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Editorial: Back to the future

The recession’s effects on student attitudes toward higher education are clear. In a survey of 283 four-year colleges and universities published by the University of California at Los Angeles, a record high 88 percent of freshmen said “ability to get a better job” was a “very important” motivation to go to college. Almost three out of four freshmen — another all-time high — rated “ability to make more money” as a key reason for pursuing a college degree.

In light of this, we want to remind students of the complexity and possibilities of the job market. Lifelong careers are not necessarily determined by first jobs, and with its emphasis on intellectual development, a liberal education is valuable in preparing us for flexible professional lives.

As noted in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “discourse on the value of higher education dangerously conflates what one will do immediately after graduation, or in any single job, with one’s entire life prospects.” Such conflation is simply inaccurate. A recent study found that the average member of the millenial generation will have held seven jobs by age 26. This represents a stark contrast to younger baby boomers, who typically hold about 11 jobs in a lifetime, according to a study by the Department of Labor. It is thus illogical and simplistic to ascribe all of one’s dreams to the first job landed after graduation.

Perhaps because careers seem so unfixed, students often feel pressured to seek the jobs that are most visible and seem translatable to a career. Banks and financial firms are popular at University career fairs and in CareerLAB workshops and presentations. Additionally, the application process for jobs at financial firms resembles the college application process with essays, resumes, test scores and interviews.

But familiarity should not be the reason to seek these jobs, particularly when so many other opportunities are available and when we have the flexibility to change careers. Social job sites like LinkedIn are excellent sources of networking for jobs that may be more personally fulfilling or align more closely with one’s academic interests. In addition, the Student Job and Internship Board offers many listings aimed at applicants of various interests. Contacting exciting organizations has never been easier. And the alumni network is a wonderful resource for learning about what it takes to build a career.

This is not to disparage those interested in finance, as it is a viable and attractive part of the job market. According to the executive staffing firm Robert Half’s 2013 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance, the unemployment rate for college graduates with specialized accounting skills is relatively low, and the salaries of those in the industry are set to increase — an attractive prospect given the state of the economy. Rather, this is to note the importance of considering the full range of options available to us as we seek career paths after graduation. We must value the ideals of our liberal arts education as essential tools in our future careers.

As older students have been told and as newer ones will hear, a Brown education is more than a step toward employment. It is a development of critical mental faculties — not strictly the means to a career but rather a base from which to build a varied and meaningful professional life.

President Christina Paxson said it best in her inaugural address: “I hope that our students get jobs shortly after completing their educations, and we do all we can to make that happen. But if our students are to be prepared for ‘lives of reputation and usefulness’ in the twenty-first century, they must leave here with something much more nuanced but ultimately more valuable than the skills of a particular trade.”


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Dan Jeon, and its members, Mintaka Angell, Samuel Choi, Nicholas Morley and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to


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