Help me figure out my dream career
November 19, 2007 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Be my guidance counselor. Help me figure out my dream career.

I am in the middle of applying to law school, and I am having serious misgivings about spending 3 years of my life and over $100,000 dollars to become something that I might be
very unhappy being.

I've thought about what *would* make me happy, but I draw a blank when I try to match a particular job to these things.

Can you help me figure it out? Do you have any creative suggestions? Here's what I'm looking for in my dream job, in order of importance.

1. I'd like to somehow make use of my education in any one of the following: statistics, economics, sociology, or public policy (or tangential subjects).

2. I'd like most tasks that I'd do in my day to be interesting (as opposed to a job where I have to spend all day doing mundane tasks in service of an interesting outcome.)

3. There would be realistic potential for me, with hard work, to become wealthy. It would also be possible for me, if I chose, to work not quite as hard, and still live comfortably.

4. This is not absolutely necessary, but I'd like to feel that I was building something, especially something of mine. I don't want to feel like just a cog in a machine churning out endless work and never going anywhere.

5. This is also not necessary, but I'd like to be able to work on a flexible schedule (full time but not necessarily M-Fri, 9-5)

Any ideas?

I would be open to going back to another kind of school than law school. I also haven't ruled out law school itself, if there are law jobs that simultaneously meet 1-3 and possibly 5.
posted by Ashley801 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Working in political campaigns.
posted by phrontist at 6:45 PM on November 19, 2007

You are very wise to be very careful before committing to law school. I would identify and then *research* several actual legal careers that you think would like (and that would be realistic to get from the schools you'd be going to) before actually joining.

As far as what else you might enjoy, what about being an entrepreneur? That probably meets your criteria. Or perhaps work at a hedge fund (though that lacks flex time)?

Also, I'd highly recommend the book The Pathfinder for helping you make this decision in a systematic way.
posted by shivohum at 7:01 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd like to somehow make use of my education in any one of the following: statistics, economics, sociology, or public policy (or tangential subjects).

You could pursue a career or at least a degree in something that encompasses it all. Would you work in academia somewhere? A degree in something like Geography encompasses all of the areas that you specify and can lead to a career where you are contunially researching, and writing about real life things, fulfilling your requiremen of making a difference. It isn't necessarily a 9-5 job, either.
posted by cholly at 7:07 PM on November 19, 2007

The "wealthy" requirement really narrows you're choices.

Given your other criteria, I'd say that the only thing besides law school that would help you get what you want would be an MBA.
posted by mpls2 at 7:10 PM on November 19, 2007

your choices, obviously.
posted by mpls2 at 7:11 PM on November 19, 2007

Being an academic meets 1,2,4, and 5 with flying colors, and it's not as bad on point 3 as you might be thinking. We don't know what you mean by "wealthy," so it might be good if you clarified that. You can certainly make $100K a year as an academic in the areas you're interested in, and outside the big coastal cities that is a pretty handsome salary -- certainly "living comfortably," and "wealthy" by lots of people's standards -- yours?

Law school opens lots of doors if you're interested in policy. And if flexibility of schedule and doing interesting things daily remains a priority, you can become a legal academic! I say go.
posted by escabeche at 7:47 PM on November 19, 2007

Don't listen to the guy above. You can't become a legal academic unless you are in the Top 5-10% of your class at one of the following schools: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, NYU, Colombia, UChicago, UVA or Texas. If you aren't very certian you can do that and already have an interest in legal scholarship, dont even consider it, its not going to happen. Yea, that would be a sweet gig, but everyone else thinks so too, the competition is simply impossible unless you're a genius. If you are though, good luck to you!

Law school will open a lot of government and policy doors, you can get in at the FBI, State Dept, CIA, DOJ, DHS, think tanks, or any number of NGOs. Those careers probably wont make you rich, but you should be doing something interesting and maybe even useful. There are also a multitude of public service careers available to JDs, but don't go there looking for money.

You can also work with an NGO without the JD. Just start looking around for groups that work doing something that sounds interesting to you. There are literally thousands of groups wokring all around the world on anything from business financing to ending world poverty to exexcutive or professional placement firms.

Hedge funds could be an option with more potential for money, but with little to no stability and I dont know anythign about getting a job like that. You also might need an MBA unless your UG degree is in finance form a decent school.

In sum- there ARE careers in law that can be interesting, meaningful, helpful, fulfilling, even flexible. These are not careers that will make you rich. However, you can move to these careers after slaving away at BIGLAW for a few years to repay your crushing debt, I hope that Ill be doing exactly that in a few years. What you can't do is move from one of those careers to making a ton of cash. If you get in on a big scholarship, theres no reason you cant find a great law job. If youre willing to work your ass off for 3-5 years after law school, you can probably do the same thing a little later and have some money in the bank as well.

Good luck!
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:13 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

i was a stats major, went to law school, and am now about to graduate sans the job of my dreams. many people i'm graduating with are terrified of finding a job that will allow them to maintain their current (student-level) lifestyle and pay back their loans.

i, as i suspect you do, yearn for the interesting job with limitless potential and the option of making a "modest" salary for a 40 hr work week. if that job exists, i haven't found it. i don't think it exists. it's really hard (read impossible) to find an employer who would be willing to give a new graduate that level of control over the employment situation. they need you to be predictable - as far as work produced and payment expended.

disclaimer: i have been unwilling to sacrifice 3 years of my life. imho, life is too short. most who go into law school willing to work really really hard (as in avg. 8 hour self-regulated days all semester - there are NO shortcuts), can generally arrive at 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. (or possibly a sweet combo of them, but, generally, you can't have 3 and 5.)

4 is generally out of the question if you want to make money out of school. the cogs get paid the most. you can probably accomplish this best, believe it or not, as a gov't lawyer, as young attorneys usually get the most responsibility there.

of course, 3, 4 & 5 are always possible if want to start your own firm, but that sort of risk is rough with debt.

the best course, again, may be gov't, as they will give you lots of experience with which you can get hired to a big firm later, decent cash.

bottom line: unless you're top 20% or get really lucky, you'll have a hard time living 'comfortably' as you (probably) imagine it while managing to easily pay back your loans. the job market is more scary than i thought it would be going in... think long and hard about it.

OF COURSE: i'm coming at it from one perspective. make your own decision.

more food for thought:

a law professor's interpretation:
(1) top firms are hiring the same number (not percentage) of graduates for higher and higher salaries.
(2) the number of people going to law school is increasing every year.
(3) this leaves more and more people outside the top firm hiring range - dropping them into that $35k-60k range (which continues to grow in numbers).
(4) the cost of law school is going up each year. so: average debt level increases, and the number of people making enough to deal with it decreases.
(5) it is getting fiscally dangerous to attend law school.

again: please, take all this with a grain of salt - decide for yourself! you may very well belong in law school. do what you think is right for you.
posted by ncc1701d at 8:45 PM on November 19, 2007

If you are having any doubts at all, at all, about becoming a lawyer, don't go to law school.
What about a master's in public policy or public administration? You could become a city manager, though it's a stressful job, it satisfies many of your other requirments.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 8:59 PM on November 19, 2007

Working in political campaigns.

I agree that this will get you 1, 2, 4, and 5. But the people who make really serious money in campaign work are either pioneering new campaign technology or are superstars who have been in the business for years and have already paid their soul-sucking dues.

But, one thing that you could do right now is give political life a try, see if it's right for you. No time like the present; go to the state chair of the campaign for the presidential front-runner or Congressional candidate you like best right now, and talk about a way to get involved in 2008. If they can pay you anything approaching a livable salary, consider yourself one of the lucky few. And then strap yourself in and keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times. I believe you see the best and worst of politics while on campaign in a presidential cycle. But mostly? No money in campaign work.

What about McKinsey? Do you have a strong set of talents that might be successfully outsourced to other companies? They like grads. And it's a great springboard to almost anything else you could want to do professionally afterward.
posted by pineapple at 9:40 PM on November 19, 2007

I'd recommend a Sales & Trading program at any of the major investment banks, but your timing is awful. It'd fulfill all your requirements except flexibility (you gotta work during market hours).
posted by mullacc at 10:36 PM on November 19, 2007

The secret to being wealthy is to be self-employed, work hard, and choose a business that you can scale up. Why not market research? Stay away from political campaigns - there is nooooo money in politics.

You could do PR or advertising. I guy I work for has a Masters in Education from the Sorbonne, and now he runs his own creative agency, subcontracting to Dentsu. He ain't rich, but he's on a plane jetting off someplace at least once a month.

The catch? He lives to work. I can't keep up with him. Which is why I'll only ever work on the occasional project to supplement my income.

However, a government economist makes good coin, too. And the hours are flexible.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 PM on November 19, 2007

I just want to say that I'm repenting about having mentioned legal academia -- I know nothing about it and I'm sure T.D.Strange is right. My comments should be taken to refer to "arts and sciences" academia, e.g. sociology, economics, public policy. I should also say that academia fails to satisfy certain criteria that you might have taken for granted, like "6. I would like to be able to choose what city I'm going to live in."
posted by escabeche at 6:07 AM on November 20, 2007

You might be interested in public health--maybe program evaluation or epidemiology or health policy. One of the cool things about public health is that you can learn a skill set which is then translatable to many areas--for instance, you can do evaluation and work on a cardiovascular disease prevention program for a city, and then switch to working on an AIDS intervention project at a NPO, and then move to academia and evaluate whether a research project is working.

You could use all of your educational background. A lot of the work is pretty interesting, especially mid-career (post-entry level, pre-high level management). You are building the infrastructure or programs to have a healthier community/country/whatever level you're working at. Many public health jobs are at universities or NPOs or with city or state government and flex time is an option.

As for the getting rich, well, I'm not, but I'm certainly not starving. My friends who work for the city or the state are doing very comfortably (as I define it). International work can pay quite well, especially if you're paid in US dollars but living overseas. And, like many fields, high level management pays very well at many organizations, if you're ambitious and talented enough to get there.

An MPH is generally a two year program. There are accredited schools all over the country and you can focus on lots of areas you may find interesting. Many people in public health had a previous career in something else first, but there are also people doing it straight out of undergrad. Mefi mail me if you'd like to talk about public health in more detail.

I'd maybe finish up those law applications if you've already got them mostly done, but hold off on actually going unless you are sure. That is a LOT of money and time invested if you don't want to do it any more. What led you to law in the first place--a genuine interest? Family pressure? Wanting to make money? That would be something to consider too.
posted by min at 10:48 AM on November 20, 2007

« Older What's the song playing in FF4 when the girl...   |   How do you find your artistic style? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.