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Rosenbloom '13: The truth about pre-professionalism at Brown

 

On Sept. 14, two opinions columnists debated the question, "Should Brown embrace pre-professionalism?" One assumption behind this debate was that Brown's relative lack of pre-professionalism puts our graduates at a competitive disadvantage in the job market. But a quick scan of the high-profile employers who recruit on campus proves that Brown graduates enjoy plenty of success in their professional pursuits, despite the University's relatively weak commitment to pre-professionalism. There is no need to choose between purely intellectual pursuits and professional success. Brown students can have them both.

Elizabeth Fuerbacher '14 wrote in her column, "Given today's competitive workplace and Brown's own interest in its graduates becoming leaders in their chosen fields, the University should behave more like our pre-professional Ivy League peers." The implication behind this statement is that University policies deny Brown students certain professional opportunities available to other Ivy League students. I strongly disagree with this notion.

One need only look at the employers at the Sept. 19 Career Fair to see how well Brown prepares students for the professional world. This fair featured a wide range of elite companies, including Capital One, Bain and Company, Boston Consulting Group and Barclays Capital. Goldman Sachs and McKinsey Consulting also actively recruit students, offering further evidence that graduates receive amazing professional opportunities. Regardless of the University's commitment - or lack thereof - to pre-professionalism, our students still enjoy a high level of professional success immediately after graduation.

The belief that Brown students could be better prepared for professional success fits into a broader belief about the relationship between college course selection and professional success. According to this mindset, students cannot simultaneously pursue "impractical" academic passions and still position themselves for a successful career.

This mindset sets up a false choice between intellectual passion and professional success. Both of these goals are important components of college, but they are not mutually exclusive. While Brown students should plan to work hard both in the classroom and in the arena of professional development, they should never think that such professional development comes at the expense of intellectual exploration.

The University need not tailor its curriculum to the specifications of employers if it wants students to succeed in the professional arena. The research, writing and problem-solving skills that we acquire in our classes make us desirable employees. The leadership experience and project management skills that we gain in our extracurricular activities also translate into employable attributes.

My belief in the value of a Brown degree, without its pre-professional emphasis, is not merely wishful thinking. It is validated by our students' success in the professional world. As established above, some of the world's most elite companies actively recruit on campus. These companies do not confine their outreach to students who took pre-professional courses. As one of many possible examples, many humanities majors with little to no pre-professional coursework at Brown secure jobs with consulting firms and investment banks.

Employers value a Brown degree, regardless of the concentration attached to that degree. These employers know that the skills we have acquired in the classroom and in the college community will be assets to their companies.

Brown students who do not pursue pre-professional coursework also find success in industries outside of finance and consulting. The autonomy provided by the New Curriculum helps students form their own companies or join start-ups. Nonprofits and law firms also seek out Brown students because of their appreciation of the rigor of our curriculum.

For most jobs, successful applicants distinguish themselves by having impressive work, internship and volunteer experience, not by having taken an impressive list of practical or pre-professional courses. The format of a resume confirms this observation. For most jobs, the majority of space on a resume is devoted to information about previous employment, internships, extracurriculars and volunteer experience, not to pre-professional coursework.

Those who get the most from their college experience are those who pursue genuine intellectual interests while being active members of the college community and taking on meaningful summer experiences. This approach ensures that the four-year college experience is as enjoyable and intellectually enriching as can be, while also ensuring a successful transition to the labor force.

I also hope this observation will remind upperclassmen to appreciate the rest of their undergraduate experience. Upon graduation, it will be much more difficult to pursue learning for its own sake. It is incumbent upon us to take full advantage of this four-year period where our primary responsibility is to cultivate our mind.

As adulthood approaches, we will start having to make real choices. Fortunately, as undergraduates at Brown, we do not have to choose between intellectual exploration and professional development. In this regard at least, we can have it all.

 

 

Oliver Rosenbloom `13 is a History and Public Policy concentrator from Mill Valley, California. He can be reached at 

oliver_rosenbloom@brown.edu.


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