Resisting the Burden of Pre-Professionalism

“So what does everyone have lined up for the summer?” someone asked at the end of a club meeting last weekend. The room went silent. I locked eyes with someone across from me and we both immediately looked away. I realized in that moment that to ask a college student about her summer plans is to shut down a conversation entirely.

The very notion of having anything 'lined up' for the summer was bizarre to me in high school. My independent New England boarding school provided a pressure- cooker environment that almost required an entire summer off to recuperate and recharge.

My summers often consisted of babysitting, reading, seeing friends, and binge-watching "Scandal." Although I was acutely aware of the anomalies in my class who were interning for Congressmembers or coding at MIT, I never felt pressured to pursue internships or other professional endeavors to fill my résumé — I didn’t even have a résumé to begin with.

College could not be more different. While the liberal arts setting of the consortium does encourage a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to undergraduate education, it can be difficult to escape the pressures of pre-professionalism. Of course, professional careers in finance, medicine, and law have different implications.

For some students, a high-paying career means being able to support their families or paying off college debt. It can also mean succeeding in a field where one does not see herself already represented. I also have friends who want to be trauma surgeons and civil rights lawyers because they genuinely want to affect change in their fields of interest. For these reasons and more, I do not think pre-professionalism is, in itself, a negative force.

Certain pre-professional ambitions, however, can lead us to focus too much on arbitrary measures of future success. Co-curricular activities become résumé-building opportunities and classes simply conduits towards a stellar GPA. There is an extent to which goals of becoming a doctor or hedge-fund analyst limit us from accessing the myriad of opportunities that lie outside of these fields of interest.

For example, I regret not taking a notoriously difficult English professor’s class because I was simply too afraid of doing poorly. In addition, the few pre-professional tracks that the consortium offers are often so intense and time-consuming that they prevent students from pursuing other interests, such as literature, art, and music.

As I grew older, my dream occupations have become increasingly more ordinary; I progressed from inventor, to painter, to writer, and finally landed upon lawyer, my current ambition. To be quite honest, I have no idea if law would actually be a fulfilling field. The closest I have ever gotten to the inside of an attorney’s office is watching hours of "Suits".

But the familial and personal pressures of pursuing a high-paying field with my English degree have been building. In addition, the process of looking for internships has caused me to be less present in the classroom; sometimes it feels akin to the college process, which made me miss out on some of the best parts of senior fall.

To try to counter this pre-professional mindset and the pressures that accompany finding summer plans, I have actively tried to think about college not as a stepping stone to a career but rather a destination in itself. Of course, this is easier explained than adopted, and I still struggle with thoughts of prestige and asking, “Am I doing something important in my life? Will I be successful?”

Ultimately, I think these considerations are vital, just as pre-professional goals are helpful to thinking about what we can, and want to, contribute to society. But integrity and fulfillment are the most important factors that should shape our futures. We should not place our self-worth and happiness on our number of LinkedIn connections or the bullet points under the Experience section of our resumes, but rather on staying present during our four years in Claremont.

Tiara Sharma SC '20 is from Boston, Massachusetts. She plans on majoring in English and maybe Philosophy.