Bullish Q&A: What’s More Important When You’re in College, an Honors Thesis or a Job?

old book

Question from a college senior: I am considering dropping an undergrad honors thesis in order to work a full-time employment (along with classes) in my last semester. Am I screwing over future-me by not finishing the thesis? I have no PhD plans.

Hi there!

No, I don’t think you’re harming yourself at all. I didn’t do an undergrad honors thesis. I was a philosophy major, and in philosophy, there’s no point in getting a masters unless it’s a bump on the way to a PhD and you want philosophy to be your entire life.

I did end up going back to get a masters in education (part time, while working in education), and the mere fact of having graduated from college, as well as having a decent GPA, was important, but did not hinge on whether I did some kind of giant piece of writing about, for instance, Foucault.

But more importantly, my senior year in college was super easy for me, because — as a philosophy major who wasn’t doing a thesis and who had already fulfilled her core requirements — I could fill my entire schedule with whatever fun and eclectic philosophy classes I wanted.

For me, reading philosophy texts and writing papers about them is about the easiest academic task ever (I have come to discover that I mainly learn by disagreeing), so I had plenty of time to RUN A FUCKING COMPANY, which has way more to do with my current level of success than an honors thesis in philosophy would have. I had eight part-time employees by the time I graduated. I can tell people that, just as I am telling you right now, and it’s kind of awesome, right? Even though I later crashed and burned, which I totally did. An entrepreneurial rise and fall between the ages of 19-23 kind of prepares you for a lot of future possibilities.

Conversely, when you say, “I spent senior year writing an 80 page thesis about Orwell’s relationship with Asian cultures,” it’s sort of like bragging about your SAT score. People roll their eyes and think, “Yeah, I went to school, too.” (Or maybe you go to different kinds of parties than I do?) Career-wise, it would be better to sit around in your dorm room and get really good at Photoshop.

Since your plan is a full-time job, I imagine you have one of two goals in mind: To reduce your college debt, or to build an awesome career where you keep working at that company after graduation for at least a little while, thus making a seamless transition to the adult world and skipping that part where you act like Hannah from “Girls.”

These are both excellent goals. It will probably make a HUGE difference to you in three years whether your student loan payments are $400 a month or $700 a month. This will affect where you can live and whether you need a roommate, and what kind of jobs you can take, and how long in life it will be until you can take real vacations (that spring break thing where you lie to the hotel about how many people are staying in one room doesn’t count).

Having a real job as soon as possible also helps you avoid becoming one of those people who goes way too long without ever having had a real job, and then it’s really hard to get one. If you graduated from college two years ago and have never held a real job — even if you’ve been seriously looking the whole time — you tend to get this “stale on the shelf” aura about you, no matter how unfair that may be. Everybody prefers a fresh, young whippersnapper to a beaten-down 26 year old. Which is terrible, because it’s fucking hard out there, but it’s often true.


Please do make sure that you negotiate your first salary. Ask for something! Since your future raises and salary offers will generally each be based off your previous salary, even when you jump companies, getting a couple thousand dollars behind now can keep you a couple thousand dollars behind forever. Put more positively, if you squeeze an extra $1,500 a year out of your employer now and your future raises are all based off this higher amount, that’s $60,000 over 40 years, which compounded monthly at a reasonable (bearish!) rate is about $200,000 more over the course of your career. And that’s if you never again negotiate like a badass! Whereas it’s probably a much more reasonable assumption that getting some practice at negotiating while result in continued, ballsy negotiating over time.

In a year, when you graduate from college, would also be an excellent time to ask for a raise. To bolster your case, keep records of your successes in your new job. Quantify everything. Get feedback from clients and customers. What percent did various measures increase and decrease due to you? Don’t make your data collection totally self-serving; rather, make a mark as the kind of employee who collects data in order to do her job better.

Do try to keep your grades up while you do all this. Future employers may be interested in your GPA. They never would have read your honors thesis.

Good luck!

Our Latest Products