As a junior, it’s imminent that I think about what happens after MIT. In fact, the thinking has already been brewing. As I’m talking to my peers, it seems like “post-college plans” are a dreaded can of worms that no one wants to open. Except I tend to be the one prying at it until everyone around me is stressed and apprehensive – sorry, friends. But really, “life after college” is a scary but also exciting topic to think about.
Because for the first time in our lives perhaps, there is very little structure. We grew up knowing that 3rd grade came after 2nd, middle school came after 6th, and of course, college after 12th. College. Something so important and life-changing. Some people even get engaged in college – how scary is that? As much as our high-school selves may put “college” high up on some kind of maturation pedestal – and it is worthy of the hype I can tell you – but college is not a destination. And more than halfway through it, we are necessarily confronted with the fact that crap, there is still a whole life of decisions to be made.
It could be graduate school – but for what? Or work – in which specific industry? Gap year – will it really be productive? Volunteer? Start your own business? “Post-college” is such a vulnerable frame of time in which everything seems possible, still unjaded by the responsibilities and consequences of adult life.
As much as the central decision-maker in this situation is ourselves, we can’t help but be influenced by the people we care about. Parents, for one, is on the top of my list. Expectations of parents. What a struggle. Given MIT’s prestige, I think I can safely say my parents expect me to either go to an awesome graduate school, followed by a Ph.D pursuing something hard and technical, or on the other extreme, get a stellar job with stellar pay. It feels like that’s the MIT way. As if it’s not one of those two options – I’m missing the point of going to MIT. Obviously, I object to that sentiment. I believe thoroughly that like the college application process, the actual college experience is a holistic process – whose lasting and far-reaching impact we won’t be able to escape.
Last month, Huffington Post published an article called “America’s ‘Brain Drain’: Best and Brightest College Grads Head for Wall Street“. This article really struck me, particularly the argument that smart people such as MIT grads are responsible for cooking up crazy ideas like credit-default swaps (the insurance policy much blamed for the great financial meltdown of 2008.) It makes sense, i think. Not everyone can manipulate numbers like that – I can’t, and that’s why I’ve had no problems resisting the lure of Wall Street. Amidst all my considerations of what should happen after college, this article touched upon some of my concerns. This is a difficult time in the American economy. College students, even those from the best institutions like MIT, can’t take it for granted that there’s that stellar job with stellar pay waiting after graduation. How are these peculiar circumstances influencing our career choices? And the harder question, do we pursue something we love or something society needs? Ideally those two values would coincide but it”s not difficult to understand why the health sector is more in demand today than say, comparative literature.
Is there a perfect post-undergrad plan that makes the best use of my MIT education, that I love, that is also socially-responsible!? Does the arrival at this “perfect” combination finally constitute “success”? In the meantime, how do we prioritize?
Just my thoughts. Feel free to discuss.