In a Liberal Arts College, Students Find Their Own Pre-professional Tracks

By Sarah A. Dolgonos

and Claire A. Pasternack

Cary P. McClelland ’02 knows the Loeb Drama Center better than any other building on campus.

The former Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) president regularly worked in his room from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to plan out evening rehearsals. He would then head to the Loeb, which houses a professional theater troupe and hosts student shows, where he would spend the rest of the night directing. During last spring’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Great God Brown,” McClelland spent 15 hours each day in the Loeb for three straight weeks.

This semester, McClelland took only two classes and must take two more this summer in order to fulfill his graduation requirement.

McClelland, who will attend Columbia University’s School of the Arts next fall to receive a graduate degree in directing, says he would never have been admitted had he not invested most of his time at Harvard in theater.

“I could never have gotten into Columbia if I had been a student at Harvard,” he says. “The extraordinary energy I had to put into theater had to be taken from somewhere else.”

As a liberal arts college, Harvard is a school that looks down on pre-professional training. Undergraduates are not offered concentrations in journalism, accounting or theater production, for example.

“We aren’t a professional school,” writes Dean of Undergraduate Education Susan G. Pedersen ’81-’82 in an e-mail. “We offer an ‘arts and sciences’ curriculum. I think students realize that when they apply here.”

But for students like McClelland, future careers depend on amassing credentials in their chosen fields.

And despite attending a liberal arts college that has no desire to be anything else, these students have created their own pre-professional tracks.

The Extracurricular Industry

Like students who want to pursue a career in theater, those who aim to make it big in journalism or in the business world have also created pre-professional training just outside the Yard.

Since Harvard does not offer classes in journalism, aspiring reporters often forsake their academics for work on one of Harvard’s many student publications.

Similarly, the College’s economics department does not offer any classes in accounting, finance or business management.

“Harvard is a liberal arts school, we’re not a business school,” says Bob Cohen, a business career counselor with the Office of Career Services. “Business schools generally provide a narrow focus. Liberal arts students are deep in the experience of extracurriculars that make up who they are.”