College, life, and beyond
Editor's Notes: This article is brought to you by senior Ivy Guo, Robert Hood, Sasha Lauer, Juan Ley, Weiqi Li, Athena Sanchez Erb, Leila Santos, Natalia Santos, Gabriella Studier, and Michelle Teh.
Your future career plans
Everyone at Stevenson — not just seniors — always has one eye on long-range goals: getting into a strategically advantageous college and positioning ourselves to find and succeed in careers. The State of the World class recently took up an investigation into the nature of college education and its relation to the working world, as well as changes in the working world that we are likely to face in the next 6-10 years.
The good news, in brief: most people do not work in fields directly related to their college majors; “prestigious” colleges do not actually give most people big advantages; and there are alternate (and much cheaper) routes to good jobs if you are focused on the practical goals of education.
The link between training and work
To understand the future of jobs, it is important to first take a look at the foundation which prepares many individuals for their career paths: the college education. As different cultures and nations envision the goals of college education differently, they seem to differ on the relationship between formal education and a career path.
Many countries stress standardized testing, with annual tests like the 高考, A-Levels, or IB pretty much determining your entire future. And these tests can close the doors to college admission. Therefore, many students choose to come to the US for college, even though college tuition in the US is one of the most expensive in the world, for the freedom of being able to explore "more opportunities in the States," as senior Jake Yu puts it, to avoid a stressful testing experience, and, as senior Matt Fung puts it, to seek "a much broader horizon." These gateway tests seem like an arbitrary barrier to many: “This would limit your mobility,” says senior Sasha Lauer. “It would disorient the job-creation structures that have developed here. It democratizes your capabilities as an individual, thus opening up avenues for social mobility and self-creation or self-created success.”
The liberal arts education seems to be a defining quality of much US university work (though Jake Yu states that you can find something similar in China). Increasingly more employers are recognizing the value of liberal arts degrees, noticing that the well-rounded approach of a liberal arts education may cultivate individuals who are more innovative and receptive to change. In terms of employment, an applicant’s skills and talent tend to trump their college major as long as they have a bachelor’s degree of some sort. Leila Santos explains that she plans to major in political science because, as she says, “I didn’t want a major with only one or two possible career paths.” “A liberal arts education opens up a lot of pathways for you,” concurs Lauer.
With the world and our economy changing and moving towards advanced technology, the job market is shifting. Employers are looking for innovation. Younger people offer creative ideas, less conservative approaches, and familiarity with changing technology. As our world becomes more digitized, it’s easier to predict the jobs that will be automated away by technology, however, it is much more difficult to predict the new jobs that these same technologies will create.
The traditional economy as we now know comprises mainly long-term salaried employees who work for one employer, typically within driving distance of where they live. The gig economy consists of short-term freelancers with no geographical boundaries in proximity to those that are employing them. The gig economy is becoming more popular — it may be our future — and it’s a challenging one: gig work is not permanent employment and seldom provides a stable income. A long-term job offers a set income that may increase over time, whereas “the gig economy can be a great thing for giving people more flexibility and options to make money,” according to Forbes magazine.
Chinese students around the world
As China has boomed in recent decades, Chinese people have developed a huge need for advanced education to serve economic progress. This reframes some of the discussion about education and works in a new practical case study. However, compared to its large demand for educational resources, the Chinese educational system doesn’t seem to satisfy all Chinese students. As globalization promotes international communication, many Chinese students choose to study abroad. Are they seeking greater educational opportunities? Or are they doing this for other reasons?
According to the Migration Policy Institute, the number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities has grown to nearly 1.1 million in 2019-2020, comprising nearly 6% of US colleges and universities students. And among them, Chinese students with a population of 373,000 made up the largest share (34.6%) of international student enrollment. Compared to their American peers, those Chinese students often have the educational alternative of studying in China. But why do they choose to study overseas?
Chinese international students usually have a couple of motivations. The most obvious one is the pursuit of advanced education. According to Sophia Deng, a Chinese international student, the top universities in the U.S. are well-known around the world. If you look up the international universities’ rankings, you can tell that the majority of the top universities are from the U.S. To some companies in China, students with overseas studying experiences are considered “gilded.” According to C. Textor, “people who have studied abroad are considered to have a global insight and better language skills, which makes them more competitive in China’s recruitment market.”
Another reason that Chinese students study abroad is their intention of avoiding the National College Entrance Examination, or “Gaokao.” For the majority, “Gaokao” remains the only portal to enter a good university in China. Happening only once a year, “Gaokao” is crucial for students who want to enter colleges, which places tremendous pressure on students in preparing for the exam. Many examinees suffer from severe anxiety during the test. Above all, the psychological pressure of “Gaokao” and the attraction of advanced education promote Chinese students to pursue alternative college and career options. If a single test determined whether you can even go to college, “I would freak out!” exclaims Michelle Teh.
The gig: how we find work
We keep reading about the probability that we will all have many jobs and possibly many entire careers over our future working lives. This may often require you to seek new jobs many, many times: this is the gig economy. You may be familiar with some forms of it today (as with Uber, DoorDash, etc.) but this style of job-seeking will likely expand and sweep many of us along with it. “From a consumer standpoint it’s really desirable; for workers who would just be waiting for a job it could be frustrating,” Leila Santos points out.
The future of gig work is now. Apps such as DoorDash, Uber, TaskRabbit, and many others have changed the way we live our day-to-day lives. These apps have grown popular over the last few years and continue to grow at a rapid rate due to the convenience and flexibility for consumers and freelancers. From a consumer standpoint, technology has become so advanced that it allows people to have these luxuries such as ride-share apps and delivery services. New technology also allows freelance workers to have flexible schedules, be their own boss, and in some cases, make more money than a standard job.
The gig economy is growing three times faster than the overall US workforce and it is projected that by 2027, 50% of the US workforce will be involved. As businesses expand their focus on hiring for specific projects and limiting full-time hiring, we may find ourselves working, in effect, in a job model resembling Uber: you have particular skills, you list your availability to perform those skills, and a gig agency connects you with businesses that need your expertise — for a few hours, days, or months...then on to the next thing. This is already happening in several traditional fields, such as law. “This could also be useful for people who are looking for a second source of income,” Natalia Santos observed. “The biggest flaw with gig work is job security,” says Robert Hood. “You could have so much job security working, for example, in a government job, even though you are making less money potentially — the job security and benefits of a regular full-time job outweigh the pros of gig work.”
Here are some YouTube videos that offer more insights into the gig economy:
Cryptos, NFTs: new tools
However, if gig work is not your cup of tea, good news - there are alternate paths you could take. Many Stevenson grads typically plan for careers in finance: banking, brokerage, venture capital, money management. A new form of money — cryptocurrency and its related derivatives — may open up new career options we can barely imagine now. Someone will need to operate the exchanges and other financial institutions that trade, store, and generate these forms of money. Will it be you?
“I feel like everyone will have at least some money in crypto in the near future,” says Juan Ley. “People are seeing that other people are making a lot of money in crypto.” Bitcoin and more forms of cryptocurrencies are gaining popularity in today's eyes and might even substitute our traditional forms of payments. Cryptocurrencies are online forms of payment that can be seen as tokens for goods and services. Cryptos use “blockchain” technology, which is a decentralized technology spread across many computers that manage and record transactions. “Crypto is on the verge of becoming a legitimate currency, but people have to buy into the idea that it can be a form of money,” Lauer cautions.
Part of the appeal of this technology is its security. Using cryptocurrencies will make the work environment easier and more efficient. Having to handle payroll for a team of employees who live in many different parts of the globe can be a massive hassle as a remote team employer. Imagine having to convert your dollars into dozens of international currencies to pay your employees. With cryptocurrency, instant transactions across borders with minimal-to-no fees are now a reality. Since Bitcoin transactions are public, all parties can view the transaction details and immediately know the status. Cutting out banks saves both the employer and employee money and can be a big win-win for the workforce.
Cryptocurrencies will not only bring jobs and money to the people who know computers but also opportunities for non-techies. Employers also value candidates with soft skills, such as communication, creativity, and problem-solving, and who are entrepreneurial, self-motivated, and team players.
NFTs change the future landscape of finance by amplifying the works of artists, musicians, and even athletes. Bolstering the platforms of artists, NFTs provide unique opportunities for artists to disseminate their works in the context of a world advancing digitally and foregoing traditional models of how to buy and sell commodities. Certified by blockchain technology, NFTs are digital records of authenticity. By definition NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are unique digital assets, and unlike cryptocurrencies, NFTs are not interchangeable with other NFTs. Both, however, are ‘speculative assets,' meaning they are volatile. With an ever-evolving world galvanized by technology, both NFTs and bitcoins are promising forms of income. Capitalizing on every corner of existence, NFTs create sellable assets out of virtually anything–whether it be the first tweet Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted (sold for 2.9 million) or a collage of the first 5000 works created by digital artist Beeple (sold for 69 million) NFTs offer lucrative opportunities for things that exist digitally.
Senior Sasha Lauer looked into the NFT phenomenon. “I still have a hard time understanding exactly what you own [with NFTs],” Lauer says. “If you are buying something online that anyone can see or have,” muses Natalia Santos, “what do you actually own?” exactly.
Multiple income streams (coping with irregular work projects)
Your average millionaire has seven different income streams. How many do you have? Multiple income streams create security through diversification. The basic idea of this is that if you lose your job or one of your income streams, you are not financially crippled from that and the worst that will happen is you will have to adjust your spending and budget until your income gets back on track. These income streams can be in the form of having a second job, capital gains(profits from investments i.e., stocks or REITs), or even a side business like owning vending machines. It is important to understand the difference between active and passive income. Active income is income from your job. This includes your main job as well as any side gigs such as driving for Uber. Passive income or progressive passive income requires less to no work. “On the one hand, this is part of a kind of workaholic phenomenon — but as they say, if you enjoy what you do you won’t have to work a day in your life,” Lauer points out.