Post-graduation

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Congratulations! Class Day and Commencement are behind you, and you are now Alumni. But what do you want to do with the rest of your life? And how do you go about achieving it?

Sadly, Columbia doesn't have an Outgoing Student Orientation Program[1]. Instead, there's this page, which is meant to survey some common post-graduation life paths and goals, and tell you how to go about them, if you so choose. Current students may find suggestions for courses and extracurriculars related to later career paths useful as well.

Contents

"OMG I don't know what to do. WTF!?"

Relax. Plenty of people are in this position. For those that aren't, skip ahead to the next few sections, on discrete fields. For those that are - concentrate on finding a job and an apartment. It's probably easiest to look in New York and/or the city where your parents live. Try to pool together with your friends to share a pad. Your first job doesn't necessarily have to be related to anything you think you want to do. Nor does it have to be prestigious, necessarily: many recent Ivy League alums work crap jobs as menial-labor assistants, paid interns, or temps. Use this period - the first time in living memory without homework - to muse on what you want from the rest of your life.

Academia

Also known as grad school.

Long nights in Butler failed to deter you, and you want to stay in and/or go back to the Ivory Tower? You'll need to start applying to MA and PhD programs... and for that you'll need to take the GREs.

Preparing for the GREs

Basic math, but esoteric vocab. Study the dictionary.

Fellowships

These prestigious fellowships award you entrance and tuition to top grad programs (and can later be used as "door openers" for further opportunities). Apply via the Fellowships Office.

General

Sciences

Applying

Contrary to popular belief, a good GRE score is a necessary (and sometimes not even necessary) but far from sufficient condition to admission into a PhD program. Your personal statement, transcript, and recommendations will be far more important. Departments, who conduct admissions at the graduate level, are looking for someone enthusiastic about the subject who meshes with the faculty at that school. With that in mind...

Choosing a program

Remember that you're not looking for college all over again. Just as selecting a college was supposed to be more about "fit" than prestige, one's preferred PhD program ought to be at a school where the faculty share your interests as completely as possible, not the school with the highest college US News ranking or the one in the coolest city, although location is definitely a factor to keep in mind - you're likely to be chained to your program anywhere from five years to a decade!

Surviving grad school

The first couple years of grad school will be devoted to classes, as you work toward your MA and develop plans for your dissertation. After this, you prepare for oral exams in a given number of fields you have chosen to master. This will require about a year of reading and memorization, all leading up to a period of a few hours when you are grilled by faculty members on various arcana. At this point, some schools, such as Columbia, will award you an MPhil. Most won't, although you'll be given "All But Dissertation" (ABD) status. At this point, it's time to write your dissertation, a grueling process that will take at least as long as college for those in the humanities. In between, you'll be TAing courses, leading discussion sections and grading papers.

Above all, it's important to keep a healthy relationship with your dissertation advisor. His/her speedy reviews of your work will push you along and ensure you graduate in a reasonable amount of time, and his/her connections can prove valuable when it comes time for placement.

Finding a job

It's been at least seven years since college, and your friends have since become captains of industry, gotten married, etc. You have still not found your first real job. Indeed, you still may not, for awhile. Most PhD graduates go on to several years of postdoc teaching positions, nomadically moving from college town to college town. The less fortunate have been stringing together part-time adjuncting jobs on an ad-hoc basis to make ends meet. This situation has developed as universities have become reluctant to put more faculty on the tenure-track, and have preferred to treat PhD holders as disposible cheap labor.

In order to get a tenure-track position ASAP, it's best to pick a grad school with high placement rates in addition to a well-regarded profile in your field. Choosing an in-demand specialty, like African history, will help. So will having a sexy dissertation topic that causes all kinds of controversy, particularly if it endears you to leftist hiring committee chairs. Finally, be geographically flexible: even if you're a fourth-generation blue-blood East Coaster who wouldn't dream of living outside a big city in the BosWash Megalopolis, the best opportunity may be somewhere like the University of New Mexico.

Arts

Longing after the Platonic ideal of bohemia? Starve your way to the top...in the arts!

Successful performers, screenwriters, and playwrights have often worked on Columbia theatrical or musical productions, such as the Varsity Show.

The Arts Initiative is working hard to make sure students have opportunities in the field, hosting Arts Networking nights, and listing jobs and internships on its website, CUArts.com.

Business

This is one of the few fields in which CCE can actually help you out, so we won't spent too much time on it here.

Finance

$$$. Literally, and figuratively.

Investment banking

See main article: Investment banking

Consulting

What do consultants do? Consult.

Engineering

A small percentage of SEAS students actually continue on to jobs in their undergraduate field of study, as opposed to applying to finance and consulting firms. The number of students attracted to engineering professions is surprisingly low considering the considerably higher starting salary than most post-college occupations.

Journalism

Newspapers and magazines

If you want to do hardcore breaking news journalism, it will pay off to have done a lot of hard reporting or editing at Spec, as you won't be able to get a gig doing the kind of features writing people do at The Blue and White or CPR for awhile. For those with no connections, so can Journalism School, although it's considered a waste of time and money for those who already have serious experience and relationships in the industry.

Even top Spec editors, however, wind up taking crap local news reporting jobs, often at small papers in sleepy, provincial cities. After a long, long time, they might climb their way up to a position at a paper like the New York Times. Still longer after that, they may be engaged in features writing or employed as a foreign correspondent.

Television

Want to be in on the action before that? The networks are always looking for sexy young people to stand behind a camera and read off a teleprompter, so broadcast journalism may offer a faster track to the top...if you're sexy (sorry CTV anchorpeople). Or if you're willing to stand on the other side of the camera.

Online

Your chances in newspapers or magazines in general are getting worse and worse, thanks to the mantra that print, and journalism as people have long known it, is dead. There are also growing opportunities online, so experience on websites like The Bwog might be helpful.

Law

Although you can attain some law-related jobs (such as paralegal or congressional aide) with an undergrad degree, in order to rise any higher, you're going to have to go to law school, at some point. Going to law school doesn't necessarily mean becoming a corporate lawyer, although it probably does if you go to Columbia's. Many people have gone to law school and have become politicians, human rights workers, or professors. The Office of Pre-Professional Advising will help you through the process of applying, even after you've graduated from college.

Getting in to law school

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to major in PoliSci to go to law school. English majors, History majors, Engineers - your background doesn't really matter. What does are your grades and your score on the LSATs...the latter moreso than anything else. At the most elite schools, such as Yale's, Stanford's, and to a lesser extent Harvard's, your extracurriculars play a bigger role. In general, only major extra-curriculars will have any impact- such as serving as Class President.

Generally, you want to shoot for a law school in the "Top 14" of the US News rankings, because these schools tend to have a tangible edge in job placement after graduation, and tend to be the most 'portable' degrees (i.e. you'll be able to find a job with ease in markets other than the one your school is located in), while anything less will leave you potentially jobless and scrambling to pay back your expensive loans. Plus, it would drag down Columbia's ranking in the Wall Street Journal rankings of colleges based on their undergrads' admission to elite grad and professional schools. Would you really want that on your conscience?

Doing this means scoring high on your LSAT: above 165, at least. Unlike the SATs, top schools don't "reject tons of people with high scores." The Columbia average, for the record, is 163, which matters, because it's how your grades are evaluated vs. applicants from other schools. Since this is one of the top five average LSAT scores (Harvard's 166 is the highest), Columbia grades are looked upon favorably. The higher your LSAT score, the less perfect your GPA needs to be to get into a top law school. Law schools have no problem rejecting applicants with 4.0s if they don't have a high enough LSAT score.

Conventional Wisdom says don't count on Columbia Law School favoring you, but this seems to be an unfounded rumor, since Columbia graduates make up the largest group of each incoming Columbia Law School class. The reasoning behind the rumor that CLS doesn't like admitting Columbia undergrads is that the University wants to expand its alumni base for fundraising purposes. Of course this reasoning is flawed because split loyalties means split checks from both the newly created alumni and spurned undergrads. Historically, Columbia 'lifers' have been among the universities most generous benefactors- Jerome Greene, Lawrence Wien, Ira D. Wallach, to name a few.

It should also be noted that NYU's law school is more or less as good as Columbia's, and given the option, many Columbia undergraduates opt for the change in scenery over institutional loyalty.

Surviving law school

The first year of law school is called "1L" (the subsequent two being 2L and 3L), and will include certain "core" classes every law student takes, including Contracts, Civil Procedure, Property, Constitutional Law ("ConLaw"), and others. During this dreadful period, your class is divided into sections, which more or less stick together for each course meeting, or are mixed with a different section in each. Essentially, your fellow section members will be in nearly every class with you. Befriend them. Mock other sections for some perceived collective stereotype.

You're going to have to put up with the Socratic method, sure, but years of experience in Core Curriculum class discussions ought to have prepared you for that to some extent. Some people like to get practice for this in President Bollinger's free speech class, which is for undergrads but run like a law course. Be sure to use citations from Contemporary Civilization authors to get a leg up on your competitors.

Although you may wish to use summers to earn cash for living expenses and loan repayments, most 1Ls are not hired by firms as "summer associates," and instead are forced (or choose) to engage in "public interest" law, including but not limited to human rights, NGO, or better governance work, sometimes (but not always) abroad.

After 1L year, you generally take elective classes. If you're planning on working for a firm, you'll probably secure employment by 2L year, though (see below), and your grades for the rest of law school won't matter.

Employment with a law firm

After a round of "On Campus Interviews" (OCI) in 2L year, your post-2L summer is more often used for work as a "summer associate," which generally involves getting paid a lot for doing little and attending social events. If the firm you work for likes you, they're likely to make you an offer to become a real associate, which means you get to become the slave of the firm's partners upon graduation.

What this means is that, if you choose to work for a law firm after graduation, you will most likely be employed by the middle of your 2L year. As such, your 2L grades barely matter and your 3L grades not at all. So work hard in 1L...it will pay off, and the rest of law school will be a joke.

Other post-law school employment

There are many less traditional career paths for law school graduates than work in a corporate firm. Many law students at elite schools choose to become clerks for federal court (and in some cases even Supreme Court) judges before joining a firm or doing other work. Gaining a clerkship may or may not have to do with not only having top grades, but serving on the law review, a prestigious journal that publishes work by law professors. Serving on law review is, depending on a particular schools methods, officially contingent upon your grades or your writing skills, and a modicum of affirmative action.

Those who want to work in legal academia generally follow the clerkship route, and either rely on whatever they had been able to publish in law school, their credentials as an editor of the law review or another journal, or, increasingly, go on to pursue a PhD in some other subject.

Still others channel their 1L and 2L summer work into real jobs at NGOs. Some optimistic and ambitious law school graduates call all their fellow alumni to raise donations for election campaigns.

Other law students enter the government service, working as Assistant District Attorneys at the state level, or angling for a competitive Assistant United States Attorney position at the federal level. Still others pack their bags for Washington D.C. and the political establishment, working for regulators like the SEC, or the government itself at the Department of Justice[1].

Medicine

O-Chem + MCAT. Office of Pre-Professional Advising will help you. If you didn't finish your pre-med requirements in college, you can apply to the post-bac pre-med program at GS.

Non-academic Research

This field is mysterious. Presumably, you need some connections at places like the Rand Corporation or Brookings. A graduate degree in a field with demand for private research (like, say, a PhD in Middle Eastern studies) might help your chances.

Writing

The best way to author nonfiction books may be to become an experienced journalist or academic (see above). You might also choose to head off into some uncharted wilderness and attempt to pen a travel narrative about it, although this can be hard to do well and originally.

Fiction writer wannabes sometimes go on to arts schools, where they earn MFA (Master in Fine Arts) degrees, although these are expensive.

If you're talented, the best thing to do might be to find a day job to pay your expenses, and write on the side, submitting small pieces to obscure magazines at first, and working your way up.

Teaching

A growing number of programs are driving increased attention to teaching as a post-graduation path for CC and SEAS students. These include Teach for America, Math for America, and the New York Teaching Fellows.

Teach abroad

Teaching English abroad is an attractive option, since all it ostensibly requires is knowledge of the language and a BA (note to CC students: it helps to keep the English translation of yours handy). The most prestigious, or least sketchy programs will have higher barriers, though. Popular good bets include the worldwide English teaching scholarships from Fulbright, the Japanese government's JET program, or the French government's teaching assistants program. Other programs may be expensive, and still others may require a certification test like the TEFL or CELTA. Commercial language schools almost always require such certifications, and can be quite dodgy.

References

  1. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2008/04/21/many-graduating-seniors-could-benefit-orientation-life
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