Jeff Selingo’s 'There Is Life After College'

Reading as a parent and an educator.

May 9, 2016

There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow by Jeffrey J. Selingo

Published in April of 2016.

I read Jeff Selingo’s superb new book There Is Life After College from two perspectives - parent and educator.

As a parent, There Is Life After College could not have been better timed.  My older daughter is currently finishing up a gap year studying in South Korea, and will start college in the fall.  My younger daughter is a junior in high school, and is in the intensive college research and campus visit process.

There Is Life After College has already changed the way that I talk about college with my kids. The big point that Selingo makes is that where you go to college is less important than what you do at college. 

Influenced by Selingo’s book, I have become borderline Faith Militant in pushing the importance of internships and building relationships with faculty with my girls.  I think if my daughters hear one more lecture on the importance of combining a liberal arts degree with the acquisition of specific job skills that they may take out restraining orders.

As a parent, There Is Life After College has also helped our family recalibrate how we imagine the next 12 years or so will go with our kids. Selingo points out that the average age of financial independence has now stretched to age 30. The twenties have become years (if all goes well) of learning and earning. Traditional markers of adulthood - such as financial independence and family formation - have been pushed backwards.  The thought that parenting work stops when the kid is admitted to college stops is a fantasy - as one of our parental roles will need to be to be supporting our kids in locating learning+earning opportunities during and after college.

As an educator, There Is Life After College proves an equally valuable read.

In particular, I hope that my colleagues at liberal arts institutions make time to read and discuss this book. Selingo does a real service in rejecting the typical liberal arts / occupational readiness divide.  His argument is that a liberal arts education is the best possible preparation for a dynamic and unpredictable job market, as skills in communication, problem solving, critical thinking, team work, and leadership will be most in demand.  At the same time, the analytical and communications skills stressed in a liberal arts program of study should be complemented with job and industry specific skills - such as facility with the computer applications and programs most utilized within a given occupation.

Selingo does a great thing in researching his book, in that he commissioned some independent survey of 752 young adults. From this survey, he was able to classify twentysomethings into 3 distinct categories.

Sprinters:  Sprinters are those on a clear path into a career - making up about 35 percent of recent college graduates.  They are in full-time jobs within 6 months of graduation in the fields related to what they have studied.  What sets Sprinters apart is that they found their major relatively early, have done at least one internship in college, and have comparatively low levels of student debt.

Wanderers:  Wanderers, about 32 percent of young people, are working - but are not working in jobs that are likely to lead to careers.  Their jobs tend to be unrelated to their college majors, and their path into any first job after college may be nonlinear.  Wanderers are often forced to take jobs that don’t lead to careers due to high student debt, or take internships that don’t lead to job offers because of a lack of skills or awareness of how to manage a career ladder.

Stragglers:  The final third of young people in Selingo’s survey are stragglers.   They are having a hard time launching into adult roles and assuming adult responsibilities.  They are likely to start but not finish college.   They may be on a 6 or 8 year plan for college, as they try to combine paid work (outside of what they are studying) with classes.   If stragglers finish college, they do so without a clear idea of how their degree relates to a possible career.

It seems to me that our job as educators is to give every student the opportunity to become Sprinters.  We should be asking ourselves about what we can be doing in our roles to enable all of our students to thrive in careers after college, not just the lucky and talented 35 percent.

Fans of small liberal arts colleges will find much to cheer in There Is Life After College - although all of us should be asking if we are offering enough experiential learning opportunities for our students.

There Is Life After College is an important book.  It is a must read for both parents of current and future college students - as well as us educators that are charged with co-creating opportunity with our students.

What are you reading?



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