October 17, 2010

Chasing the Dream?

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If you could do anything after graduation, what would you do? If your answer to this question is inconsistent with your current post-graduation plans, you are doing something wrong. Out of everything I heard last week at the Harvard Law information session, including all of the grim admissions statistics, this was the most shocking. While the idea of taking time off before law school is not new, hearing it preached from an admissions officer with such ferocity is somewhat surprising. Newspapers, blogs and attorneys themselves have all loudly publicized how daunting the legal market is, and that $200,000 is an enormous price to pay for what is no longer considered a golden degree. If anyone was going to sell the idea of law school, however, I figured it would be someone in admissions. Instead, the rep from Harvard Law was urging, pleading with everyone to consider following their dream of becoming a professional bull rider or whatever that dream may be before committing to law school.

After the information session, I was talking to a few students about the LSAT, the admission process and what type of law they wanted to practice. While still wondering why the admissions officer felt obligated to repeat her “take time off” recommendation five times, I quickly got my answer. One student, an economics and biology double major, had no idea what type of law he wanted to practice. Furthermore, his main reason for going straight to law school was that, “I figure it will be easier than trying to go back to school and start studying again in two years.” Staring at him with pure bewilderment, I decided he must not have heard one word during the entire presentation.

The facts are perfectly clear. Law school is outrageously expensive, there aren’t many legal jobs and the amount of work and studying in law school is painful. Everyone with half a brain applying to law school knows all of this. Why would anyone who is not completely sure they want to work in law go to law school? Since I don’t buy the whole “nothing better to do” explanation, and the decision clearly can’t be explained by traditional cost-benefit analysis in many cases, there must be another explanation. Without knowing any official term, I think the phenomenon can best be explained by what I deem a “fear of abstraction.” This applies to more than just law school; we are afraid to pursue our interests or a career that is not precisely defined.

As early as childhood, we are all led to believe that there are just a few mainstream career options: law, finance, medicine, education, etc. Surely this belief is solidified as we enter high school, take the SAT and prepare for college. In college, attend any career fair and it is clear that the idea that we should all seek to become productive employees in an established industry has become fully engrained. Since I plan on attending law school, and don’t want to appear as a hypocrite, I have no problem with anyone wanting or pursuing a career in a traditional field. Nevertheless, I am still enticed by the idea of pursing something exotic and wonder whether students could actually be convinced to do so before settling for more established options.

I understand that many students have outstanding loans and careers in salsa dancing and other non-mainstream fields usually have relatively low starting salaries. In reality, however, not many professions actually pay lucratively in the first few years after graduation. Furthermore, student loans have generous payment options and can be paid off over 10 or more years. Financial consciousness is important in deciding a career, but I think it gets overvalued when choosing a first job. In all likelihood, the job and company you first work for will not be the job you have a few years down the line. In other words, that glamorous image of being a wealthy investment banker, corporate attorney or plastic surgeon is often a mirage.

If you have not realized it by now, the whole point of this article is to convince you not to apply to law school so there is less competition. Seriously, I actually believe that eliminating two applicants may make the difference in where I get in. Okay, you caught me, those are not actually my intentions. I could care less whether you decide to waste money on grad school or pursue a career that barely interests you. For some reason though, despite my genuine desire to go to law school, the stern recommendation by the Harvard Law rep to pursue something unique and interesting is unbearably appealing. As lame as it sounds, I kind of wish I dreamed of riding in the Tour de France or any had any other lifelong interest to chase before attending law school. After giving it some thought, plain and simply, I don’t. My question is do you? And if so, what’s holding you back?

Shaun Werbelow is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be contacted at swerbelow@cornellsun.com. Second Opinion appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Shaun Werbelow