Is the Sky the Limit?

By Emily Jovais '13, Guest Writer

The holidays are a time when extended family and friends get together to reconnect and catch up—How is the new house? How does Jack feel about the addition of Thomas to the family? After chatting about my semester abroad in Argentina, the most frequent question I received this December was no longer “How are you liking college?” Instead, the question most frequently asked of me had made the unsettling transition to “What do you want to do after college?”

As an upperclassman, I have of course given this question much thought through my searching and applying for summer internships. I mull over the numerous internships and jobs I have had—I know what I liked and I know what I didn’t like. I have experience working at a non- profit, a small five person start-up, and I even dabbled in environmental research. While I have worked or interned every summer beginning my senior year in high school, there are still numerous fields that I have yet to experience. My frustration becomes: without experiencing certain careers even at a distance, how do I know if I will like them? Will large business settings such as that of a consulting firm inspire me or will I find them unfulfilling?

Since I was unable to answer my own questions with confidence, I decided to apply for jobs all over the map; from business to nonprofit to government, the sky was the limit. My first rejection letter got me thinking about the predicament in which most of my peers and I find ourselves. When my dad was in college, he majored in chemistry at a public university and he now works in computer science. We are always told that our college majors don’t have to be related to the careers we pursue and more often than not, they are completely unrelated—as is the case with my dad. However, in this economy where jobs are scarce and more competitive than ever, could my dad come out of college today with a chemistry degree and no previous internship experience in computer technology and get a job in this field? If the answer is no, have the doors to other careers outside of which we have studied or worked already been closed?

I should qualify that my dad didn’t jump straight to the top of the technology field, or anywhere close for that matter. He started in a basement at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, entering patient data written on index cards into first-generation computers. Slowly but surely, my dad worked his way up the ladder, learning along the way. I still firmly believe I am correct in saying that most job training happens on-site and that very few college degrees provide this kind of training. However, with most industries long past the development stages, how many basements are left out there? Can we truly start from the bottom and work our way up?

Today, this process seems to start much higher up than the basement, with the highly competitive “ideal internship” being your ticket into your desired field. It seems that instead of the many rung ladder that my dad experienced, the 21st-century ladder now has only two or three steps, the first one starting halfway up. In many fields today, one is expected to walk through the doors—at 20 years old, mind you—with specific experience and varying technical skills, along with many other qualifications.

By no means do I wish to discredit a liberal arts education. I believe that the critical thinking skills and interdisciplinary perspective acquired at a place like Scripps are incredibly valuable. The liberal arts vs. non-liberal arts discussion is not the point of this article, and neither is finding a high-income job, since I know this alone does not lead to happiness. My concern is that, if students don’t have the chance to explore different careers before choosing one, many graduates may be left unsatisfied and unhappy with their choices. I hope that we are given opportunities to dive into new fields, because experience provides us with the only means by which to learn what we are good at, what inspires us and—most importantly—what fulfills us.

My advice to my peers? Keep trying. Refuse to be pigeon- holed. With the skills we acquire here, I am confident that each and every one of us can thrive in any—and every— career we choose.