Advising

21st Century College Advising, that is.

My approach to advising is to start at the end of your college career and then work my way back. But, first, let me ask you a tough question.

Do you want to be in college?

I know you are here. But, did you choose to be here? Before investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into higher education, you owe your debt-burdened future-self and family a serious consideration of this question. I know our culture admonishes those not thinking about college with “Do you want to dig ditches all of your life?”. But, two things. First, there’s nothing wrong with digging ditches. I unpack that notion in this blog here. And, second, there are a number of alternatives to going to college (here’s a list of 11). Moreover, after reading “Shop Class as Soulcraft” I’m no longer actively encouraging my son down the college path. If he wants to go I’ll support him. If not, I’ll support him. I know the question is a big one. So, for now, since you’re here, let’s assume your answer is “yes”. If so, then, looking forward and reasoning back, you need to begin taking these 5 steps today.

Step 1: Know This

The world has changed. Our higher education system (for the most part) has not. How so? Read the commencement address that I was never invited to give: Dear Graduating Class.

Step 2: Review what Was and Now Is Wanted from You in the World or Work

It’s all here in this blog post from Seth Godin.

There are millions of college seniors beginning their job search in earnest. And many of them are using skills they’ve been rewarded for in the past:

Writing applications

Being judged on visible metrics

Showing up at the official (placement) office

Doing well on the assignments

Paying attention to deadlines, but waiting until the last minute, why not

Getting picked

Fitting in

The thing is, where you’re a newly graduated senior (in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt) or a middle-aged, experienced knowledge worker looking for a new job, what the best gigs want to know is:

Can you show me a history of generous, talented, extraordinary side projects?

Have you ever been so passionate about your work that you’ve gone through the side door?

Are you an expert at something that actually generates value?

Have you connected with leaders in the field in moments when you weren’t actually looking for a job?

Does your reputation speak for itself?

Where online can I see the trail of magic you regularly create?

None of these things are particularly difficult to learn, if you are willing to be not very good at them before you’re good at them. Alas, famous colleges and the industrial-education process rarely encourage this.

– Seth Godin

Step 3: Start Getting Ready for Graduation Day, today

Here’s a to-do list:

  • Before you leave college, you will need two letters of recommendation. But, not just any letter of recommendation. You need these kind of letters – read this blog.
  • Purchase your domain name (for example, I own shawnhumphrey.com). UMW’s Domain of One’s Own will make it happen for you.
  • Get rid of that prom picture on LinkedIn. Here are some how to tips for a DIY professional headshot.
  • What’s the first thing we do before hiring you? We look at your social media streams. So, do a social media cleanse and set up some rules about what you will and will not post.
  • Begin building your digital identity and on-line portfolio of passion projects.

Step 4: Consider these questions

Do grades matter?

They do. And, they don’t. In some cases, they are a primary indicator (like grad school). In most cases they are secondary. When I look for students to work with, GPA is that last thing I consider. I look for a work ethic, curiosity, and a bit of funkiness. Here are some sources:

Does your major matter?

Here are Six Reasons why majors do not matter. And, here are Six Myths about College Majors.

Is the resume dead?

Pretty much. What are the most creative organizations looking for? “Hungry. Not: went to “Stanford.” So, what can you do? Focus on your digital identity, power network, and build a portfolio of passion projects that highlight your voice. And, build out that bio page on your personal website.

Step 5: Come See Me

I’m not the best advisor when it comes to getting you out of this college – what classes to take and in what sequence (hello dyslexia!). But, I’m pretty good at getting you through life.

Econ Major Specific Advising

Will I supervise your Senior Thesis?

Yes. But, I have very high standards. Over my time here at UMW (since 2005), I have supervised five senior theses. Not a lot. I know. But, damn, take a look at these titles and what the authors are doing right now:

  • “Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Corruption” Isaac Knowles (PhD candidate at Indiana University)
  • “Access to a Sustainable and Successful Improved Stove Initiative” Christine Exley (Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School)
  • “Origins of the Priest: Transaction Costs and the Market for Religious Rituals ” Andrew Snyder-Beattie (DPhil candidate – University of Oxford)
  • “Responses to Formal Institutional Reform: A Theoretical Framework and Case Study” Laura Meinzen-Dick (PhD candidate – University of California, Davis)
  • “Repayment Incentives in Individual-Liability Microfinance ” Nicole Cochran (JD – William and Mary)

Should you get a PhD in Economics?

Great question. Here’s a great answer:

Here’s some grad school advice I have written up and shared with my students who went on to get PhDs. And, here’s a Grad School Q&A I did with one of my students about applying for PhD programs and their first-year experience.

More Advising

Will I write you a letter of recommendation?

Yes. If one or more of the following apply:

  • You took at least one course from me and did very well.
  • I supervised your senior thesis
  • We worked on one or more projects together over the course of at least one year.

Here’s the bottom line, most applications will ask me how long I have known you, in what capacity, and how I would rank you relative to all the other students I have worked with before. If none of the above apply to you, then it is best that you look else where. I will not be able to write you a strong letter. Now, if you meet one or more of the above, here’s what I need from you:

  • Fill out as much of the application that you can, including my contact information
  • Give me a synopsis of all of our interactions: courses taken and the grades you received, special assignments, presentation, senior thesis, projects we worked on together, and activities we participated in together (think Two Dollar Challenge)
  • List of all due dates for each of the applications 
  • Give me enough lead time (feel free to give me an earlier false deadline)
  • You are responsible for following up with me and making sure that I submitted your letter on time

Resources

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