.”

Eduardo’s Tips and Advice for International Students

Eduardo’s success in securing his dream job at the Urban Institute came after months of hard work, dedication, and strategic planning. Reflecting on his journey, Eduardo offers valuable insights and advice for international students exploring their career opportunities in the US. 

1. Start early — Begin your job search well in advance of graduation to maximize opportunities. Research companies, industries, and job trends to identify potential employers and career paths that align with your interests and goals.

2. Utilize resources — Take advantage of your university’s career services, alumni network, and internship programs to gain practical experience, refine your resume, and develop your professional skills. Attend career fairs, networking events, and practice your interview skills to expand your network and explore different career opportunities.

3. Network strategically — Build relationships with professionals in your field of interest through informational interviews, LinkedIn, and professional organizations. Seek advice, mentorship, and job referrals from individuals who can provide valuable insights and guidance.

4. Stay persistent — The job search process can be challenging and competitive, especially for international students. Don’t be discouraged by rejections or setbacks. Stay focused, maintain a positive attitude, and keep pushing forward. Every rejection brings you one step closer to success.

“There’s a whole process that you go through. Some ups and downs, especially emotionally,” said Eduardo. “If you put your head on it all day, you’re going to burn yourself out from stress and anxiety because, again, it’s a lot of rejection. Just take your day, wake up, make some food, eat outside, go to class, look for your friends, and then take two [or] three hours to just apply and then get your head out of it.”

By following these strategies and staying true to his goals, Eduardo was able to overcome obstacles and take advantage of many opportunities, ultimately securing a position that aligned with his interests, skills, and values.

Looking Forward to the Future

As Eduardo begins his career at the Urban Institute, he looks forward to applying his knowledge of finance and environmental studies to contribute to meaningful research and policy initiatives. He is excited to collaborate with experts in his field, tackle complex challenges, and make a positive impact on society.

Eduardo’s journey from USC to the Urban Institute is an inspiration to international students aiming to study and work in the US. With determination, hard work, and the right support system, you can achieve your academic and professional goals and get approved for Optional Practical Training (OPT), just like Eduardo did.

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