What should I do?

Earlier this week I gave a well-received presentation to a group of UCLA students and recent graduates on “Bold and Brilliant Essays.” The students were attentive, asked lots of questions, and even laughed at my corny jokes. I had a good time. But one question was asked or hinted at repeatedly:

“What should I do given the economy?”

And its close cousin: “I want to go into finance. Should I forget about business school given the recent market crash and turmoil? Should I go into law instead?”

Given the press and headlines I read, there are abundant reasons for concerns:

So is now a good time to get an MBA? Is it a good time to spend $150K for a JD? Should you abandon all hope of that dream job in investment banking?

It depends. It depends, again. Probably not, as long as you realize investment banking is going to be different (and probably less lucrative) . Whatever you do, you should do it for the right reasons and not because of the latest headline. The economy is a moving target. It’s dynamic. Basing your professional decisions on today’s headlines is akin to making travel plans for three years hence based on today’s weather.

The dismal situation we see today could be as short-lived as the boom of a few years ago. In 3 or 4 years, when you finish graduate school, the landscape could have entirely changed, just as it has changed in the last 3 years and changed entirely from the 3-4 years prior to that. So don’t base all your plans on today’s economic situation.

As Elissa Sangster, Forte Foundation’s Executive Director, writes in “Getting Your MBA: Come Rain or Shine?”

“And in 2011, when you’re ready to graduate, my prediction is that the financial crisis will be over, companies will still be recruiting MBAs, and a job opportunity will be there for you. But I can guarantee that this educational experience will drive you to be a more strategic and analytical thinker and a more confident and thoughtful leader. You’ll have an extended network of peers that you can rely on throughout your career. And you’ll have a set of skills and abilities that no one can take away from you. The MBA is an investment in you and the dividends will always pay out.”

So whether you are interested in business school, law school, medical school or any other professional program, if you have a clearly defined goal for your studies and have figured out how to finance it, don’t let the economy deter you. (Don’t ignore it entirely either. Be nimble.) Go where you see personal satisfaction and opportunity.