Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Microsoft or Teach For America?

Dear Andy,

My daughter is a senior in college. She is a business major and is deciding between 2 job offers…..one is with Microsoft in their finance dept. It seems like a well structured job that would rotate her through 4 different areas and give her a lot of exposure to different areas of finance. It seems like a very good, fairly traditional job.

The other opportunity is Teach for America. Obviously a very different type of job.

The question for you is if her ultimate goal is bschool, law school  or other grad school, do you think one or the other is a better choice?

This is clearly not the major deciding factor, but I’m interested in knowing how these two very different experiences would be viewed by graduate schools.

Andy’s answer:

She’s has two good options: Finance rotational at Microsoft or Teach for America.  In general, she won’t go wrong with either one.

Law schools tend to evaluate candidates primarily on GPA and LSAT test scores.  Of course, good recommendations and essays are important – but I assume that’s a given.  What she does between college and applying to law school should not make that much of a difference in her application (given her two options).  If she wasn’t certain about her desire to go to law school, she should consider working as a paralegal or with the legal counsel in a corporation to help her decide if she really wanted to be a lawyer.

I find that this is the ultimate issue for most young adults regarding law school.  So many smart people apply and attend without really knowing why. I wish that they would ask themselves these questions before starting an application: “Do I understand what the life and career of a lawyer really is? Is it life and career I desire? Do I understand the career options of a lawyer upon graduation?  Are they options that I desire?  Do I understand that if I do not excel in law school that my job search will be VERY challenging – whether I want to be a lawyer or not?”  (Actually, these questions could apply to most graduate school options, but are especially relevant to law school because the schools have so many students, the students are often inexperienced, and the legal job market is tight).

Graduate schools are pretty similar as law schools in their evaluation process.  However, given that she studied business as an undergrad and worked in finance at Microsoft, I wonder how strong her application would be for the graduate school in ______ (psych, public policy, etc…).  Her experience may be more applicable to graduate school if she wanted to go to grad school in Education after working for Teach For America.  Or if she wanted her Masters in Finance or MBA after working for Microsoft in Finance.  The answer to this question is a bit more nuanced depending on what type of graduate school she is considering.

Many of the students at the most selective business schools (e.g. Stanford, HBS) tend to have multiple experiences at good and/or well-known organizations (business + non-profit, e.g. Teach For America, NGO, international development, Congress).  So if she wants a shot to get into one of these schools, she will probably want to consider another contrasting work experience before she applies to business school. In this case, either option is good.

If she’s considering other b-schools or is not inclined to get another job, then either Microsoft or TFA are both good options.  Given her undergrad business school education, she probably knows enough about business to decide if that’s her ultimate career path.  If she had a different undergraduate major, I might suggest that she take the Microsoft job so that she could learn ‘business’ and determine if she really wants to go to graduate business school.

As you can see, I can’t offer a concrete answer that one is significantly better than the other. They are both good options – and the right one for her likely depends on your daughter’s experience, preferences and future vision.

Category: Graduate School