by Peggy Curchack
Here’s a question I received from a student a while back: “Should I be willing to take a job for $25,000? Isn’t that like insulting me, or inappropriate since I have a Penn degree?”
I see two different issues here: one is “what is a reasonable salary?” The other: “doesn’t the fact that I have a degree from Penn enhance my worth?” In this blog, I’ll address the salary issue. Stay tuned for another blog about the “worth” of a Penn degree.
I maintain that no salary is insulting if it is within the boundaries of the industry standards. Some fields traditionally have paid well (i-banking, consulting), others pay middling (web development, economic research), others pay terribly (women’s shelters, arts organizations, entry-level positions at ad agencies). The fact that some of your classmates will be offered $60,000 in one industry doesn’t mean you’ve been dissed if you get offered $30,000 to teach in a private school – and take it!
It’s regrettable that there isn’t greater equity among salaries paid in different fields (or, at least, I think it’s regrettable), but that’s reality.
And while many of you have come to enjoy a level of comfort that you’d like to maintain, think hard about what you really need to be fulfilled and challenged. One’s earnings and one’s “worth” are often equated, but not for any good reasons. And certainly what you earn in your first job out of Penn is not what you’ll be earning forever and ever (though some fields never pay a lot). People who hate their jobs are unhappy people, no matter what they earn.
For the number of you with truly daunting loans to pay back: I wish I had simple words of wisdom, but I don’t. However, think hard about whether your life will be over if you don’t live in, let’s say, NY. A dollar goes way farther in Philly or Baltimore or Boulder than it does in Boston, SF, or NY.
Finally, a personal belief: all kinds of people have ended up making good money doing things they are passionate about. I like to fantasize about Jim Henson coming home from the University of Maryland one weekend and, responding to his grandmother’s question “What are you going to do with your life?” saying “I’m going to make puppets”. If there is something you know you adore doing, and feel passionate about, do it – you might even find it remunerates better than you expect.