How the all-encompassing question tries to take over our senior year
By CLAIRE SCHAD — email@example.com
To all my fellow fourth-years: congratulations, we have entered our final year and we are almost there!
But not so fast…
“So, what are you going to do after you graduate?”
If you’re a fourth-year like me, you are likely all too familiar with this question. As we enter the holiday season, full of gatherings with family and friends, we will probably get to experience the frustration of this question even more than we do now — if that’s possible.
Whether it’s at the Thanksgiving dinner table in front of your entire extended family or in a conversation with your friend’s parents, the question is sure to come up. For those of us who don’t have a concrete plan after graduation, this can lead to an awkward situation. For me, a political science major, this usually looks like trying to explain that one: no, I don’t plan on being president one day, and two: trying to share what I’m actually interested in, all while carefully attempting to shift the topic of conversation away from myself.
Nevertheless, this question always leads me to a place where I feel an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness, which is not actually warranted. I have worked hard in my classes, explored my areas of interest and figured out what I do (and do not) like; I’ve had internships and made lasting connections. I shouldn’t feel unprepared for life post-grad, but yet here we are.
I don’t blame those asking this all-encompassing question, but rather I appreciate that they care enough about me to ask. However, I am frustrated with the social norms surrounding post-grad life that expect us to have some clear path forward, preferably where we will make lots of money.
Sure, if you are a pre-med or pre-law student, you likely have your sights set on medical or law school for at least a couple of years and have a satisfying answer to the common question. Or, maybe you majored in electrical or mechanical engineering, which has the highest median salaries for 25 to 29-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees, and you are graduating with multiple lucrative job offers, and therefore your friends and family aren’t all too concerned with your post-grad career prospects.
However, those of us who didn’t take these paths have equally exciting reasons to look forward to post-grad life. Why don’t people realize this? Well, it’s likely because we live in a society that is heavily influenced by the amount of money that an individual makes after graduation: in other words, success is gauged on income. Those who major in the STEM field top out almost every ranking of income earned post-grad. In contrast, those who major in social sciences or arts and humanities rank among the lowest in income.
So, every time someone asks me what I am doing after graduation, there is a mutual understanding that I chose a major that doesn’t usually result in an exceptionally lucrative post-grad career. And most times, the question is solely focused on my career goals. This leads me to a place where it feels like those who ask this question are only concerned with how monetarily successful I will be post-grad.
Why don’t people ask about my undergraduate experiences or what I’m interested in, the very specific things I have been trying to figure out for the last four years? When asked, these types of questions allow us to feel excited about our accomplishments and what they could lead to in the future, rather than unprepared because of what we might not know.
So to my fellow fourth-years, even though we have reached the point in our academic career where people are far more interested in what we plan to do after graduation than what we are doing right now, I challenge you to reframe the “What are you doing post-grad?” question. Even if this means hijacking the questions that your loved ones ask you and talking about your accomplishments and interests. If we keep doing this, maybe, just maybe, we can help shift the norms surrounding post-grad expectations. After all, if they really are interested, they will be happy to hear about any developments in your exciting life, career-related or not.
Written by: Claire Schad — firstname.lastname@example.org
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