Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the kind of thinking required to create a strong personal statement is a great brain-training exercise that technology cannot teach or replace. We could say that is true of art, generally speaking. This occurred to me after reading NY Times technology columnist Kevin Roose’s Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation sparked my thought as I read about the types of jobs that will survive AI and assure future job growth.

From Roose’s book:

“There are three categories of work that I think are unlikely to be automated in the near future. One is "surprising work." So this is work that involves complex rules, changing environments, unexpected variables. AI and automation really like regularity...concrete rules, bounded environments and repetitive action. This is why AI can beat a human in chess, but if you asked an algorithm to teach a kindergarten (quality education in general-my comment) class, it would fail miserably because that's a very irregular environment with lots of surprises going on. So those surprising jobs are the first jobs I think are relatively safe.”

“The second category is what I call "social jobs," jobs that involve making people feel things rather than making things. (These jobs also deal with the unpredictable-my comment.) Jobs in social services and health care, counselors, therapists, ministers, coaches, but also people who perform sort of emotional labor as part of their jobs, people like flight attendants and baristas, people we don't typically think of as being "social" workers, but their jobs do involve an element of making people feel things.”

“The third category of work that I think is safe is what I call "scarce work." It's work that involves...high-stakes situations, rare combinations of skills, or just people who are experts in their fields. This would include jobs that we have decided are unacceptable to automate. We could replace all of the human 911 operators with robots. That technology exists. But if you call 911 today, you will get a human because we want humans to be doing that job when we're in trouble. We want a human to pick up the phone and help us to deal with our problems.”

The truly human fields--and there are many--are wise ones for students not drawn to careers in STEM to investigate.


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I reported that I was part of a major data collection effort between a group of independent consultants awhile back. The first part of the data is in! Let’s talk about testing.


I encourage all my students to test if they are up to the task. But should you test if nearly all the colleges are test-optional? The numbers bear out that testing matters-especially at the most selective level. At Carnegie Mellon (15%-School of Computer Science 7%, School of Drama, 4%), Brown (5%), Georgetown (12%), Johns Hopkins (6%), Washington University of St. Louis (13%), and all the Ivies (roughly 5%), acceptance rates continued to drop. Most admitted students did submit scores, and few test-optional, non-need applicants were admitted. Remember that a student’s GPA and test scores never guarantee admission in this most unpredictable tier of colleges.


At the highly-selective, as opposed to the most selective tier of colleges, non-need test-optional students who applied Early Decision had somewhat better success. One of my students whose numbers were below average for Tulane was admitted after changing her application to Early Decision II. ED is the most clear-cut way to demonstrate interest.


There are exceptions among highly-selective colleges (Tufts admitted 50% test-optionally). The good news, however, is at the large public universities and some liberal arts colleges. Roughly three-quarters of students applying to many of the large publics did not submit test scores, so 2022 applicants to selective colleges with a clearer degree of admissions predictability may not need to submit scores. I will likely recommend that they submit scores within the 50%-75% of suggested test scores for a particular university. Please reach out to me if you’d like a more nuanced discussion of this topic for your student.


I’ve always stressed that families should manage their expectations and not assume their students will beat the odds when they apply to colleges that deny over 75%. Whether or not students decide to submit scores, my goal is to create successful applicants. This year, with applications up dramatically, I will advise the majority of my students to avoid adding too many of these “most-selectives” to their lists. These schools are not “reaches,” but “unlikelies.” Every list needs to be balanced, and students who self-advocate and seize opportunities will make the most of their experience--at any college.


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Many of the majors and careers students are choosing for employment prospects may work against them.


In Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose lays out a hopeful, pragmatic vision of how humans can thrive in the machine age. He shares the secrets of people and organizations that have survived technological change, and explains how we can protect our own futures. Roose rejects the conventional wisdom that in order to succeed in the age of intelligent machines, we have to become more like computers—hyper-efficient, data-driven workhorses. Instead, he says, we should focus on being more human, and doing the kinds of creative, inspiring, and meaningful things even the most advanced AI can’t do.


What does this have to do with my work with your kids?

It has everything to do with writing essays.


Less real-life communication has made self-searching more stressful. Essay writing urges students to think critically: about their backgrounds, who they are, what they do, and the choices they make. They engage the reader in stories, then finish by reflecting on how the stories define them. What other experience encourages this level of self-examination? Applying to college means presenting their value to admissions officers, an extended form of an interview, a pitch, a desire to connect with a goal in mind. Whatever fields students pursue, communication skills will be crucial to success because no one works in a vacuum--even those working in labs.


Over ten years ago, actor Alan Alda observed that the public is hesitant to accept scientific findings because scientists are not trained to communicate well. His theories were tested and the Alda Center for Communicating Science was founded at Stony Brook University. Scientists can earn certifications in communicating different areas of Science as well as earn an MS in Science Communication. https://www.aldacenter.org/


Last month, I spoke to Tony Munro, manager of International Recruitment and Partnerships and Judene Pretti, director of the Work-Learn Institute at the University of Waterloo, Canada. While working to create future-ready students, they stress the value of a solid STEM education. However, they also state that engineers must develop better communication skills to work better within their companies and to successfully take their ideas out into the world.


Next week, I’ll explore the categories of jobs students who have strong communication skills may consider to remain AI proof.



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