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Plastics? Not these people

An introduction to pre-professionalism

By James Cramer and Laurie Hays

Pre-professionalism is a badly mangled term. It's the kind of label that magazines and newspapers love to slap on students to describe the so-called "new mood on campus." But rarely does their reporting venture further than generalizations that lump all students together under on pre-professional umbrella. Pre-professionalism therefore has its share of continually perpetuated myths and untruths.

The following article represents an attempt to dispel some of the simple generalizations and properly define the pre-professional ethos at Harvard. Before these terms can be clearly understood, a few general propostions must be established.

First, if the Class of 1977's interests break down similarly to last year's class, as Francis D. Fisher '47, director of the Office of Career Services and Off-Campus Learning predicts, then half the class will probably end up in the fields of law, medicine and business. So, we have selected these fields for analysis. If the class stays true to last year's form that 50 per cent will translate into something like this: Business, 15 per cent; Law, 17 per cent; and Medicine, 18 per cent.

It is not clear how many of these people came to Harvard with these professions in mind. Through the help of the Freshman Register--which lists peoples' possible vocations and concentrations--and random interviewing, we have selected a few people who had professions in mind before they came or chose professions soon after arriving.

We asked these people questions designed to reveal when and why they decided on particular fields. We asked them to tell us what the biggest influences in their career decision-making were and to describe what life was like for them at Harvard with a career choice set in mind.

We did not set out to prove any particular theory about these people and do not have any ironclad generalizations to offer about pre-professionalism at Harvard. But some conclusions could be reached about the different fields. Students interested in medicine, for example, on the whole made their career choices much earlier than others. Many pre-meds cited their high school biology and chemistry teachers as important influences in their eventual decisions. Others with fathers who are doctors had favorite childhood impressions of their fathers' jobs. Potential lawyers decided somewhat later than the pre-meds about their choice of profession. Some of these students insist that although they may be going to law school they don't necessarily intend on practicing law. Whether they end up doing so, especially realizing that many people who go into law school with that attitude. emerge with a different, more corporate bent, did not seem to perturb these students. Students interested in going into business were by far the last to decide on careers. Their interests wavered among a number of fields, particularly economics and the sciences before they decided on careers in business.

Most students said they did not feel pressured by their parents to choose particular fields. However, parents encouraged students to choose careers early, so they would not wander through school lost. Students with parents in particular professions have been influenced to follow their parents' footsteps. Very few said they were motivated by financial reasons. Many students indicated that they could have plunged rather easily into any two of the three fields scrutinized. Some others based their final decisions on summer work in the field. Others cautioned us--quite rightly, we believe--that their immediate choices may not necessarily reflect their ultimate career destination.

On the whole few of these pre-professional students seriously doubted that they would become one of these three types of professionals. Few sought advice from career services or were bothered by peer pressures. Most of them had a rather brief period of career decision-making, followed by an almost boundless four years of determination to realize that goal.

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