As I enter the 4th and final year of my undergraduate journey, I am left pondering my countless career-induced meltdowns, as the post-graduation navigation of jobs is overstimulation at its finest. Although it seemed like an isolating process where only I could possibly be contemplating what to do after my time at McMaster, it was oddly comforting to see my peers in political science face the same dilemmas.
One thing about political science students: they will do their very best to look like they got it all figured out, no matter the costs.
This issue first occurred to me when I began using the terms “politics” and “law” interchangeably and looked for law in my courses, rather than consume the politics that was presented in front of me. Are you even a political science student if you have never made law school your “safety net” job? As weird and pretentious as it sounds, law school, and the legal profession are what many of my peers have considered as a career, not only because a career in law is engaging and rewarding in many ways, but because it seemed like a defining and purposeful option. It is daunting to Google career options holding a political science degree, as lawyers of all sorts are always the first result, and for whatever reason, it becomes impossible to properly digest the rest of the list.
That first bullet point listed on accredited university sites, magazines, and all the way to Reddit takes a grasp on political students that truly forms a universal canon event - the marathon of getting into law. The bolded bullet seems to black out the rest of the list, professions that bring the very things we learn in class into perspective, yet the legal profession just takes over. Like so many of my peers, ever since the first year of university, the “flex” of law school became something I needed to prove that I could achieve. It has become the dreaded assumption for many political science students by friends, family, and peers that political science degrees could only be useful if law school was in the picture. (Spoiler: I promise it’s not.)
Entering my 2nd year of university saw the return to in-person classes. Networking had started and class discussions without people introducing themselves as “pre-law students” or “future attorneys” was getting smaller and scarce. This was a major internal wake-up call for me as it seemed students were lightyears ahead of me in terms of conceptualizing their future careers in law, which was a “dream” of mine but hard to make a reality during a global pandemic. As I finished the year feeling insecure for not being as serious as my peers, I finally purchased my study books and got my LSAT prep started.
As my third year began, I joined the McMaster Political Science Student Association (MPSSA) as a VP of Marketing and met many students and friends in political science. I got to know more people in my exact same position, all peers who had made the personal decision to pursue law and invested in books and materials to mentally coerce themselves into studying. As I enrolled in classes like Honours Issues in Canadian Politics and Canadian Public Policy, as well as Honours Issues in Comparative Politics with a focus on Digital Authoritarianism, I fell in love with my program's content all over again. I also began writing an Instagram news recap with peers in the MPSSA, named The MPSSA Digest, that truly ignited a passion for writing and researching in various political climates far more than I could ever love tort law (or even pretend). It created the separation in law and politics that I needed to define my future career aspirations and unmasked the weird film on the rest of the bullet point list of jobs.
Another defining moment of my change in career aspirations was LSAT studying itself, as I struggled with trying my very best to figure out formulaic questions that gave me no sense of purpose or assurance in my choices. I found myself falling into an unhealthy mindset, sitting with my copy of Mike Kim’s “The LSAT Trainer”, and getting aggravated when I could not solve mind-bending questions that seemed like they wanted me to fail. With every attempt, I lost more of myself and lost the ability to contribute to the growing facade of “pre-law” with the majority of my department. Perhaps I cannot do well in Logic Games, but at least I enjoy digital policy politics.
I believe I owe some of my career uncertainty to not having access to co-op opportunities or work-integrated learning during my time of undergrad. Having hands-on experience with a job in political science could have potentially changed my outlook or dependency on law school, and helped me narrow down my choices. If a program that easily provides a range of job opportunities existed, I think it would have helped deter me from chasing something I didn't exactly want. If my peers and I were able to experience opportunities that were and were not law, it would’ve helped steer ourselves into a clearer path towards both third and fourth year, and focus on getting more accustomed to our chosen path sooner. I spent a lot of time studying for the LSAT that could have been otherwise spent in work-integrated learning. McMaster has introduced a new experiential learning opportunity, a 5-year degree that is a major in political science with work terms in between. It grants students the opportunity to complete their degree, gain paid experience, and in the most academic way possible, have their hand held along the way. I wish I had the opportunity to participate in the new co-op option, but it is a great start to integrate students into their field early in their academic journey. It eliminates a lot of the stress that comes with post-grad anxiety, and the reassurance someone would need while navigating their degree and future career.
To circle back, I firmly believe every political science student does go down the “pre-law drain” as this is not an exclusive experience. In my self-discovery, I heavily respect students in my program intentionally pursuing law, as it is mentally and physically more taxing than pursuing it as the “safety net” option. Something that is so demanding with its lengthy application process, financial means, and other obstacles tests how much an undergraduate student can take while also juggling life itself. As I enter my last year, I expect to hear fewer law school applicants when discussing future plans, as I know dozens of people in my position who held onto the “pre-law” safety blanket for years and have grown to find something they love.
Although this may seem like a personal or biased take, or perhaps perceived to be a young woman who is not confident in her ability to get into law school, this comes from a fully realized young woman who knows what they want. I know I share the same dilemmas as so many others and perhaps can share some comfort that I wish I had in this process. Ontario schools should focus on implementing work-integrated learning across all disciplines, as it can alleviate the scramble for jobs, offer clarity on careers, and help solidify what a student wants and doesn't want!
I can now happily browse those career sites and not strangely hold Reddit users as a judge of my career choices (which is something I could do all along, but now with confidence that I did not need law to be successful in political science). Graduating is no longer timelined by when I’d get accepted into law school or how long I spent trying, but by where I wanted to display my passion for politics, no matter where I end up.
Live life for you, whether in the political or legal field, pick up that LSAT study guide, or don’t!!