5 things to consider when choosing a graduate program

This guest post was written by our new student blogger, Emily Brown, a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program.

We’ve established that going to grad school isn’t always a good idea and that it is a huge commitment of time, money, and energy. Once you’ve made the decision that grad school is right for you, you’re still faced with the daunting task of choosing a program. There are a few key things to keep in mind when working through the process:

  •  Location. An easy way to narrow your choices at the beginning is by location. Are there places that you are simply unwilling to live while pursuing your degree? Do you plan on continuing a job in your current location? I knew I wanted to keep my full-time job as long as possible, so I only researched graduate programs in the Boston area. Conveniently, Boston still has a lot of options, but narrowing my search that way made it feel more manageable.

    Image from fastweb.com


  • Reputation. Just like when applying to undergrad, it’s easy to get caught up in schools’ reputations. Meeting your own academic goals and needs should be your top priority so remember that just because it’s an Ivy League doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you. Graduate programs can vary greatly within the same school so it’s important to research programs and faculty members specifically to determine a good match.
  • Requirements. There are admissions requirements, and then there are program requirements once you get in. Before applying, you’ll have to compare the program requirements with your own credentials. Is there a minimum GPA requirement or certain prerequisite classes? Do you have to submit GRE scores? Make sure you meet these requirements and include all required documents before hitting send. Additionally, most graduate programs will require some sort of experiential learning outside of the classroom. It might be research, an internship, or other practical experience. Think about what will be most beneficial to you and how you can balance your coursework with an unpaid interning or researching.
  • Passion v. Realism. As a career services groupie, I am all about following your passion when it comes to education and career. However, when making an investment in that passion, it’s important to consider what kind of opportunities will be available to you once you complete the degree. Talk to alumni of the programs you’re considering and ask about their experiences in the program and how it prepared them for their current job. Do their jobs appeal to you? You can find alumni to speak to by asking the admissions office or searching on LinkedIn (it’s not creepy, I promise).
  • Cost. Once you’ve hit send on the applications and the acceptances start rolling in, you’ll have more decisions to make. Of course the financial aid a school offers will be a factor in your decision, but it’s smart to also consider the cost of living where the schools are located. Maybe that school in New York City offered you more financial aid, but are you going to spend those savings on one trip to the nearest Whole Foods? You have to be realistic about the cost of school as well as living expenses and make decisions that make sense for you financially.

Once you’ve made it past step one, deciding to go to grad school, make sure you do your due diligence researching programs to find the one that is the best fit for you and will propel you toward your career goals. Location, reputation, curriculum requirements, cost and career opportunities are all key factors to consider and will help narrow your choices and ultimately select the right graduate program for you.

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

References available upon request

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Looking back to high school, I didn’t realize how easy I had it getting recommendations for college applications: one from my guidance counselor, ask two favorite teachers, done and done. With big plans to enter college undeclared, I wasn’t at all worried about the subject matters taught by these teachers.  I also wasn’t worried about etiquette of the recommendation process, since I had explicit instructions from my guidance counselor –  provide a stamped and addressed envelope for each college you’re applying to and post-it with earliest deadline on top.  Send a thank you card no later than that first deadline.  So simple. Looking back now, I realize that these concepts are also relevant for getting professional references.

  • Of course I chose my favorite teachers, right? Why would I even consider that pre-calculus teacher who gave me the stink-eye all of sophomore year for giggling with my best friend through each class (I’m sorry, but he shouldn’t have seated us next to each other). The same concept still applies. Choose people who have positive things to say about you and will be able to speak to your overall character.
  • At this point though, subject matter matters. It is important to consider who will be able to speak to the specific skills that will be required in the position you are targeting. It’s okay to tell a reference which skills you believe will be most important and to ask her/him to emphasize those.
  • Since job references probably won’t be a one-shot deal like mailing a stack of college applications, it’s important to keep your references updated as you apply to jobs. Since you won’t often know when exactly a potential employer is going to call a reference, keeping her/him updated on jobs to which you have applied ensures that s/he can speak knowledgeably about your goals.  In the case of a written recommendation, you should ask about 5-6 weeks in advance of the deadline. However, it’s rare that an employer will ask for a written reference, they usually want to speak to the person directly.
  • The most nerve-wracking part of asking someone to serve as a reference is probably the initial request. Hanging around after class worked in high school, but, as a professional, stopping by someone’s desk unannounced is not recommended. Asking via email ensures that the person knows exactly what you want and has time to think about his answer. It’s important to be clear about what you’re asking – the subject line might read “Job reference for [your name]?” – and you should get right to the point at the beginning of the email before further explaining the specifics of why you are asking this particular person.  It can be helpful to mention specific projects or tasks you’ve worked on with that person that you think will relate to skills needed for the new job. This helps the person understand why you are specifically asking her and gives her some guidance in regard to which of your skills to highlight. Even if you’re 99% sure the person will say yes, it is polite to give him/her an out. Use language like “would you be comfortable…” or “Do you feel you know me well enough to…”
  • I remember seeing classmates being scolded for being late with thank you cards. Though it is unlikely anyone will directly scold you for skipping this step, people will surely take notice and it’s just good manners to thank someone when they do you a favor It’s important to follow up once someone has agreed to serve as a reference by sending a thank you (email or US mail are both ok, but no need to send both). It’s also good practice to update your references on your job search periodically and DEFINITELY let them know once you have accepted a position. Thank them again for their support in helping you reach your goal.

So maybe it’s not quite as simple as it was in high school, but it’s not bad right? There may not be a guidance counselor holding you accountable (read: stalking you in homeroom), but you can totally handle this. Choosing appropriate references and maintaining open communication with them is going to be key for strengthening your job candidacy, long-term professional contacts, and ultimately taking that leap into the “real world.”

Why would complete strangers be willing to talk to me?

Whether you’re job searching or generally trying to learn more about different careers, I usually suggest talking to individuals who already work in your fields of interest (aka networking). It’s a great way to learn more about typical career paths, get insight on which skills and qualifications are the most important, and figure out if a particular career path or industry is a good fit for you.  The process should include talking to people you already know, but should also include introducing yourself to and developing relationships with new people.  Once the look of horror on their face goes away, the most common question that students/alumni ask me is “Why would complete strangers be willing to talk to me?”

Image from www.cod.edu

Here are some reasons why professionals in your fields of interest would be willing to talk to you:

  • Networking is a pay-it-forward situation. Chances are, anyone that you contact for advice has had someone help him or him in a related fashion, and this is their chance to return the favor to the larger professional community.
  • When people like what they do, they often like discussing it with people who share their interest. And not just the same old people they talk to every day at work. It can be interesting to get a different perspective on things.
  • Networking is a lifelong career process, and it’s just as important for an experienced professional to continue building their professional community as it is for a college student or recent grad. One day, you may be able to give them some useful information on a particular company or contact. Maybe their son or daughter is considering Northeastern, and you can give your opinion on what it’s like to be a student here. It also gives that professional a chance to promote their organization and create a pipeline of talent for future positions.
  • People are genuinely helpful. If you are polite and genuinely interested in hearing what the person has to say (and not aggressively trying to push someone into hiring you), people are more often willing to help than you might expect.  You just have to ask. Career Services hosts workshops, panels and networking events all the time, and I am often amazed at how many people are willing to help out and talk to students/alumni about their experiences. And I don’t only mean Northeastern alumni and employer partners.  Professionals who are completely unrelated to Northeastern, that I have no personal connection with and sometimes have never even heard of before, have agreed to come to events, just because I asked.
  • Some people just like to talk about themselves!

As wonderful as the internet is, and as much career and job information you can find online, there are some things that you can only learn by speaking to someone who actually does the job.  Be thoughtful and deliberate when identifying people you’d like to talk to, clear and polite when you contact them, and appreciative of any and all advice they give you, and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised by people’s responsiveness. You have much to gain and little to lose by asking.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of Northeastern Career Development, and has worked at Northeastern for 11 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

You have a missed call, and it wasn’t your mother

Your mom called. How do you know?  You see the missed call on your cell phone, so youmom missed call call her back. You know it’s her, so you don’t have to bother listening to the message, if she even bothered to leave one.

Now, imagine that a number you can’t identify called and left you a voicemail message.  You skip the voice mail and call back, explaining that someone from that number called you.  Turns out that it’s a company where you applied for an internship, co-op or full-time job.  Great!

Only, there’s a problem. Turns out all the company numbers go through a main switchboard, and you’ve just called the receptionist. He or she has no idea who called you, or any reasonable way to find out because so many different people work there.

Now what?

I hope you saved that voice mail message.

Calling back friends and family without listening to their messages is common, and for many people, the norm (though personally, if you don’t leave me a voice mail, then it can’t be that important and I’ll call you back at my leisure).  Doing so with a potential employer, however, can backfire. Here’s what employers may think (assuming you ever make it to the correct person):

  • You’re lazy. I left you a message and you couldn’t be bothered to listen to it.
  • You don’t follow instructions. I told you what to do in the message.
  • You expect other people to do your work for you. You had the info at your fingertips but you asked somebody else to go find it for you.
  • All of the above.
picture source: Lifehacker.com

picture source: Lifehacker.com

Do any of those qualities sound like what an employer wants in a potential employee? (If you said yes, I’m going to be the one calling your mother.)

Listen to the message. Follow the instructions. Make the best possible impression you can.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of NU Career Development, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

 

Tips for communicating with your boss

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Developing good communication with your supervisor can help you get the most out of your work experience and help ensure that you continue to be challenged. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a productive relationship with your supervisor:

  • Ask questions. This is probably the most important lesson I learned in my first job out of college. All of a sudden, I couldn’t fake my way through like I sometimes could on high school or college assignments. Having a general idea of what I was supposed to be working on simply was not enough. I can’t tell you how many sentences I started with “This is probably a stupid question, but…” (spoiler: there are no stupid questions!) because I was uncomfortable with the volume of things I didn’t know that I felt I should know. I asked questions despite my discomfort and found that the answers were often things my supervisor didn’t explain because he took the information for granted. I was surprised how many times his answer to my “stupid question” began with “That’s a good question. I should have explained it to you earlier…” So ask away!

    Image from womenworld.org

  • Express interest in projects that you want to work on. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time filing and making copies in my first weeks at that job. I learned that vaguely asking, “Is there anything I could be working on right now?” does not always produce the desired result (exception: when the desired result is a jammed photocopier and paper cuts). It’s OK to ask about getting involved on a project that interests you. In general, extra help is always welcome and it shows that you are interested in more advanced work. Even if it isn’t feasible for you to get involved on that particular project, your supervisor is now aware of your interest and will appreciate that you took initiative, and will hopefully remember that for similar work in the future.
  • Take constructive feedback in stride. You’re bound to make mistakes in a new job – it’s unavoidable. What will set you apart is how you handle a mistake that your supervisor questions you about. If you’re defensive or emotional, then the conversation will be unpleasant and your supervisor might think twice about assigning you challenging work in the future simply to avoid a similar conversation. If you handle the critique gracefully and ask clarifying questions about what you could do differently next time, your supervisor might be more willing to provide more advanced work and to help you grow professionally.
  • Take communication cues from your supervisor. Building a good professional relationship with a supervisor takes time and it should be noted that it is not solely  up to your supervisor. Yes, he might be the one in charge, but you also need to maintain open lines of communication. That being said, it is important to take cues from your supervisor on his or her preferred communication habits. Is he receptive to unplanned drop-bys? Does she seem to rely more heavily on email? Noticing these preferences and remembering that everyone works differently can go a long way towards achieving productive communication.

Cover letter templates make me cringe

As a career counselor, I cringe every time I hear someone say they’re using a cover letter “template”, meaning they’re using the same cover letter for every job application.

 What’s a cover letter and why should I write one?

If you’ve never heard of a cover letter before, it’s a letter that goes along with your resume when applying to jobs. Its purpose is to show an employer why you’d be a good fit for the position to which you are applying, and can promote you in a way the resume can’t. Some applications will require you write a cover letter, some may say it’s optional, and others won’t say anything about a letter at all. It’s still in your best interest to write one – it provides an example of your business communication and writing ability, allows you to go into more detail about your best qualifications, and shows just how much you’re interested in the job, because you bothered to take the extra time and effort.

Can I use the same letter for every job application?

It’s understandable that a job candidate, who is probably applying to many jobs, would find

Make sure your letter is on target! Image from lazerbrody.typepad.com

it time-consuming to write separate letters for each job and decide to use the same basic letter for each job. But what usually ends up happening is that, in their effort to appeal to a wide audience, they end up writing a letter that is so vague, that employers don’t believe the candidate can actually do the specific job. The best way to convince an employer that you have the potential to do their job is to address the specific qualifications for that job. Yes, it takes more time to write those letters, but it’s more effective at getting an employer’s attention. Imagine that a public relations firm is hiring an entry-level staff member to write press releases and pitch to the media. Are they more likely to interview the candidate who generically mentions their “strong communication skills,” or the candidate who details their previous co-op experience writing press releases and the promotional skills they developed while raising money for charity?

 Do I really have to write a brand-new letter every time?

Writing a targeted letter doesn’t always mean that the letter has to be brand-new or original every time you write one – it just needs to be relevant to that particular job. If you’re applying to jobs that require similar skills, you’ll most likely be able to use some of the same content in your letters (but please, oh please, remember to use the correct company name and job title!).

 What are employers looking for?

I’ve repeatedly served on search committees to fill open jobs in our office, and I can tell you that the candidates we’re more likely to interview (assuming they have the basic qualifications, of course) are the people who write a clear and thoughtful letter, with explicit examples of how their qualifications match the job. Candidates that make vague statements without backing them up (“I’m good working with people”) or describe unrelated work experiences (such as the lawyer who talked about her contract negotiation skills for a counseling job), don’t make the cut. Anyone can say they have a particular skill, but you’re much better off when you show your skills.

 How do I start?

Image from buffman.net

Writing an effective, targeted cover letter starts with analyzing the job description, identifying the most important skill sets and which of those skills you have, and highlighting a few of them in your letter. If you need help getting started, take a look at some useful tips and examples, and if you’d like feedback on a specific letter, you can come to walk-ins (10-15 minute letter or resume critiques every day from 1:30-3:30 pm on the first floor of Stearns) or schedule an appointment with one of our staff via myneu.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for 11 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

Where Should I Put My Snow Boots? and Other Questions to Ask Before an Interview

When I was searching for my first job after college, I was psyched to be called for an

Image from www4.images.coolspotters.com

interview for one of the jobs I was most interested in. Come the day of the interview, it was December in Massachusetts and there was tons of snow on the ground already. I had to wear snow boots to the office and change into my shoes when I got there, but it also meant that I had to carry the boots with me. Can you say “awkward”? Turns out, that wasn’t the most awkward moment of the day.

Based on my limited interview experience, I assumed the interview would last about an hour. Wrong. It was scheduled for FOUR hours, meeting multiple people in sequential meetings. First, I was meeting one of the research investigators. Then, I met with one of the senior research investigators. Next up were two of the research assistants, to tell me more about the day-to-day aspects of my (hopefully) job. The last interview was with one of the programmers that worked with the group.

I panicked. Not only did I have somewhere else to be and have to let people know I wouldn’t be there (back in the day before everyone had cell phones, meaning I had to borrow a company phone to call), but mentally I was thrown off. I was rattled by having to rearrange my schedule and even more intimidated by the idea of meeting so many people and for such a lengthy period of time.

Image from fanathepurp.co.za

I tried to pull myself together but was feeling “off” the entire time I was there. I must have held it together pretty well though, because I did actually get the job. In addition, I learned a very useful lesson for scheduling future interviews: Ask questions! Know what you are getting yourself into. Some things you should know before you show up (and yes, it is totally ok that you ask these things):

  • Where will the interview be held?
  • Who/how many people will you be meeting with?
  • How long should you plan on being there? (After all, you may have a class later.)
  • What is the format of the interview? Some possible formats include panel or group interviews, candidate presentations, case studies or behavioral interviews.

Knowing these kinds of things in advance will help you better prepare for the interview and make sure you’re at the top of your game when you get there.

For more heplful information on interviewing, take a look at the interviewing section on our website http://www.northeastern.edu/careers/jobs-internships/interviewing/.

Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for 11 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.

I Graduated. Now What?

Esther Chou cur­rently works at the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute as the Assis­tant Direc­tor of Pro­grams. She grad­u­ated from North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity with a BA in Inter­na­tional Affairs & Eco­nom­ics and is currently pursuing an MsC in Management.  She also worked for a refugee relief orga­ni­za­tion as the Project Man­ager for their micro-finance ser­vices, help­ing to cre­ate income oppor­tu­ni­ties for rural farm­ers and micro-entre­pre­neurs. She has spent three years work­ing in the inter­na­tional devel­op­ment field in cen­tral and south­ern Africa. You can find the extended version of this post http://www.northeastern.edu/sei/2013/09/i-graduated-now-what/

In a recent blog featured in the Washington Post, author Dylan Matthews writes of successful do-gooders at high paying Wall Street jobs who have opted to cash in for good instead of pursuing careers for good through what he calls “earning-to-give”. Matthews highlights MIT grad Jason Trigg who spends his days writing code at a hedge fund on Wall Street; Trigg believes that he can make more of an impact on the world by donating his hard earned income to organizations that are making a real difference. “A lot of people, they want to [help] and end up in the Peace Corps and in the developing world without running water… [but] I can donate some of my time in the office and make more of a difference,” says Trigg. Arguably, Trigg may be able to give away more money in a year than most people give in their entire lives.

In my job at the Social Enterprise Institute at Northeastern University, I come across many recent grads who believe that there are only two such paths for doing good. The Bill Gates’ of the world are hard hitting tech billionaires turned philanthropists, while the John Hatches of the world are idealist Peace Corps volunteers who start their own charitable organizations. What Matthews and Triggs fail to highlight are the numerous other paths to doing good for the world – paths that don’t involve sacrifice, or pay cuts, or digging wells for poor people in Africa.

A few years ago, one of my students, Shari, graduated from Northeastern and got a high paying job at a top four accounting firm. Last year, Shari came into my office unexpectedly and updated me about her life — she moved to New York City, lives in a fabulous apartment, makes more money than she can ever spend, has no student loan debt, and has achieved the quintessential American dream in every sense. She recently completed her CPA, and has ample opportunity to grow at her firm, but she asked me, is this enough? Because being a middle manager at a great accounting firm, volunteering on the weekends, and donating money to her favorite organization wasn’t fulfilling a deeper sense of urgency. Shari was tired of doing taxes for rich people, and wanted to use her business skills and knowledge to make a real difference.

A year later, she sent me an email, subject line: Remember our Conversation in November? “The conversation I am referring to is the one where I hate my job and its killing me working there. So that’s still happening but the feeling has become more suffocating,” she wrote.

I believe the path of social entrepreneurship leads to meaningful, well-paying careers for young people who understand enterprise as the solution to the world’s most pressing social problems. They are leaving behind the concept of traditional charities and non-governmental organizations and pursuing jobs at the intersection of business and development. This past May, the SEI graduated its largest class of seniors. Since we began in 2008, our students have gone on to pursue wonderful careers in finance, accounting, investment banking, or even entrepreneurship. However, as more students graduate, I’m surprised by the number of alumni like Shari who send desperate emails one-to-two years into their careers, seeking advice and encouragement to leave their desk jobs for something else.

Then I think of our alumni who are pursuing careers in the private sector, the public sector, through fellowships and other non-traditional paths – and I am compelled to respond.

For instance, Myles worked two years at a mobile healthcare start up before he left his job, the apartment he owns, and his friends/family to live in Kenya for six months to consult for a mobile tech social enterprise through Village Capital and Frontier Markets Program. Tim could have taken a finance job anywhere, but he also chose to work at Root Capital where he analyzes the company’s lending portfolio (mostly fair-trade coffee) from the mountains of Peru.

Or take Cynthia, who also left her job at a top accountancy firm to work at New Profit Inc., a venture philanthropy fund that specializes in high impact organizations and social enterprises. Meanwhile Nele is in Kenya working at the Paradigm Project, a for-profit B-Corp that sells solar cookers to lessen the environmental impact on our world. Lucas was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship where he will be researching the impact of fracking on the environment in Germany. From Atlanta to Seattle, we have a number of Teach for America Corps members working in the country’s toughest schools – in fact, Serrano turned down a lucrative offer at a management consulting firm to join TFA instead.

In an otherwise tough job market and economy, our alumni inspire me. So while writing at my desk, I send Shari an encouraging email with lists upon lists of fellowship opportunities, domestic jobs, and international postings, none of which involve well intentioned voluntourists or digging wells in rural Africa. I am hopeful for her, and the many other graduates who know that earning-to-give is one path of many to meaningful, fulfilling careers that make the world a truly better place.

 

 

 

View from the helicopter

Susan Loffredo began counseling NU students well before the iPhone was invented and owns socks that are older than the class of 2013.

Loffredo, Susan photo

Susan’s incredibly well-cared for family

Are you a helicopter parent?  Or does one of your parents fit the description? Well, I myself have been known to hover, and so I understand how tempting it can be for parents to swoop in to fix things and how easy it can be for students who have a combination guardian angel/personal assistant standing by. That kind of TLC even sounds tempting to me, but then again, I already know how to do everything for myself.

And there’s the problem.  I have two daughters:  a new college freshman and a young professional who lives in another city.  If anyone said that I was not, shall we say, involved in their lives, my husband and the girls would be rolling on the floor laughing.  But I have come to appreciate when to hold ‘em and when to leave it to the professionals.

Image from cdn.theatlanticwire.com

As a career counselor, I have helped hundreds of young students make and carry out their decisions about majors, careers and jobs.  Often, students who are having trouble choosing a major tell me their parents have no suggestions, other than to do what makes them happy, and while they appreciate the support, they would have liked some advice. Other times, parents offer advice that is out of date or ill advised.  For example, one student’s parent suggested using a fictional job offer for leverage in a salary negotiation.  The takeaway?  Parents know what their children are good at and where they might excel; sharing that can be helpful.  Advising on matters that are not their expertise, not so much.

As a career expert, I was not concerned when my older daughter entered college thinking she would be pre-med, shifted to PR and finally decided on law. My only coaching was to encourage her to work with her career advisor on finding internships to help her decide.  Likewise, I refrained from counseling my younger daughter into a choice of major, except to tell her what I think she’s good at before she met with her academic advisor.

We career, co-op, and academic advisors want to see our students succeed and we know how to help them.  Parents who encourage their children to take full advantage of these professionals and then get out of the way are doing the best they can for their child.  It’s not easy, but if I can do it, just about anyone can.

 

 

 

 

Which box do I check?

Sarah Pugh grew up in northern Massachusetts, not far from Boston. She is in her third year at Northeastern as a political science major. She ultimately hopes to attend law school and work in the federal judiciary. 

There was this little box on your college applications that said something along the lines of “What program are you applying to?” or “What will be your major?” Some people (the lucky ones) know the answer to this question and have known for quite some time exactly what they want to do. I (and many others) am still trying to figure it all out. And here I am in my third (middler? junior?) year.

When I was filling out my application, I saved that ominous question for last. There was absolutely no way that I was applying as an undeclared student. Because then everyone would know that I didn’t know what I was doing and everyone else has it all figured out, right? After ruling that out, there were only a hundred other choices. Much better.

Image from us.123rf.com

It came down to political science or biology — two majors on very opposite ends of the spectrum. I had always enjoyed learning about the government, and watching the debates during elections season was fun too. To be honest, I didn’t know what political science even was. I couldn’t fathom what made it a science. Also, what kind of job would I have with a degree in political science? You can’t just graduate college and become a successful politician. Ultimately I checked the box for biology. After all, I liked AP biology in high school and I did well in it — what could possibly be different?

I went to orientation, met other biology students, and registered for classes. I was excited about my decision. My first semester was filled with microbiology, chemistry, calculus, and economic justice (an elective for the honors department).

After what was only two week’s worth of classes, I hated chemistry, calculus, and worst of all, biology. I loved my economic justice class. It was engaging, the readings were interesting, and I just liked it. I can remember being on the phone with my boyfriend complaining about school and he asked, “If you could be studying something other than biology and you had to choose now, what would it be?” And it was then that I decided to change my major to political science. I loved learning about the government systems and how it affected our everyday lives, and I could figure out what to do with it career-wise later.

Later that week I was in my advisor’s office signing the paperwork and talking to the department head about why I wanted the change. I felt so grateful to be at a school that encouraged its students to explore their interests and that they made changing programs of study so simple. I attended the major fairs that are typically held for the undeclared students to talk with other students. There were these pamphlets that they passed out called “What To Do With a Degree in Poli Sci” — just the question I needed answers to. Today I know that there are plenty of options.

Image from theviewspaper.net

Technically I am a political science student with a concentration in comparative politics and a minor in international affairs — talk about a mouth full. Furthermore, I’m looking into adding a minor in history. I recently completed my first co-op job at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts as a legal intern. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and have nothing but wonderful things to say about my experiences, though not enough time to share them. In short, I am now looking at law schools for when I graduate from NU.

As cliché as it may sound, the biggest and most important piece of advice to someone that may find themselves in a similar situation to my own is study what you love; the rest will fall into place.