What should I do after college?
February 7, 2008 6:05 PM   Subscribe

What do I do with my life after college? I want to do something I don't hate, and might even like. I want YOUR suggestions and ideas.

I'm in my late 20s and am a bit less than a year away from receiving a BS in mechanical engineering from a not-very-prestigious state university in Los Angeles County. I already possess a BA in creative writing and an MBA in finance. I went back to school for the BSME a couple of years ago. My grades are quite good (mostly A's, with a couple of B's every so often--nothing below a B). Next quarter, I'll be attending a very prestigious engineering school (also in the LA area) for a class on an exchange program (I'll get credit at my own institution for work done at the prestigious engineering school). I've also been working at an engineering firm doing actual engineering work.

So I ask you: What do I do next? I enjoy finance and engineering (and creative writing, but that won't put food on the table). I've thought about going to school to study quantitative finance, but more school? Another masters? Do I want to be in school forever? Do I get an engineering job? The idea of JUST doing engineering work kind of bores me.

Do I try to find a consulting job? Consulting sounds exciting, but do they hire engineers fresh out of school? And my undergraduate institution for my BSME isn't prestigious. From what I hear, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group hire from schools everyone's heard of (such as the prestigious school I'll be attending next quarter).

Also, it has been said that my participation in this exchange program would help my chances of getting into their graduate school. From this particular institution, I wouldn't mind another year or so of school for a Master's, but there's no guarantee of getting in (or even succeeding in their exchange program).

I ask you (yes--YOU!) for your ideas. I want to hear things I haven't thought of. I want to make a pretty good amount of money. A lot of money would be great. I don't want to work 80 or 90 hours per week unless there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Also, I want to see my girlfriend for more than an hour a week. No, I don't want to join the Peace Corps. No, I don't want to move to Qatar to take part in their huge economic boom. No, I don't want to join the military (as suggested by the idiot career adviser at my school's career center).
posted by rybreadmed to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Apply at Haliburton. Huge company that encompasses all of that stuff and more.
posted by gjc at 6:42 PM on February 7, 2008

Consulting sounds exciting, but do they hire engineers fresh out of school?

Yes. They'll hire just about anyone who can string words together in a sentence, frankly; your technical skills are just gravy and will help you get non-crap assignments, or into a better consultancy or higher pay band than you otherwise would. (McKinsey does seem to only hire from prestigious schools, but there are lots of other consultancies, and in fact there are many better places if you desire to do something semi-technical rather than pure business/finance consulting.)

I'd say you have a pretty good background for consulting. It can be pretty much everything you seem to be looking for. It can also be tons of very boring work for surprisingly little money when you break it out per hour. A lot depends on luck and how successful you are building contacts and finding people to mentor / take care of you within your company. It's a job that generally rewards smart and aggressive people who like a constant stream of challenges.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:08 PM on February 7, 2008

2nding exploring the energy/military sector. That was my plan in the late 80s until that bus blew up.

My backup plan, going to Japan right out of college, worked pretty damn well tho. There's an interesting dynamic there where companies -- big companies like Sony, NEC, etc -- that need specialist staff will look at tech people who have already made the transition to Japan a little more favorably than the same person still stateside. Plus there is something of a big-fish / small-pond dynamic when a technical/engineering person goes to Tokyo -- you really winnow down the number and quality of competitors for open positions by already being on the ground where the job is instead of 7 timezones away.

The tricky bit with this plan, alas, is supporting yourself and visa-ing up before your 3 mo tourist visa runs out. This inevitably (?) requires finding a English teaching gig with either a chain or (if you're lucky) outsourcing firm (that coordinates English-language instructors for businesses like NEC, etc) . Again, though, your technical and writing interests -- plus your young age -- will make your application for the latter stand out a LOT.

(I didn't catch the latter break and had to do the chain school thing for 2+ years. Somewhat difficult 'learning the ropes' the first 10 months, hella fun the next 10 months, and became old the last 10 months . . . but after that I found a sterling programming job in my field and never looked back).

Just something to think about -- I'm out of the loop about Tokyo now, perhaps China would be a better direction these days.
posted by panamax at 8:54 PM on February 7, 2008

As a project engineer for a large company that hires a lot of contractors/consultants, I can echo the comments above. Those types of firms/groups hire a ton of people from every university imaginable. If you can manage to get an equation into your TI89 and get an answer with no errors, you'll probably be a step ahead of your peers.
posted by conradjones at 9:02 PM on February 7, 2008

This may be a less practical suggestion than you're after... but I always like the "big bag of money" hypothetical.

Say that, tomorrow, you encounter a big bag of money (with the dollar sign on the outside of the bag). Inside, there's enough money to last you the rest of your life: enough for a house, car, kids' college education, the works. Now that your financial situation is covered... how do you spend your time?

Whatever your answer is... that's what you should try to do next. Others may give more specific/practical advice as to what your next steps should be. However, I'd stress determining what makes you happiest. Whatever you would freely choose to do in your spare time, whatever you're passionate about... try to make that your job (or find a job that comes closest to that pursuit). I feel a bit naive saying this, but... the money will follow.

8 hours a day, 40 hours a week. That's a great deal of time. Why spend it on anything other than something you enjoy?
posted by avoision at 9:21 PM on February 7, 2008

Sustainable development. It's the future, baby.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:10 AM on February 8, 2008

The best advice thus far comes from avoision

"Whatever you would freely choose to do in your spare time, whatever you're passionate about... try to make that your job (or find a job that comes closest to that pursuit). I feel a bit naive saying this, but... the money will follow.''

It is often said that if your "occupation" and your "avocation" coincide, you will never work a day in your life! How true that is!

Your challenge is to figure out what it is that really lights your fire. Reading your post, it is not obvious to me what you really, really enjoy.

Forget for the moment job categories and potential employers and try to focus on yourself and things you are really passionate about.

Avoision's "Bag of Money" approach will help to do that. Write a few of those things down in priority order. Then add specifics to each, such as ways you could expand your knowledge and involvement in that area of interest. Forget about the amount of income any of the things you list would provide.

Whatever employment you choose initially, it is quite likely that your passion will not be an ideal match for your paying job--but as long as that is understood to be temporary, it's OK--the closer the better however.

For example, if creative writing is on your list of "turn on things" then perhaps copywriting might be the temp job that puts food on the table while you work on your first novel, screen play or best selling book on "How To Make A Six Figure Income In Your Spare Time". Many copywriters enjoy a flexible, virtual work environment from their home and the pay is not bad either.

Don't be concerned that copywriting (or any other "first job") is not a good match for your engineering education. Your BA in Creative Writing is and both your engineering and finance degrees provide a broad technical base for a writer. Also don't fret that you may be "over qualified" in terms of education for your first job if that first job relates to your passion.

Only you can know where your passion lies. Figure that out and you will be well on your way to the answering the question "What do I do with my life after college?"
posted by coachjerry at 9:30 AM on February 8, 2008

Response by poster: I used to tell people the whole "Bag of Money" spiel about how doing what you want to do is more important than money. But not only have I realized that I like things (money, cars, watches, good food), but I hate being poor (no money, crap car, old watch, fast food). I like these things--figuring out the solutions to problems, making myself useful to society, etc. This can involve money--making it and wasting it.

Someone once told me that the people who TRULY love what they do usually don't make a whole lot of money (teachers, social workers, non-profit directors, etc.). I tried putting everything on hold and pursuing my writing career at one point. I got real, though, and realized that I had to do something to keep moving further.

Please let me know any other ideas I might not have heard (but stay away from the "Bag of Money" non-issue). Thank you all for your input!
posted by rybreadmed at 8:09 PM on February 9, 2008

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