Help me get a clue on my future options.
January 3, 2007 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to graduate and have no clue about the options for my future, and no one to talk to about it. Help me get a clue.

I'm a senior in NYC, 22 years old, and don't even know what my options are. I'm very shy, very few knowledgable friends to ask, and my advisors are just plain awful. I have no idea what I should be doing right now. I see my options for post-August as:

1. Law school, which, if I want to go this fall, I really need to get cracking on. GPA 3.43, LSAT 168, political science major, history minor-equivalent, and an additional undergraduate writing program, extensive leadership experience on local and state level. But do I even want to go this fall? This is not something I'm entirely uninterested in, but it's really something my parents think I'd be amazing at, whereas I'm completely unsure. I'd basically only be applying to top-20 law schools where I can handle the debt because I only want to go to a place where, having gone, it increases my options in and of itself.

2. Teach For America. I have a friend I think extremely highly of who is in the second year of this, and, similarly, thinks I'd be well-suited for it. But honestly (and this might sound awful), I just feel very tired. I've kept an incredibly busy schedule all four years of college, a demanding courseload, leadership of a statewide students organization, etc etc. I kind of don't want to throw myself immediately into something that sounds so exhausting, so quickly, when I might have a year to do something I didn't really do in college, i.e. enjoy being young.

3. Working on a presidential campaign for one of the '08 Democrats, whether it be on policy, field operation, or whatever else. I might very well love to do this, having volunteered extensively for Dean in 2004, but I have NO idea how to formally get into this.

4. Anything else. I really, honestly, have no idea what my other options are, I just don't have enough human contact to know. Is it typical for people to get jobs in prep for any of the above, or something else? Has anyone else been in a similar situation? Is is standard to get a summer internship before whatever you do in the autumn? Is it standard to work somewhere for two years, then get cracking?

This probably all seems rather haphazard, but it's my state of mind right now. I feel like I'm on a track where time is ticking down SO fast and if I don't stop and examine where I'm going, I'll be somewhere in a year I never exactly wanted to be, simply because while everyone else knew the ropes, I half-heartedly sent out applications. Can anyone help on this front?
posted by Ash3000 to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I finished my undergrad in 2000 with a BA in international politics and marks similar to yours, and probably similar interests (though in Montreal rather than NYC). I couldn't decide between pursuing an MA (with a view to a career in academia), or law school, or trying to find that elusive "regular job" which you are confused about. I understand the confusion -- a good degree in a field like politics can let you do anything, or nothing!

I ended up going to teach English overseas while I sorted it out. I wrote the LSATs before I left just in case, and planned to come back after about 6 months with a fresh perspective. I ended staying for 3 years, then I came back and went to law school.

I graduated from law school this year and am currently specialising in constitutional law. It's interesting, but I have applied for a PhD in law beginning next fall. Academia is where it's at for me.

But had you asked me in 2000 if I wanted to become a professor of law, I would have been pretty far from my mind.

So, my advice:

1) take time off before you make decisions about career. Law school will still be there next year, or after the 08 election. Three years teaching was probably one too many for me, but the experience was still incredible.

2) If you go the law school route, remember that for MANY people (myself included) "the law" / law school is wonderful, lawyering itself is not. Of course, there are plenty for whom the reverse is true. The upside to law school is that it will open a tonne of doors for you -- you will find lapsed lawyers in all kinds of different fields. The downside is that many people who enter law school find themselves swept up in the mad rush to get into corporate law jobs, since it can seem that everyone else is. Avoid that at all costs.

Time is not ticking down so fast; you are 22. Now is the time to do the things that you will not be able to do when you are 50 and have kids and a mortgage.

Good luck -- and never be afraid to take a risk.
posted by modernnomad at 7:30 AM on January 3, 2007

Based on a tiny part of my own experience, and a large part of other friends' experiences, I vote for #3. And the best way to do this, if you really want to do it, is to pack all your stuff, hop in the car/on the bus/whatever, show up at HQ, and say "put me to work." If you're valuable, you'll get a salaried job eventually. The next 60 days are the ideal time to do this, but since you're still in school, you might want to just head up to NH on weekends.

Good luck!

(By the way, I have one of those damn orange hats too.)
posted by j-dawg at 7:33 AM on January 3, 2007

Working for a campaign would probably be fun, but I think there is a lot of networking/cronyism involved in getting the jobs. Still, you could try sending in your resume. The Edwards campaign seems to be trying to "recruit" people, more so then Hillary or Obama, but I'm not sure if they're just looking for volunteers or what.
posted by delmoi at 7:58 AM on January 3, 2007

I say #3. Based on your previous AskMae, it seems like: you thrive on extreme business and deadlines; you are strongly politically motivated; and you have some trouble finding a social network that suits you at your school. Working full-time on a campaign is something that a) you can only do when you're young and have no responsibilities; b) truly helps accomplish your political goals; and c) provides you with an automatic social network of people who are intensely devoted to the same goals as you are.

(Also, it's likely that a lot of those people will be on their way to or already in law school, and you may have a better sense by Fall 08 about whether that's where you'd like to go next.)

Good luck!
posted by escabeche at 8:21 AM on January 3, 2007

Call everyone you know from the Dean campaign and tell them you want a job in '08. If they very thought makes you cringe do it anyway (maybe have a glass of wine first). You spent a lot of time building those contacts so use them!
posted by fshgrl at 8:27 AM on January 3, 2007

Response by poster: I enormously appreciate the advice so far, but I was wondering if people might be able to elucidate #4 a little bit? I honestly don't know what the standard set of options are immediately post-undergrad for someone in my sorta position, and that'd be really, really helpful. Thanks!
posted by Ash3000 at 8:51 AM on January 3, 2007

I have a lot of friends from my MA program that all came together from the Dean campaign. They all loved it!
posted by k8t at 8:52 AM on January 3, 2007

For #4, there should be a career or alumni center at your university that can help you figure out what OTHER graduates from your deparment have done. If your at somewhere big like NYU, I bet there's a campus-wide center and a Poli. Sci. center.
posted by muddgirl at 9:19 AM on January 3, 2007

Re #4 -- the developmental task you now face is that there isn't a standard set of options; from here on out, there are no more course catalogs and you'll never know what all the options are. Don't worry, it doesn't stay daunting.

That said, certainly a majority of new Ivy League graduates are going to be doing one of the following things next fall: working for an investment bank; working at a consulting firm; attending law school; attending medical school. Smaller numbers of graduates will be: travelling the world; starting a Ph.D. program; participating in a service program like Teach for America. A few years ago lots would be going to work for Internet startups; I'm not sure if that's still true.
posted by escabeche at 9:45 AM on January 3, 2007

An idea for #4 that several people I know have done is working at a law firm, as a paralegal or something similar -- the idea being to see "what it's like" before taking the plunge and going to law school. If the law is a serious option for you, but you're still unsure, it might be the way to go; I know a high school teacher who was all set to go to law school until he did this and realized it wasn't for him.

As for law school "increasing your options", I've often heard that you shouldn't go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer (or perhaps a law prof); that's what law school is for. Not saying people don't use those degrees in other ways, but make sure you're aware of what getting one entails.
posted by SuperNova at 11:30 AM on January 3, 2007

Supernova writes: As for law school "increasing your options", I've often heard that you shouldn't go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer (or perhaps a law prof); that's what law school is for. Not saying people don't use those degrees in other ways, but make sure you're aware of what getting one entails.

(sorry if this is a derail, but I think the OP may find it useful)

I think it depends. If you float along through law school, then yeah, you'll probably become a lawyer for life -- not that happy, but the money's ok, so you stay on. Or because you think "well, I did 3 years of law school, I guess I should be a lawyer now!" I've got friends like that.

But, if you can really sink your teeth into an area of law that you like, there's all kinds of things you can do. BUt it's up to you to go and find them. The easy track is when firms come knocking on your door in your 2nd year with offers of big salaries. It's tough for many to turn down, even if they know its not really want they want to do. Then five years later, bang, they've got a house, kids, they're (pretty much) stuck.

The biggest piece of advice a mentor gave to me when I first entered law school was this: Everyone wants to know how they can get on the track to "biglaw" (ie big law firms with big salaries). That is a mistake -- you are *all* already on that track. You don't need to be proactive to get into biglaw if you've got good marks and go to a good school. You need to be proactive to get *off* that track.

You may be a lawyer for a couple of years after school (so you can get called to the bar, etc), but if you've got your eye on something else and have the drive and talent for it, I still think it is a great door opener. The problem is when people become lawyers because they can't think of anything else to do -- that is definitely not a good idea.
posted by modernnomad at 1:13 PM on January 3, 2007

You can take a few years now and go experience some life and not have it reflect negatively on your law career later; if you try the same thing after going to law school your career will suffer.

If you're ambivalent about your current direction, I would advise strongly against law school now. Go do anything else. Law school is a uniquely ... well, I was going to say "dehumanizing and demoralizing" experience, which may be too strong, but it is something.

So yeah, either pay some dues or pay some bills, or both. Learn something about life. Take a crappy job (the shipping department at most companies is the easiest place to slack off at and not get fired), or try working at an idealist position like a political campaign. Go backpacking around the world. Do something that you can only get away with now, maybe. Live a little.
posted by norm at 1:29 PM on January 3, 2007

Have you ever had a really shitty job? If not, may I please suggest getting one, however briefly? If you're not willing to sign up for bottom of the barrel, how about just "regular folks" type stuff, waiting tables or retail (both of which have potential to be terrible)? It's pretty valuable perspective, and you'll meet a huge range of people, and get an idea of what you don't want to do for the rest of your life.

I know, you think it's obvious that you know you don't want to be hanging size 20 pants on the rack for eight hours a day, but what I mean is, do you want a boss, do you want to interact with people, do you like organizing things or re-envisioning stuff?

Getting through my most recent line of crap jobs has been made a lot easier when I tell myself I'm teaching people - I've either been teaching employees how to be a helpful part of an organization, or teaching customers what we're able to do for them (and slyly training them to be better customers) for so long that I'm ready to buckle down and finish school because I'd like to be recognized as a teacher.

So, what do you identify yourself as? What self talk gets you through the things you don't enjoy?
posted by bilabial at 3:37 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

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