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As a college and graduate school admissions consultant and career counselor, I work with young adults of all levels of motivation, many who amaze me with their talent, discipline and goal-orientation. Often, however, I find myself nudging clients along, usually at the request of their parents, hoping to breathe life into comfortable suburban twenty-somethings who are sadly lacking in passion and purpose.

I have frequently posted about the next generation’s need for meaning and purpose. Occasionally, I encounter a young person who seems to have found a rudder for the future.

Last night, I attended a reception for the children of family friends, a son graduating from Georgetown and a daughter finishing high school and headed for Elon. I had met their parents back in my corporate years. I had known the children since they were babies, but due to geographical moves had not seen them in recent years. The reception was held at the family’s close-knit African-American Baptist church in NJ, which had been a nurturing home base for them despite several relocations over the years.

Ross, a handsome, articulate and charismatic double major in philosophy and theology, spoke about his future, bringing many in the gathering (including myself) to tears. He talked about his extracurricular community service work with inner-city teens in Washington DC throughout his years of study at Georgetown.

Ross mentioned a special connection with a young man who wanted to drop out of high school, because none of his friends had lived to be twenty-one. With such a morbid perceived life expectancy, this disillusioned teenager did not want to spend his “last years” in school. After encountering such a heartbreaking situation, Ross decided to commit two years of his life to Teach for America.

Teach for America is a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting the nation’s most promising future leaders to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout the U.S. The organization was founded by Wendy Kopp after she developed the idea to help eliminate educational inequity in the U.S. for her senior thesis at Princeton in 1989–the year Ross was born.

Applying to Teach For America has become highly popular among seniors at America’s elite colleges. In its first year, TFA placed 500 teachers; in 2010, it received more than 46,000 applications resulting in 4,500 new corps members. These applicants included 20 percent of the senior class at Spelman, where Ross’s mom went to college; 12 percent of all Ivy League seniors; 7 percent of the graduating class at U Michigan-Ann Arbor; and 6 percent at UC-Berkeley.

Dismal job market news for 2011 graduates continue to fill the newspaper headlines, broadcast airwaves, and cyberspace. Recent examples: “Tight Job Market for Recent Grads” (UPI.com); “Class of 2011, Most Indebted Ever” (WSJ.com); “Jobs for College Grads Growing at a Snail’s Pace” (U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

Concerned parents are understandably encouraging their college students to pursue “practical” majors that will give them a good shot at employment. Their greatest fear is that after spending  (or borrowing) $200K for their kid’s education, he or she will have to move back in with Mom and Dad after college is over, with no job prospects. And their worst fears are oftentimes coming true.

Yet, here’s a young man who did not major in accounting or economics to hedge his bets. He followed his heart, studying philosophy and theology. He saw a desperate need in society, and took it upon himself to answer the call to meet that need. Pretty simple. And profound.

Many kids coming out of college these days do temporarily move back with Mom and Dad, to begin a job search, prepare for graduate school admissions tests, get a stop-gap job and save money, or try to otherwise find their way. And I understand that for many college grads, that is a necessary route to take. But it is also deceptively easy to waste several years in a state of suspended animation. Instead, what about changing the world?

I don’t know how much TFA teachers get paid, although I know graduate school partnerships offer benefits ranging from active recruitment of TFA alumni to tuition help. But most important, experiences like TFA change the person who joins forever, and change the young people that member influences.

Ross will be teaching 8th Graders in New Orleans. Can you imagine the impact this smart, centered, charismatic young teacher will have on disadvantaged teens, especially boys, who need a grounded role model?

I work with many college and graduate school applicants writing essays about how they want to improve society. I believe most are sincere. But very few applicants find a way, through their college majors, internships, entry level jobs, or long term career choices, to actually become agents of change. Most people, in the end, settle for survival and perpetuating the status quo. Once in a while, however, someone decides to really change the world.

Related reading: A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All by Wendy KoppStart Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie (founder of Toms Shoes, available September 2011); Global Girlfriends: How One Mom Made It Her Business to Help Women in Poverty Worldwide by Stacey Edgar. Great summer reading for college students to help them incorporate entrepreneurial social action into their evolving life purpose.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World; Finding a Job in a Tough Economy; So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship…What To Do?

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Note: This is an update of my popular 11/09 post (where new data were available). Since last year, it is important to note that Sunbelt cities, especially in Texas, have peppered the top ten lists in greater numbers. Austin, Dallas, Houston, Denver and Atlanta are well worth considering.

Graduating from college in this economy! Finding a job in your field, in a stimulating city where you can survive the cost of living and have a social life.  What a complicated equation! So many “best cities” rankings! San Francisco is a cool place to live, but how can you can afford it right out of college? You can afford Omaha, and hey, Warren Buffet lives there, but what will you do on Saturday night?

For direction, I turned to Florida. Not the state. I mean the urban economist Richard Florida, best-selling author of The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life and the amazing Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

Florida posits that metro areas with high concentrations of high-tech knowledge workers, artists, musicians, LGBT, and “high bohemians” correlate with high economic development. Florida believes this “creative class” fosters an open, dynamic personal and professional atmosphere, which attracts more creative people, as well as businesses and capital.

Florida says living in the right place significantly affects happiness, as much as choosing a career or a spouse. All three choices are very individual. When choosing a city, Florida suggests matching one’s lifestage and personality with a city’s physical aesthetics, social networks, career opportunities and basic services. Before choosing your location, explore Florida’s “Who’s Your City?” website.  The maps are  particularly intriguing: Singles Map, Creative Class Map, Personality Maps, New Geography of Work, Real Estate Map, and Mega Regions of North America.

Gallup-Healthways’ Happiness-Stress Index emphasizes the role of time spent with friends/family for emotional well-being. “Happiness scores” for US Congressional districts were developed based on this index, which Florida presents on his post “Happy (and not so happy) places”.  Five “happiest districts”:  Silicon Valley, Atlanta’s Northern Suburbs, Orange County CA, Denver’s Southern Suburbs, Morris County NJ (where we live–now I know why I’m so happy!).

Next Generation Consulting has studied relocation of 20-40 years olds since 1998. Its indexing system evaluates a city based on priorities of “next gen” workers. NCG’s 7 indices of a “Next City”:  Earning, Learning, Vitality, Around Town, After Hours, Cost of Lifestyle, Social Capital. Top five hotspots by population category:

“Mighty Micros” (Pop. < 200K): Fort Collins CO, Charleston SC, Eugene OR, Cedar Rapids IA, Springfield IL. “Midsized Magnets”(200-500K): Madison WS, Minneapolis MN, Colorado Springs CO, Atlanta GA, St. Paul MN. “Super Cities” (Pop. > 500K):  San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Washington DC, Denver.

Forbes.com developed a list of “America’s Best Cities for Young Adults (2010)”, based on young adult salaries, unemployment rates, cost of living, median ages, the nightlife scenes and Harris Interactive’s ranking of the “coolest” metropolitan areas. Top Ten cities: Austin, Houston, NYC, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Seattle, Atlanta, San Antonio, Minneapolis-St. Paul.

SingleMindedWomen.com analyzed US cities’ job opportunities, cost of living, access to travel, entertainment options, social opportunities, ratio of women to men, singles population, and healthy lifestyle. The result: “2010: Top 10 Cities for Single Women”. And the winners were: Boston, Washington DC, NYC, Seattle, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Denver, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Austin. Gradspot.com, a website dedicated to life after college, identified its “Top Ten Best Cities for Recent Grads (2010)”: Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, NYC, Boston, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta.

These same cities keep popping up, despite varied selection criteria. Paradigms described in this post explain why young professionals are drawn to these cities. These cities offer: ntellectual stimulation, prevalence of  young single professionals, social networking, knowledge  jobs, physical aesthetics, basic services, all attributes deemed important by Florida or NGC.

NYC, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC or Chicago are not surprising for careers or coolness. Why didn’t cost of living knock them out of the top spots? I would guess it is because: knowledge workers make good incomes, twenty-somethings rent vs. own, often do not own cars, and have few expenses besides food, rent, wardrobe and entertainment.

When the focus is on jobs and cost of living, the rankings shift. Apartments.com and CareerRookie.com recently released “Top 10 Best Cities for Recent College Graduates (2010)”, ranking US cities with the highest concentration of young adults, inventory of jobs requiring less than one year of experience, and one bedroom apartment average rental cost. It turns up some Flordia or NGC cities, but less obvious ones pop up as well: Atlanta, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cinncinnati, Los Angeles.

Businessweek.com‘s recent ranking, “Top Cities for College Grads (2010)“, based on AfterCollege.com’s entry level job postings, turns up similar cities: Houston, Washington DC, Dallas, Atlanta, Austin, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Ft. Worth. It is worth noting that four of the top ten are Texas cities. Could it be time to move to the Lone Star State?

The repeated appearance of Houston, Dallas, Denver, Austin, and Atlanta throughout many “best cities for young professionals” lists is worth noting. The Sunbelt, especially Texas, should be on new college grads’ radar screen. Minneapolis is another city worth considering. Checking beyond the top 5-10 will also uncover hidden gems. Worth studying for such an important life decision!

Relevant reading: Live First, Work Second by Rebecca Ryan,  How to Survive the Real World: Life After College Graduation: Advice from 774 Graduates Who Did by HOH Books, The Quarterlifer’s Companion: How to Get On the Right Career Path, Control Your Finances, and Find the Support Network You Need To Thrive by Abby Wilner, Ramen Noodles, Rent & Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life by Kirsten Fischer.

Related posts:  Finding a Job in a Tough Economy, From College…To the Real World, Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart,Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, and Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance.

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Lynn O’Shaughnessy, higher education journalist, author of The College Solution, and expert on all things college and financial at the College Solution Blog and CBS Money Watch, recently wrote a thought-provoking piece called “8 Reasons Not to Get A Business Degree.” I highly recommend Lynn’s post for college students wrestling with the daunting task of choosing a  major. I was intrigued to find that employers favor liberal arts majors because of their critical thinking, communications and teamwork skills.

That said, how can a liberal arts major prepare for a job in the real world?

1. Prepare for a career in the same content area as your major. This is the most direct, purist approach, not requiring that you think outside the box. It also requires great passion, superior talent to your peers, and perhaps a graduate degree in the field, since many content areas are highly competitive with few available positions.

Examples include: a music conservatory performance major seeking a job in a major symphony; an English major aspiring to earn a PhD and become a professor at an elite college; an archaeology major aiming to become the next Indiana Jones; an astrophysics major seeking to become an astronaut.

2. Translate your major into a more broadly saleable version of your content area. This approach keeps you  involved with the content area you love, with less risk about the prospects of making a living. There are more positions, so you don’t have to be a freak-of-nature prodigy with perfect luck to succeed. It requires thinking ahead and taking additional courses, choosing a specific concentration in the major, or a graduate degree.

Examples include: a music major who takes the music education track and gains teaching certification; a chemistry major who concentrates in food science to work in R&D for a food manufactuer; a criminal justice major who earns a law degree aspiring to become a district attorney.

3. Transfer the core skills required in your major to a more broadly salesable content area drawing upon the same fundamental competencies. Sometimes two content areas that appear very different on the surface actually have deep underlying similarities, in terms of the fundamental skills required and the thought patterns involved. This kind of transfer is really thinking outside the box!

This approach almost always requires additional undergraduate coursework, or a certificate or graduate degree that adds a brand new layer of content skills that is integrated with the original content area based on their inherent compatibility. This is the classic idea of the liberal arts college grad who gets an MBA, with a natural link between the undergraduate major and area of concentration chosen in graduate business school.

Examples include: a psychology major who transfers his capacity to understand human behavior and decision-making into a career in marketing; a mathematics major who transfers her analytical ability into a career in financial analysis, economic forecasting or intelligence cryptology; a theater major who transfers his ability to captivate an audience into a career in sales or public relations; an art history major who transfers her visual, conceptual orientation into a career in advertising.

A New Educational Fusion. In his thoughtful response to Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s blog, Daniel L. Everett, Dean of Arts & Sciences at Bentley University, a business-oriented school, discussed how undergraduate institutions are combining liberal arts foundations with business training. In my view, this is an encouraging direction. There are even schools where you don’t begin a BBA program until junior year, such as Emory University (Goizueta Business School). In the first two years, students satisfy liberal arts requirements, trying prerequisites like accounting to see if they possess a business skillset.

Educational fusion does not only apply to business. Many liberal arts colleges have 3-2 programs with engineering schools, to train engineers with a Renaissance educational foundation (imagine that!). In a recent US News & World Report article, Lynn O’Shaughnessy also reports on that educational development. I believe there are opportunities to combine liberal arts with many types of  “practical” training programs at the undergraduate level. The possibilities are endless…

What about a 3-2 culinary program, so an intellectual undergraduate could enjoy a world-class liberal arts foundation, and then gain professional training for another passion that is more directly related to employment? And become a true “Renaissance chef?” Brown University has teamed up with Rhode Island School of Design with a dual degree program for the truly sophisticated artist. Just to keep it all in Providence RI, how about Brown teaming up with Johnson & Wales’ College of Culinary Arts?

Don’t hold your breath on too many wild, creative partnerships like this between undergraduate institutions. It may be up to the student to create one’s own education through an undergraduate degree, certificate programs and graduate degrees. But it can be much more interesting than just majoring in business!

Relevant reading: Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career by Sheila J. Curran, From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology by Donald Asher, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, Now What? The Young Person’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Career by Nicholas Lore.

Related posts: Getting a Job with a Lackluster GPA, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, What Is Informational Interviewing? and College Internship and Entry Level Resumes. From my other blog: Why Study Liberal Arts in College?

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You’re a junior in college, beginning to sweat about getting a job after graduation, listening to all the horrifying urban legends about recent grads from elite colleges who are still unemployed. But there’s not much you can do yet about your future, except nailing a good GPA, posting your profile on LinkedIn, and checking in with your college’s career services office about summer internships.

Ok, so here’s a thought: take the GMAT (or the LSAT, or the GRE–or even all three, what Grad.spot calls the “unholy trinity of graduate school testing) while you’re “still smart.” Within the first three years out of college, you will probably want to apply to graduate school. Especially if the job you are able to get out of college is not what you want to be doing the rest of your life.

But once you get out in the young professional world, it will not be so easy to prepare for grad school. You’ll be getting up early, commuting, working long hours, perhaps with travel. At the end of the day, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is attending a prep class, doing a course online, or even practicing from a book.

Your test-taking chops will not be as sharp after a few years in the professional world. It’s hard to imagine now, because you take exams all the time. But remember doing a varsity sport in high school? In-season you were in great shape. Off-season, if you didn’t work out at the gym or go out for a daily run, you got rusty. If you didn’t continue to play the sport in college, you wouldn’t even think of walking in cold to a competition.

Testing is that way too. The farther you move away from an academic environment, the more rusty you become. So take the tests now. And if your’re not sure what kind of grad school you may be interested down the road, you might want to…take them all.

Related posts: Your College’s Career Center, Can I Get an MBA if I Wasn’t a Business Major in College? Preparing for Business School: GRE or GMAT?, Time to Apply to B-School?, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship…What To Do?

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Richard N. Bolles, author of  What Color Is Your Parachute? first coined the term Informational Interviewing.   Wikipedia defines it as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. There may or may not be employment opportunities available.”

This is a great approach for college students in the early stage of exploring careers. It is  low pressure for both parties. The student has to demonstrate interest, ask good questions, be a receptive listener, and exhibit a professional, respectful demeanor. An in-depth background is not required to simply explore a career alternative. The professional is not “on the spot” to identify a job opening for the student. He simply has to offer insights about his career path, biographical perspective, and answer the student’s questions about the field.

How do you identify professionals to interview? Unless you grew up under a rock, you know adults in careers that hold interest for you. Your parents, extended family,  historical friends from high school, church/synagogue/mosque or camp, college roommates, fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, professors, coaches, doctors: and people they know. Remember 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

Whether they are young professionals or high-powered veterans, they’re likely to agree, since you are not asking for a job. Ask about rewards and frustrations,  career path, and lifestyle. Remember, people love to share their bio and give advice, so let them! You’d  be surprised how many people out there are really nice, and find it rewarding to give helpful perspective to a young person. Consider asking to “shadow” an individual for a day and find out what “life in the trenches” is really like.


QuintCareers.com offers a comprehensive tutorial on informational interviewing that is well worth your time. A NY Times blog post by Marci Alboher called “Mastering the Informational Interview” also gives some great tips.

It is never too early to explore careers this way. You will not only gain knowledge of career paths within your major field, but you will gain confidence, polish one-to-one interviewing skills, expand your professional network, and make an impression that could potentially translate into a job later on.

I have been surprised at how many college students are unaware of this approach to career exploration and job search. But it is the perfect first step! On campus, you are primarily exposed to academic professionals, rather than adults who are using a background similar to yours in a business, medical or government setting. Expand your circle of advisors beyond professors to all kinds of practitioners in your field. You may discover an application of your training that you never knew existed!


File away everything you learn! Some career paths may not make sense right out of college, but may work for you later on. A new area you discover may inspire you to focus on getting an internship or job in that specialty immediately. Or you may hear cautionary tales about a career path you were previously excited about–such an interview may be disillusioning, but may prevent career disaster.

Relevant reading:You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, The Career Chronicles: An Insider’s Guide to What Careers Are Really Like–The Good, the Bad & the Ugly from Over 750 Professionals by Michael Gregory, How’d You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How To Get Them by Alexandra Leavit.

Related posts: Liberal Arts and the Real World, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?Why Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?.

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