On any given day at Cornell, you are bound to see at least one person walking around in a suit. They could be rushing a pre-professional fraternity or headed to one of the millions of daily Handshake events, but it’s usually safe to assume that they’re not just headed to class. Last semester, The Sun published an article on why students held disdain for “careerism” on campus. But in my time at Cornell, while I’ve admittedly seen pockets of what could be described as careerism, the vast majority of what I’ve seen has mostly just been pragmatism.
Careerism is defined as “the policy or practice of advancing one’s career often at the cost of one’s integrity,” so it makes sense that many Cornellians aren’t huge fans of its supposed presence on campus. I’m not a fan myself, but I think there’s an important distinction to be made between careerism and general pre-professionalism.
Careerism, by its definition, is obviously bad. Pre-professionalism, on the other hand, is fine. You might think someone is being annoyingly extra on LinkedIn, but in the grand scheme of things, this kind of pre-professionalism is ultimately harmless. The reality of college is that someday it ends. Having a plan for after graduation could be considered pre-professional, but it’s also necessary unless you have the financial means to live without an income — which most people don’t.
At a school with a yearly tuition of $52,000, it’s not safe to assume that everyone who is concerned about their future salary is simply a greedy person. The kid you see as “careerist” might just be graduating with a ton of student loans, or have a family back home in need of financial support. Or maybe they’re just interested in making a lot of money, but you never really know, nor do you need to.
Part of the beauty of college is that, in some cases, we get to learn for the sake of learning. Not every class includes conventionally marketable skills, but marketable skills also aren’t deemed the only valuable currency in academia. That being said, I think there is a notion that someone can’t be an intellectual while being pre-professional; that worrying about jobs and salaries in addition to worrying about academics is somehow an example of selling out, or being small-minded. I think this is a flawed way of looking at the link between academics and the applicability of our lessons in real life.
One thing I will concede about careerism, pre-professionalism or any kind of culture that revolves around jobs and future plans, is that they can add to the stress levels on campus and beyond. But I don’t think that these are Cornell-specific (or even field-specific) phenomena. Whether you’re an English major or someone studying AEM, you have to figure out where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do when you eventually leave Ithaca. This is a reality for all students, not just students at Cornell. The previous Sun article on careerism pointed out an obsession with prestige and marketability, and I can definitely see this on campus. But I think the subset of students who are driven exclusively by the goals of impressing others and making a lot of money are in the minority.
Figuring out your plans, as long as you do so in a way that doesn’t view school itself as peripheral, doesn’t seem to me like it poses any great threat to learning and growing on campus. In the end, pre-professionalism isn’t a simple binary of good and bad; it’s something that feels necessary at times but also has negative facets that potentially detract from academia.
Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Dissent runs every other Monday this semester.