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The (only) paths to Princeton

At any given university, there are bound to be a few majors and pre-professional tracks that attract more students than others. It only took the first few days of my freshman fall to determine which of those were Princeton’s. If someone in the liberal arts school wasn’t pre-med, they were probably in the Wilson School (admittedly, I started out in the latter before landing on politics). A disproportionate number of engineers were typically either in the operations research and financial engineering or computer science departments.

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There’s nothing wrong with any of these majors. In fact, some of my best friends fit the bill. These departments provide students with tools that are necessary to thrive in some of the United States’ most important job sectors — health, technology and any sort of policy-making, all of which are critical for societal advancements.

My fear, however, is that the University makes going down other paths more difficult.

The first time I realized I was taking the path less traveled was my sophomore year. I received an email — maybe from Career Services, maybe from the Pace Center — advertising “Alternative Careers Paths After Princeton.” Alumni who had chosen careers in places like the nonprofit sector, Broadway or art curating returned to campus to discuss their professional trajectories. I had been well aware that performance and curating was on the off-beaten path, but nonprofits surprised me.

It continued like this for a while. Jobs listed on TigerTracks rarely included anything that wasn’t tech, banking or consulting. Career fairs weren’t much better. There would be a tech fair almost every other week, but only two a year dedicated to nonprofits. Anything related to consulting was discussed frequently, but if I wanted advice on pursuing a doctorate, I had to reach out to professors and Google.

Obviously, the companies that do visit campus do so because they want Princeton graduates. They send representatives to recruit because they know students are ready and skilled enough to enter these fields. But perhaps if the University were more receptive towards other professions, New Jersey nonprofits might send their representatives. Perhaps undergraduates interested in academia could meet with graduate students in a setting formalized and promoted by the University as fervently as other careers.

I had grown accustomed to the University’s tendency of overlooking important professions until my roommate started applying to law school. I have no doubt that, in the end, she’ll have her pick of the universities to which she applies. But Princeton has not been her greatest champion during this application process. At the beginning of the semester, the longtime pre-law advisor retired with little warning from the University to students. Rather than seeking a replacement, Career Services has provided “law school experts to meet with students in the interim while cross-training the entire counseling team with pre-law advising capacities for the future.”

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The scheduling process for meeting with the currently employed expert is a tedious one, where the number and length of times to meet is limited, especially considering that the best time to submit applications is this semester.

Law is not a small profession. Tens of thousands of students apply to these programs each year. And yet, after speaking with my other roommate who is pursuing medicine, it is clear that the resources dedicated to law and medicine are not equal. The first sign is that the Office of Health Professions Advising actually exists. They have an office in 36 University Place, with both drop-in hours and WASS appointments available. There is professional staff dedicated specifically to this office, as well as peer advisers who are trained by the office.

When I think on it, I’ve had this conversation about lacking career diversity multiple times. While some of my friends are able to go to a standard career fair and find numerous employers of interest, there are others who simply cannot. Maybe the greatest defense of this bias is that the University responds to campus needs. If the need is there, the University will respond accordingly.

I don’t find this to be true. Very few students enter college knowing which profession they will actually enter. The University plays a critical role in whether or not the need exists by playing into the preconceived notions that each new class has. Any profession that is expected and well-represented will draw large crowds because they are those things. This feedback cycle helps push students down certain avenues because all others appear rare, unimportant or don’t appear at all.

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Bringing in diverse organizations and employers portrays the different yet equally moving paths we can take after graduating. Even creating double-major programs lets students genuinely delve into different topics, rather than a strictly complementary certificate that provides surface-level understanding. It is not enough to tout a holistic liberal arts education if all roads provided are narrow and lead to limited destinations.

Lea Trusty is a politics major from Saint Rose, La. She can be reached at ltrusty@princeton.edu.

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