Worldly, broad achievement, internships, extracurriculars, or GPA?
March 4, 2013 5:06 PM   Subscribe

Given the choice between study abroad/double major/impressive GPA/internships/impressive extracurriculars, what would the best combination of choices?

For reference, I'm a college sophomore. I'm trying to figure out where to focus my energy.

As things are right now, I'm an Economics and Mathematics major (it's a combined major) and have completed almost all of a sociology minor. My GPA isn't going to make waves, but it's generally over all minimums and consistently gets me on the dean's list (though, that could always change). I have completed (and am currently doing) internships with well-recognized political/advocacy organizations, and while I'm building writing/professionalism/general officework skills, it's not so closely related to what I'm interested in long-term. I'm involved some in several clubs, but don't hold any leaderships positions (and honestly, the only one I'm passionate about to pursue that in is my sorority, which I'm always scared may carry some negative connotations, unfortunately).

I've planned out classes so I could do a 1-semester study abroad (in a Spanish-speaking country, so bonus language skills!) and add sociology as a double major, but that would preclude a formalized junior-summer internship program (since the program doesn't end until July) and many leadership opportunities on campus. I'm quite sure that both study abroad and taking more sociology would be fun things for me, though I do really enjoy internships and opportunities for real-world learning. It may also be demanding enough that my GPA would suffer some (is there a baseline that would be really terrible to fall below?).

My other choices would be to prioritize grades, extracurriculars, whatever - strictly speaking jobs-wise, what is most important? What should I focus on? What about not-jobs-wise - what do you regret/not regret?

I'm lucky enough to be graduating with very minimal debt, so post-graduation travel or low-wage work (peace corps even, perhaps) are all options for similarly enriching opportunities.

I'm interested professionally in pursuing management consulting, at least for a while, or similar businessy-type opportunities that don't require many specialized prerequisites (banking has never held much appeal, though). I'm not interested in attending graduate school, at least immediately.
posted by R a c h e l to Education (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by Madamina at 5:16 PM on March 4, 2013

Well, it really comes down to what you want to do after college. Wanting to do Grad School v. Job Job after graduation may entail different priorities for you now.

I would definitely keep your GPA up as much as you can, as just in case you want to go back to grad school at some point, that will certainly be a factor, and probably more so than studying abroad.

A lot of folks love the studying abroad experience as a life experience, but it probably won't do much in terms of job, school, even peace corps. Unless you do some very specialized or specific program of some kind, or if its in a country where the language will become a major part of your future plans - grad school, peace corps, job or otherwise.

As far as jobs go, honestly the two most important things are probably internships and drinking with the right people. I say that last bit actually pretty seriously. The internships will probably be more valuable to you for who you meet than the skills you gain. When you go to apply for jobs, your GPA won't matter, your clubs and stuff won't really matter (unless there's some specific relationship), but your experience and who you know will matter. 90% of getting the job you want (maybe more) really is who you know. So if there's a specific field of company you're interested in, doing whatever you can to connect yourself to experiences and folks in that world would be your best bet.

As far as the peace corps goes, eh, there are lots of factors and people with all sorts of college experience and backgrounds do the peace corps. There's definitely the 3.8, polylingual, social activist type that's big in the peace corps - but there's really all sorts of different folks.

My suggestion to you though is just to try to rack up experiences. Do the study abroad thing. Try lots of internships. Get to know lots of folks. Join clubs that interest you. Keep your GPA up because you might want to use your transcript later on. But, despite all the stuff these days about career-focused education, I think narrowing yourself too much in college toward some job you want when you get out is not the best way to get an education.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:22 PM on March 4, 2013

You seem very, very focused on a goal, but your goal isn't stated very clearly, other than management consulting. What *do* you want to do? What would make you happy?

I was working on a triple major (of uselessness!) in English, philosophy, and theater, but then I had a chance to spend a term in Asia. I dropped theater down to a minor, and I went on the term. Not only was it the best decision I ever made, I haven't actually lived in the States since graduation because of that experience. I strongly feel that if one of your options is living overseas for even a short period of time, the other options totally pale in comparison. Do the semester abroad.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:26 PM on March 4, 2013

Response by poster: Oh, a little more information, sorry - my school (you can probably guess from my ask history) is a fairly prestigious school in NYC (so I also have more internship opportunities during the school year, although juggling that is always a bit of a challenge. I'm currently interning about 10.5 hours a week with a full-time school schedule and managing but I couldn't take on much more).
posted by R a c h e l at 5:26 PM on March 4, 2013

Do the things that make you happy. This will lead to opportunities that will make you happy.

Staying well rounded through doing things that don't make you happy will lead you towards opportunities that also won't make you happy.

Trust that the values you demonstrate through excelling at the things that you love to do will be respected and sought after by the people and opportunities that are best for you.
posted by sanderman at 5:26 PM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

When I'm faced with choices like this - "how to I allocate my time/energy/passion/LIFE" - I like to bust everything down into groups: "Things I Can ONLY Do At This Point... No Do-Overs" and "Things I Can Either Do in the Future OR Achieve in Some Other Way in the Future OR Do Over". It REALLY depends on what you want to do after school, but I'd probably make GPA priority one, considering that you CANNOT revise that once you're out of school (whereas you COULD go abroad, get involved in outside activities, etc).
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:50 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Focus on your GPA, especially if you plan on going to grad school. I would normally say travel abroad, but if you're already looking at traveling after school, then just make sure you get the experience in then.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:54 PM on March 4, 2013

I went to one of these high-powered schools for undergrad and I'm a few years out. I second julthumbscrew, DoubleLune, etc. about doing things that you can only do while you're in school.

- GPA. You will never have another chance to get a good undergrad GPA. It doesn't matter for a lot of things, but when it does, it really matters.
- Internships at very prestigious, internationally known places (UN, management consulting, top banking firms, top firms in entertainment, etc.)

Things not to worry about:
- Double major - Sociology doesn't add much to Econ + Math major. Just take the classes you like and don't bother with the official major. Take fun classes that will boost your GPA to AT LEAST 3.5.
- Study abroad - Unless it's to somewhere really unique and builds a unique language skill, e.g., not Spain or Mexico, but Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Congo, Vietnam, etc. *and* you have the background to get reasonably good at the language. Travel after graduation. It's way more fun (less rules/being forced to attend class instead of soaking up culture/etc.), cheaper, and you're not being graded.

Other stuff to aim at:
- Prestigious fellowships (Fulbright, Rhodes, etc.)
- Unusual activities - Write a book, design a conference in a field you care about, patent an invention. Do something no one else is doing.

Also, read Cal Newport's book, How to Win at College. It's worth every penny.
posted by carolinaherrera at 6:10 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Internship, by far.

No one cares about your grades. No one cares about your letter in Curling (well, a fellow alum might rate that highly, but no one else will). No one cares that you went gallivanting around Europe for your last summer of freedom.

A double major might help - I have one, and it has given me a few talking points for interviews, but honestly never really got me a job aside from that "social lubricant" role.

But a good reference (and, not uncommonly, an actual job offer) from having done semi-real work in your target field as an intern? Solid frickin' gold.
posted by pla at 6:12 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Focus on your GPA, at least to keep it in the relatively-competitive. Honestly, few jobs care, but grad schools, even in the future, will. But yes, it does matter, especially for some fellowships and post-grad opportunities.

2) Internships. Practical internships and jobs that will earn you actual skills you can put on a resume. Have you done grantwriting? Development? Designed programs? Graphic arts? Lead teams? You can demonstrate leadership without being a club president, but having the ability to bring up concrete projects ("I lead a team of X people working on Y project" or "Handled budget of $$ for a club of Z people") will make your resume stronger and more easy to write. I can spin my various humanities skills like mad, but having actual work experience in my fields has made it a heck of a lot easier.

3) Not going to lie, most places do not care that you have an minor in something vs. you've taken a lot of specialized coursework. The college I went to actively discouraged people from double-majoring and minoring in another subject, because it took their focus away from really getting into their actual subjects. Triple majors were expressly not allowed because it would essentially cram out any of the "liberal arts" side of the equation, credit-wise. Obviously, your mileage would vary, but I suspect you could form more meaningful faculty or work relationships with that time. If the coursework or Praxis aspects are relevant, you'll be discussing and listing those on a resume anyway, it doesn't have to be under the banner of a minor. If you have the time for an extra class, take a language class, or an art class-- something with a skill set that's fun and expensive to do outside of college!

4) Study abroad: okay, look, I've studied/lived abroad a bunch and those times have been the most transformative of my life. But, and this is kind of a big but: the places I have lived in and the things I have studied have been directly related to my field. It's been really hard and it's been a lot of work and I think it's made me a better and more interesting person, but if you're just kind of doing it to do it, you're probably blowing a semester of fun for not good reasons. If you don't actually speak Spanish well now, a semester will not give you the kind of immersive experience you need to really make a difference either in your long-term international relations skills or your languages. On the other hand, there are lots of reasons to live and work abroad! In fact, your college probably has a compelling list of internships and alumni-related positions that are abroad! There are also lots of shorter study programs that don't occupy the main semester calendar, but in this, you could do a lot of good for your resume and also get to explore.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:21 PM on March 4, 2013

I personally regret not studying abroad. Can you study and intern abroad? When I look at resumes from recent grads, I look at their university, major, and experience, specifically jobs and internships.

I don't care about GPA because my GPA was only okay and grade inflation is a big deal. Having a good GPA will open doors for you, especially when you apply to grad school, but if it's lousy, people just leave it off their resumes anyway and I don't care enough to ask.
posted by kat518 at 6:36 PM on March 4, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much so far, everyone!
So I guess there isn't a strong consensus; clearly different people I know have taken different routes and there isn't a "right" way.
I really appreciate all the input, it's given me a lot to chew on. I'll definitely be coming back to this thread periodically for the foreseeable future!

To clarify a few things:
-It's true, I don't have a clear idea of an endgame. I think I would really like doing meaningful work (so far, I've found a sense of purpose in what I'm doing to make *all* the difference when pushing through 12+ hour days, as was the case on the campaign I worked on). I have strong analytical skills, I think, which is what brought me to consulting. I'd gladly take industry/internship/important skill suggestions!

-When y'all refer to a "good" GPA, what does that mean? Is getting a 3.4 rather than a 3.7 going to close many doors? (Right now, I've been hovering a little above a 3.6, though the trend is slightly negative :/). I'm really, really done with school, so going on to a Master's program (other than maybe an MBA program) seems unfathomable right now, though I suppose that could change a few years out. In what other situations is GPA important?

-I apologize for the poor wording of the original question. Wow, can't believe it was that terrible. I realize that doesn't say a lot for me.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:13 PM on March 4, 2013

Best answer: "No one cares about your grades."

Completely untrue. Maybe it was true ten years ago and probably it is still true in some fields, but I can speak to two fields that you are probably interested in:

- management consulting, and
- technology firms

and yes, you will be judged [harshly] based on your GPA. Many firms will have a hard minimum cut off that is not low (3.5, sometimes 3.6) and you will always be looked upon more favorably with a 3.9 than a 3.6. Maybe not the best way of judging if someone is a good candidate? Yes. Still something we do anyway because we get so many applications that are virtually identical because undergraduates really have rarely done shit? Yes.

You sound like you don't really know what you want to do, which is typical, but one thing you stated specifically wanting to do is work in management consulting. If this is true, you must do the following:
- Keep your GPA up as high as possible

- Take some econ and mathy classes (sounds like you have this covered)

- Understand the things you are taught in your econ and mathy classes, especially micro and econometrics/intro stats

- Participate in one or two non-bullshit activities where you can hold a leadership role. If these activities are non traditional or sound bullshitty, train yourself to speak cogently about why they are actually interesting and worth doing

- In a similar vein, practice your interview skills. This means real interviews or practicing with a career counselor, not practicing with your roommate. Your roommate doesn't know anything about interviewing. Just because you sound good when you're saying stupid things ("I've always wanted to be a management consultant!") doesn't mean you're interviewing well, and your roommate can't tell. You should have bulletproof answers prepared for every one of the common behavioral interview questions (tell us about a time you overcame a challenge, about a time you resolved a conflict with a teammate, etc etc, your career counselor will be able to provide you with a list of these). You should also practice answering case questions (how many Starbucks are there in the United States; should I open a burrito stand on the corner of 59th and 3rd?; etc), these can be found online. Depending on the size and prestige of your school one of the management consulting firms might send someone to do an info session and practice case questions at your school. Attend this event!

- And most importantly, do whatever it takes to get an internship the summer after junior year at a management consulting firm. Far and away this is the #1 best thing you can do to ultimately get a full time job as a management consultant after college.

Things you should not worry about [with regard to getting that job]:
- Going abroad (we don't care; everyone goes abroad; you were probably drinking and having threesomes the entire time; unless you're fluent in business Mandarin, no one cares)

- Your sociology minor

- Extra curricular activities where you don't have a leadership role

- Learning Excel -- we will teach you Excel whether you show up claiming to know it or not. Don't waste your time.

That's all I got. Good luck.
posted by telegraph at 7:37 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm interested professionally in pursuing management consulting, at least for a while, or similar businessy-type opportunities that don't require many specialized prerequisites (banking has never held much appeal, though).

I'm a management consultant and I interview new grads as part of my firm's recruitment process. I can't speak to what you personally should do because I don't know you but I can speak to how these things would interact with our recruiting process.

The sociology minor, from a candidate with a double math/econ doesn't matter either way.
The study abroad doesn't really matter to recruitment either.

Your personal qualities, leadership experience, and extra-curricular activities would come up at interview if I were interviewing you, but they're not nearly as important as GPA and relevant internships.

GPA is the most important because it's the filter at the very beginning of a steeply narrowing recruitment funnel.

I don't even know for sure what our GPA cut-off is, because I never even see the CV of someone below it. Those candidates are screened out by HR long before the first round interview stage.

There's always plenty of people on metafilter who are eager to tell people not to worry about GPA because nobody cares once you graduate. That is not true at management consulting firms, it is not true for graduate entry management trainee jobs at large companies, it is not true in virtually any competitive field for entry level hiring.

Internships are next in importance, we actually hire about 20% of our grad intake from our most recent group of interns.
posted by atrazine at 12:07 AM on March 5, 2013

You sound very responsible and I think you'll be fine no matter which option you choose. I think you should go with your gut and what makes you happiest. If you're not sure what your gut is saying, you can use the trick of flipping a coin, not looking at which side is up, and reflect on which side you want to be up.

And for what it's worth, I didn't go abroad when I was in college despite having the opportunity, and I've always regretted it. Life gets real after graduation and it's very difficult to get the opportunity to spend that much time away from your responsibilities.
posted by wolfnote at 8:46 AM on March 5, 2013

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