There Is Life After College - A Review

College is one of the biggest lifetime expenses and longest commitments of dedicated time many people ever make. The cost of college continues to rise and news outlets regularly report the high rates of underemployment and unemployment among recent college graduates. As a result, some families question whether a college education offers sufficient return on investment. Others are plowing ahead without thought and collecting six-digit debt burdens.

Jeffrey Selingo’s recent book, There is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know about Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow, tackles the topic of the value of college, particularly with respect to employability. Selingo covers a lot of ground in the book, but together he paints a fair picture, warns of some common pitfalls, and offers some recommendations for current and future college students.


In Chapter One, Selingo describes three categories of young people: Sprinters, Wanderers, and Stragglers. Sprinters are those who have launched careers and have some financial stability by the time they are thirty. Wanderers often graduate but have difficulty finding a career-type job, which retards their progress. Stragglers stumble through their twenties, often failing to finish school or find stable employment with long-term growth potential. Much of the rest of the book is built around helping people find their way into one of the top group.

The second chapter analyzes what employers are looking for. According to Selingo, some of the most common attributes in job descriptions are “baseline skills.” The book lists five of the most significant skills, which are far from academic: (1) Intellectual curiosity; (2) Depth of expertise, even in a non-degree area; (3) Awareness of and adaptability to tech; (4) Dealing with ambiguity; (5) Teachable humility. The careful reader will notice that specific skills in a major are not in this list. In other words, a key way to gain an advantage in the marketplace is by going beyond academic expertise and being a valuable part of the team.

After these important opening chapters, Selingo covers a variety of topics in rapid fire fashion. In Chapter Three, he explains the potential benefits of a gap year—as long as it is purposeful gap. The fourth chapter describes the value of going to a college that is near a center of interest for the student’s proposed first career; internships and other experiences are much more possible. Chapter Five emphasizes the value of internships, co-ops and other hands-on learning; many employers use such opportunities as an extended interview for future employees. In the sixth chapter, Selingo describes habits that are necessary for success after college and some programs that can help enhance them.

Chapter Seven offers some ideas about rethinking the bachelor’s degree, considering the value of two year degrees and other vocational learning. In the eighth chapter, Selingo surveys one potential shift in future education: just in time training, boot camps, and other modular programs. Then, in Chapter Nine, he sketches some of the common hiring practices among firms, which is key information for those seeking jobs. Finally, in the tenth chapter, Selingo highlights the importance of being able to tell your story. It isn’t enough to graduate, but employers want to know why you chose a particular major and what you have done to get there.

Analysis and Conclusion

The most significant value of this volume is that it answers questions vital to student success, efficient investment of tuition money and time, and successful navigation of the sometimes-confusing marketplace of colleges and universities. This is an accessible book that has important information for our time.

Surprisingly, Selingo’s book points to the enduring value of a liberal arts degree. There is certainly a need for technical specialization in certain fields, but being a well-developed human is just as important, and perhaps more so, than purely technical proficiency. At worst, a strong liberal arts core, which is at the heart of a lot of Christian higher education, appears to be an asset rather than a liability in the marketplace.

Certainly, this book is not a guaranteed method to be successful in life. In fact, Selingo simply assumes that success is being well-placed, well-compensated, and reasonably happy in one’s job. Whether the reader agrees with his end or not, he provides some helpful guidelines to get there. Even for those more interested in other careers, Selingo’s assurances of the value of liberal arts and meaningful experiences before and during college make this an engaging and valuable read.

NOTE: I was given a gratis copy of this volume by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Mapping Your Academic Career - A Review

As a PhD student (No, my dissertation is not done. Yes, I should be writing it now.) there is a mysterious land beyond the portals of graduation called “an Academic Career.” I have witnessed that this land exists, because my professors are all experiencing it. However, until recently, I have encountered very little information that can help me understand the challenges that may be ahead. (Of course, as I write this, I am an administrator at Oklahoma Baptist University. My academic career as a professor is likely to remain a secondary concern to my role in the administration.)

Gary Burge pulls back the curtain on a career in academia, using his decades-long experience and some psycho-social categories to frame a discussion of the progression of individuals through the jungles of higher education. Burge is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, so this volume has the flavor of Christian higher education. However, the text applies to all contexts, whether “secular” or “religious.”


According to Burge, there are three main stages of an academic career. He excludes the Pupal stage, which is an indeterminate but often lengthy period before hooding occurs. These stages are divided into cohorts that are bounded by landmark events rather than age.

Cohort One is the phase where faculty are seeking tenure. This is really a pursuit of security. A quest for the knowledge that one’s academic work has been truly accepted and the brand sponsorship of a university or college has been achieved. Cohort One is characterized by frenetic activity in the scholarly realm: books, conference papers, articles, and book reviews. The young scholar is seeking to be validated and achieve sufficient clout within the academy that his or her peer vote him into the club. This is also the time when teaching skills must be gained, for often they are neglected in the road to earning a terminal degree. The absence of classroom skills has a greater potential to undermine faculty success than publishing opportunities, yet it gets much less attention than it deserves. Burge champions a meaningful mentorship process, where an older faculty invests concern and effort into the young scholar who may be struggling to connect in the classroom or even simply figure out how to put meals on his meal card.

Cohort Two is characterized by chasing success. The faculty (and perhaps the Board of Trustees) have affirmed the scholar’s ability through tenure. Now priorities can shift. Burge notes that there are basically three directions a career can take in this phase. First, individuals can achieve tenure and get distracted or lazy. They may stop publishing, stop keeping up with their field and coast to retirement. Often any success such individuals had in the classroom fades as they lose expertise in their field. Another tendency is to privatize research endeavors and to withdraw from the surrounding community in hopes of publishing a “definitive” work in the field. The third option is the golden mean, which includes publications, professional activities, pursuit of teaching excellence in relatively balanced proportion. At its best, Cohort Two closes with a sense of achieved excellence both in the classroom and in the academic field.

At the tail end of a scholar’s career is Cohort Three. This time in life has a loose beginning point. About the time earlier mentors retire, you wonder who let their kids come to the faculty meeting with voting power, and restaurants begin to give you a senior discount without asking you will have entered Cohort Three. This is the phase of professional development when some administrators consider professors a lost cause and, indeed, some of them are. This cohort usually ends in retirement, but that can be preceded by withdrawal from participation in the community, a sense of despair because no friends remain, or sometimes veneration by peers and younger scholars. At its best Cohort Three entails a shift in emphasis toward lower energy activities, opportunities to mentor younger faculty, and continued personal growth until retirement.


Burge’s book is a quick read that would be good for many seminary and university administrators to read. It would also be useful to put into the hands of an institution’s faculty because of the helpful advice about navigating some of the pitfalls of academic life.

Based on my experience (limited as it may be) in academic life, Burge’s cohorts are a reasonable way to describe the progress through the scholarly lifecycle. As he described both the successes and the potential pitfalls, there were individuals that I know that fit those roles.

The weakness in these cohorts is that there are not clear points of delineation between some of them. For example, it is difficult to tell whether one is in Cohort Two or Cohort Three. However, this does not undermine the overall explanatory power.

This would be a useful text for both religious and non-religious audiences. However, it may have been beneficial to discuss some of the spiritual dimensions of some of these cohorts instead of relying on mainly psychological categories. Perhaps another text would be more apt for that purpose, but a deeper discussion of changing spiritual disciplines over an academic career would have been beneficial.

This is well worth the time and money. If you are looking for a text for a professional development discussion group, to work through in a mentorship relationship, or for personal enrichment as an administrator in higher education, this volume would be a good choice.

Note: A gratis copy of this volume was provided with no expectation of a positive review.