How can I finally start doing something with my life?
September 19, 2006 6:13 AM   Subscribe

What should I get an M.A. in?

I have a 2-year-old B.A. in Philosophy and have been wasting time since deciding not to go on to become a lifelong academic. I excelled at math and foreign languages in school, and probably should have studied engineering or computer science, though I feel it's too late at this point and I'm not certain enough to commit myself to any particular field. I also considered studying psychology, linguistics, and comparative literature at various points.

I've recently been trying to reassess my goals in life, and I think I'm leaning more towards the business world at this point, though I have little understanding of its mysteries. I want to acheive financial independence (though not necessarily wealth) and apply my intellect to something practical that yields visible results and allows me to take responsibility and credit for my actions and decisions - admittedly I also respond better to instant gratification and can be a bit impatient. I also want to feel that I am being productive or creative in some satisfying way whatever I end up doing, rather than simply working by the hour (or semester) at a task that constantly renews itself with no end in sight - though I am able to take pride in doing this sort of work with quality as well, as I currently am. I want to enter a field or industry that is dynamic, lucrative, and challenging that will reward good performance. I also insist on living abroad, if not travel internationally on a regular basis. I realize this is vague and ambitious, but I have no idea where to start.

More personality backgound: I am intelligent and extremely motivated but completely unskilled. I used to be an extreme introvert, but have been working on developing into more of a type-A personality and become depressed when I'm not immersed in something productive and satisfying, or at least perpetually busy. I'm clearly somewhere on the Asperger's-Autism-ADD spectrum, but I find myself able to thrive and excell in circumstances that require me to overcome the constraints of those traits provided I am sufficiently motivated, though I do sometimes find it exhausting. I'm not sure whether to let my personality type determine which path I take (and whether such a decision would be prudent or simply avoidant); for the first time, I feel optimistic and driven enough that I think I could make anything happen if I worked hard enough at it, and I don't want to lose that momentum for lack of something to apply it to.

I now have an opportunity to to go back to school (most likely in the USA, though studying in Germany may be an alternative) and am determined not to waste it, though I'm at a complete loss as to how to make use of it. Please advise!
posted by xanthippe to Work & Money (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I've always been told--and felt--that graduate school was not the place to figure out what you want to do/be. The place for that is undergrad.

The idea of grad school is that you've figured out what you want to do and spend your grad years doing in depth studies of a particular field or subfield. I realize this isn't always the case, since it wasn't for me or for my friends.

I'm not trying to say you shouldn't go back to school and get a graduate degree because I think education is pretty important. What I am saying is don't just pick a field and hope you like it.

If you're leaning towards businness, why not try for an MBA?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:20 AM on September 19, 2006

Law school is a good option. Your skills and personality fit in well (ADD is a requirement, not a liability) and your options with a JD degree are much less constraining.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:26 AM on September 19, 2006

You should only be going back to college if it's something you actually want to do. It sounds like you're contemplating it only because this opportunity has come up, and you feel like you ought to do it. If it's not something you want to do, you're not going to enjoy it, and if you don't enjoy it then you're not going to get any benefit out of it.

I know you feel that not going back to school now will be a wasted opportunity. But it's only a wasted opportunity if you know for certain that it's going to be beneficial for you. You could in fact be wasting a huge opportunity to go out into the real world and and find something you love now while you're young and you're not tied down.

You can spend ages trying to plan your life out, but for all but a few it rarely works out the way you think it will. What will make you happy tomorrow? What could you be doing today that would make you happy today? Find it, and do it. Don't think more than a year ahead.
posted by chrismear at 6:33 AM on September 19, 2006

How about an MA in broadcast journalism? It got me a job, and now I work with a nun!
posted by parmanparman at 6:41 AM on September 19, 2006

If it is instant gratification, creativity, financial freedom and a non-repetative task then you should become a trader. You can work from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection, being an introvert and falling in the AspergerAutismADD spectum will not be a problem. You don't even need to talk to other people to be a successful trader.

You need discipline, creativity, the ability to make an instantaneous decison with incomplete information and an ego tht is big enough to believe in yourself yet big enough to admit when you are wrong.

Don't waste your time on grad school. Find someone to teach you to trade.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2006

If you don't know, don't do it.


The best way to "start doing something with [your] life" is to do something! Going to school, for you, is clearly procrastination. Go out and actually start producing something and you'll get a feel for what you really like.

The best decision I ever made in my life was dropping out of college and getting on with life.
posted by Ookseer at 6:50 AM on September 19, 2006

I agree with the above posters - does your opportunity for school expire? If not, I'd suggest waiting a few more years to really figure out what you want to do, and then go to school. But if you are really set on school - I knew a girl from college who was getting a master's in advertising in boston. Seems that something like that would be a good way to tie in everything you're looking for. It wasn't quite as in-depth as an MBA, and focused specifically on preparing you for a career in the advertising world. It sounded pretty cool when she explained it to me. Here's a link to a page for similar programs, I'm not sure which one she was in.
posted by ml98tu at 7:00 AM on September 19, 2006

I wonder if you can go to a career counselor to explore your future opportunities. Figuring out what you want to do can help you take the next step. If you don't have a plan, you'll be wandering through academia directionless.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:09 AM on September 19, 2006

Keep on worki ng and if in your career you need a MA to move ahead, get one then. Don't spend the money trying to figure yourself out.
posted by k8t at 8:47 AM on September 19, 2006

I suggest you get a job in management consulting. This will give you exposure to a wide array of business problems and industries. You'll discover whether you like "the mysteries of the business world". Also, pick the right firm, and you won't sleep a night in your own bed (some of them are NOTORiOUS for having global staffing models, which means you travel all the time). Firms to look at to understand the industry: Bain, BCG, McKinsey, Booz (tho they no longer have an analyst program), Accenture, IBM Consulting. Also check vault for the guide on consulting. And don't forget to practice practice practice your case interviews!!!!
posted by zia at 9:22 AM on September 19, 2006

This book MIGHT be helpful.
posted by LeisureGuy at 9:40 AM on September 19, 2006

I'm going to second what misanthropicsarah said. Grad school is for those who are sure about what they want to do and want to really focus. Have you considered a second bachelors? Or better yet, getting some real-world experience in fields you may be interested in?

Even if you're just an office clerk, you'll still gain a better idea of what the bigwigs do, and can decide whether it's something you want to pursue.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2006

From what I know about it, I think zia is right -- try consulting. You'll get to try out different types of businesses, travel, make money, work hard. It's a great job for your first few years out of school, and then you'll be in a better position to evaluate where you should go next.

If you really don't know what you want to do, don't go to grad school now. Go get a job somewhere, which will lead to more and different opportunities/choices down the road. Spend some time out of school before deciding to come back -- you will be much more likely to finish your next degree and to actually have some idea of what to do with it.

If you are determined to go, do a quasi-vocational degree like MBA or law or public policy. (But law is very expensive.) Don't do a degree purely to get more knowledge (eg a humanities degree); you will just be in this same position in two or three years, but you'll be older, maybe in debt, and have an even greater uncertainty about what to do other than school.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:47 AM on September 19, 2006

What about the Peace Corps? That way you can travel, learn a foreign language and make an impact in other people's lives.

Might help you figure out what you want in life, and if that ends up being grad school, they can help you pay for it.
posted by mynameismandab at 11:03 AM on September 19, 2006

What Color is Your Parachute? has sold a gazillion copies for a reason. I know it's corny and stupid but if you actually do the exercises you really can find out a lot about yourself. I used it when I was trying to figure out what to go back to school in. It ended up being something that I never would have considered prior to doing the exercises (pharmacy school) but I've been doing it for 5 yrs now (2 years of prerequisites, and I'm in my 3rd yr of a 4 year program) and I still love it. I know many, many people who jumped into grad school without thinking through exactly what to do, and "love" was NOT the word they'd use to describe their experience.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:12 PM on September 19, 2006

Have you absolutely no work or volunteer experience whatsoever? Even so, you must have obtained skills from going to university. Your profile says you live in Budapest, so I imagine you are bilingual. You obviously know how to type, use a computer, etc. Have you considered working at a minimum wage job while you take some night courses in typing, computer applications, and other basic office skills? Then you can apply for higher-paying temp work. The minimum wage job would give you some customer service experience, which will be useful no matter where you end up. You might also try volunteering for a youth hostel, where you can learn about cleaning rooms, managing reservations, front desk, etc.

If you can then swing a working holiday visa, you can probably get short-term work at hostels, hotels, fast food places, and offices that use temps. You could look at taking evening courses to augment your experience. You could go into technical training, technical writing, technical sales or marketing. Or maybe you could take more technical courses and go into programming, IT or something like that. Being experienced in time management, working with people, serving customers, doing office work, and working internationally will hold you in good stead.

You don't need an MA to get a job. In fact, having an MA may make you less employable.
posted by acoutu at 1:41 PM on September 19, 2006

Acoutu: that's exactly what I'm doing right now, actually, and i'm bored to death and frustrated by the fact that i'm working - and learning - constantly, yet not going anywhere with it. Same deal with the Peace Corp: the past 2 years were supposed to be the years of figuring out what was next, and I've still got no concrete idea (aside from those above, of course).

I realize that I shouldn't have asked exclusively about grad school, and that it doesn't necessarily need to be the next step. I want to start being a part of the real world as soon as possible; i just don't know, in practical terms, where to start.

What is consulting, and is it being suggested that I can do it without grad school?
posted by xanthippe at 2:33 PM on September 19, 2006

I only know about consulting jobs in the US. When I got out of college in the US, it seemed like about 1/5 people in my graduating class went directly on to be consultants, so you can definitely do it without anything past a BA. You may need some quantitative skills; I'm not sure what. As I understand it, companies hire consultants to come in and examine some aspect of their operations, looking for things specified by the company (eg, what projects are we spending too much money on? where should we open our next store?). I gather that one can quickly learn to do this work if one has reasonable quantitiative and analytic skills.

You go around to different job sites, working on different types of projects at each place depending what the client needs, and staying in a hotel in the relevant city for a week or a month, then moving on. The constant travel is wearing on some people, but you say you like that, so it might be perfect for you.

You could try talking to your university's career counselling office. Most places in the US at least have career counselling offices that will be glad to talk with you over the phone about what options there are.

Don't feel that you need, right now, to find a job that will be the ideal job for you for years to come. Just find a job that is reasonably interesting and develops skills that will help you to get the next job. You don't need to have a complete real-world lifelong plan that fulfills your fantastic potential and lets you change the world; you just need to start your working life somewhere. You will very likely change jobs several times in the coming years, so it's best to just find one and start doing it. Once you are working, you will develop a better sense of what the options are, and you'll develop skills and social networks that will help you take advantage of the other options. It won't be wasted time even if it turns out not to be the One Perfect Job for you.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:49 PM on September 19, 2006

I'm confused. You said that you were "completely unskilled". If you are working now and you've been in the Peace Corps, you must have skills. Have you considered doing a skills inventory?
posted by acoutu at 4:12 PM on September 19, 2006

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