Last week, I finally made it to Van Pelt to print out my readings for the semester. Not to read them, mind you, just to print them — remember microgoals?
As hundreds of pages of political theory and exceptionally pretentious New Yorker articles spewed out of the hulking machine, two thoughts crossed my mind:
1. I need to bursar a lot more PennCash.
2. After repeating this exact routine for three years, I am almost 100 percent sure that this giant stack of paper is not going to help me get or keep a job.
I’ve gone through this process countless times. I can already read, write and synthesize class materials (or the top five citations on any given Wikipedia page) into a 3,000-word “research paper” overnight. Just kidding … but not really.
So whether I’m reading and writing about neoliberalism, radical feminism or sovereign states in Southeast Asia doesn’t really matter. None of us retain much course content past finals, leaving us with the diminishing marginal returns of exercises in literature digestion.
As far as I can tell, this is the eternal plague of the arts and soft sciences, like political science, history, English and communications. Students with these majors, at the end of the day, develop few quantifiable skills. Almost all these skills fit under the umbrella of “basic literacy” and few appear on the list of qualifications for jobs that pay more than $20,000.
For a lot of us, that’s terrifying.
But you might say, “Lauren, you’re missing the point, it’s not about getting a job. It’s about learning for the sake of learning and situating yourself in the broader experience of humanity.”
Okay. Call your parents tonight and ask them if they dropped $200,000 so you can situate yourself in the broader experience of humanity. If you’re feeling especially bold, do this and then go bursar some PennCash. Let me know how that goes.
After arriving at the realization that senior year really is about obtaining gainful employment, many of my classmates have fallen victim to the job craze.
The interview-prepping, PennLink-stalking, suit-steaming, unbearably annoying new versions of my peers stormed back to campus and hit the ground running.
Fall on-campus recruiting anxiety has escaped the confines of Huntsman Hall, infecting even those who used to be too busy with their stacks of classics in Fisher Fine Arts to care.
My career-related crises are occurring on a different scale since I’m trying to go to law school. Still, watching my College friends suit up beside finance majors and listening to them worry about the value of a liberal arts education in a competitive job market makes me uneasy.
Should I have pursued a more skills-oriented or pre-professional degree as an undergraduate? Would taking a few more Wharton classes have given me a better shot at a wider variety of internships? I wish I knew the answer.
What I can tell you is that several of my College friends have offers from top investment and consulting firms. They taught themselves to do case interviews and picked up other business skills through internships and leadership positions. Now, they’ve earned jobs offering “Wharton” pay and prestige and have escaped the classically “Wharton” inability to experience empathy or use multisyllabic words in a sentence.
(Sorry. I just had to.)
Opportunities to expand our horizons in ways that matter to our long-term goals are all around. The most important learning we’ll do won’t be part of our formal education — I became more conversant in French listening to my Belgian housemate on the phone with his family than I did fulfilling my language requirement.
I finally figured out how to use Google spreadsheets and forms — not through a class, but as president of an a cappella group.
And I’m sure I’ll make more of an impact on food issues in America by continuing to volunteer in Philadelphia’s public schools than I will by writing my honors thesis on the topic.
We are all products of our experiences and the time we spend in classrooms represents only a small part of that experience.
Our undergraduate degrees constitute one expensive but necessary line on our resumes that supports, but does not singlehandedly define, the parameters of our knowledge and skills.
All we can do is treat that line for what it’s worth and hope the people who make decisions about our futures do the same.
Lauren Agresti is a College senior from Fulton, Md. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @lagresti. “Piece of Mind” appears every Thursday.
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