Project Wonderful

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ask An Election Nerd: What Should I Do in College?

I have gotten sooooo many questions about what to do in college to prepare for organizing jobs. I have to tell you, I am kind of at a loss because I was not expecting to work in domestic politics during college at all and was not particularly political except for my work as an LGBT activist (I know, I know). Some of you have heard this before, but I was actually focused on getting a job with the CIA after college and only took my first campaign job to have something to do during my security clearance. The rest, as they say, is history.

So the good news is there is nothing you have to do in college to be prepared for a campaign job. You can not plan on being an organizer and just come out and be one. You don't even need a college degree to be an FO, although I HIGHLY, HIGHLY suggest you get one. Having said that, here are some suggestions for things that might help.

1) Take Spanish and Computer Science. These are just good life skills to have as well. Many campaigns require a knowledge of Spanish and almost all campaigns value the skill. I was a Russian major who also took French, which I loved, but have often wished I was less like Bob Loblaw in this regard. As a data nerd, who didn't realize I was one until I became an organizer, and now as a blogger I have also often wished I knew some basic HTML or programming. Whatever you wind up doing, it's a really good ace to have in the hole.

2) Join a sorority...or something else. I know that Greeks have gotten a bad rap in the news and especially in the feminist community lately, but being in a sorority was probably the decision that best prepared me to be a field organizer. It taught me time management, how to get along with and lead a diverse group of people, creative problem solving, loyalty, and how to sit through long boring meetings. It is worth noting that Greeks have higher GPA's than overall collegiate GPA's and that 70% of all cabinet members have been fraternity and sorority members. That said, I understand that Greek life at the East Coast liberal elitist institutions I attended is very different from that on some other campuses, so this choice may not be for you. In any case, I would encourage you to become active on campus and take on a leadership role whether it be through the College Democrats, a sports team or a community service organization.

3)Read the news. Back in my day, we didn't have twitter to deliver quick headlines about what's going on the world. I used to marvel at how well informed my classmates were. Sign up for breaking news alerts, especially on topics of domestic politics, subscribe to some good twitter feeds and keep yourself well informed. I feel like I would have gotten so much more out of my class discussions if I had done that. (Yes, I know this sounds obvious in retrospect.)

4)Get B's. Your parents are probably going to kill me for this, but let me explain. One thing you learn about women's workforce participation and the leaky pipeline is that women tend to excel beyond men in college, but earn lower starting salaries and get promoted at a slower pace. Besides good old fashioned sexism, one of main the causes of this phenomenon is that unlike college the workforce is not a meritocracy. In Midlife Crisis at 30, Gail Evans explains that for these reasons rather than excel academically she chose to learn in classes and get experiences. I had a similar ethos when it came to my undergraduate education, albeit for my own reasons. The one time I have ever regretted the choice to settle for a B+ GPA in college was applying to grad school, but I just graduated with my MPA from Columbia so it all worked out.

5)Intern or volunteer on campaigns. One of the best ways to learn whether you want to do something for a living is to try doing it. Many people even take a semester off from school to be organizers, which is great but as I have advised before do not take more than one semester lest you never return. Volunteering will also help you get a head start on organizing jobs, networking and making friends. I am sure many of our readers would be happy to have you! If you are looking for a volunteer position or unpaid internship in your area feel free to message the blog and I am happy to share.

You're in college. You only get to be in college once. So for all of us who look back on that time wistfully, make sure to have the experiences you want, make mistakes and most importantly have fun.

Campaign Love and Mine,


  1. Not only did going Greek help prepare me for campaign work, but my sisters were also a great support system when I needed it..which was always. :)

  2. Great point! My sorority sisters are still some of my best friends.