Here is a March 2008 article posted on MSN Encarta’s web page, regarding choosing a major and employability:
Does Your Major Matter?
By Donald Asher
Any major prepares most students for most jobs. Internships are far more important than a specific major. Sure, if I don’t major in chemical engineering, I’m not likely to get a job in a chemical engineering lab, but even in high technology companies about one quarter of the management-track jobs are held by people without a technical degree.
College today is what high school was a generation ago. It is a basic introduction to knowledge and thinking, a basic entry ticket to a certain type of job. So what of the major? Isn’t it a critical indicator that the student possesses the skills needed to perform in that first-level, management-track job? Does it matter much at all?
There’s a platitude among corporate recruiters: “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” They are interested in a certain type of eager, presentable young person, and not too worried about specialized knowledge. An articulate art major with clear goals is preferred over the business major without a clue.
According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, here are the skills they seek most, in order of preference:
Strong work ethic
“I made the game as a way to share with students that what they study is not connected to what they ultimately do,” says Paradis. “Even though the game is skewed toward famous people, it still gets the idea across that your major is an academic focus, but it can translate into many job titles.”
For example, Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s satirical news program “The Daily Show,” was a psychology major. And Stephen Colbert, host of “Daily Show” spin-off “The Colbert Report,” majored in philosophy. YouTube founder and CEO Chad Hurley was an art major. And before earning billions of dollars in his self-made media empire, Ted Turner studied classics.
Reed Allmendinger parlayed his poli-sci major into a job in management consulting in San Francisco.
“The reading and writing stuff is basically the same,” Allmendinger says. “But I did have to brush up on my quantitative skills [and] revisit some economics classes I took.”
He finds his background an advantage over some peers with more specialized educations.
“We do a lot of storyboarding, a lot of conceptualizing. … [It’s] probably better to have a wider breadth in terms of your major, instead of something just technically oriented.”
“Studying analytical philosophy, one develops certain powers of critical thinking, the ability to deal with abstract concepts,” says Miller. “I don’t think it gets much more abstract than what one finds in a good philosophy department. Abstract reasoning, problem solving and even basic logic have been very valuable in my work.”
Miller says that software development is all about logic and problem solving. “The nature of the [hedge fund] business is that the instruments we’re dealing with are, to varying degrees, abstract — credit default swaps, variance swaps, index of credit default swaps on bank loans, options — all the math that goes into these products is huge. What hedge funds do is about as complex and sophisticated as the financial industry really gets, so the nature of the work gets quite abstract, like reading Russell, Frege or Wittgenstein, except it’s about money.”
Critical to his success, however, were two summers he spent working for a bank.
“I started out flipping burgers as a summer job, then I got an assignment in commercial banking, next, private banking, and finally equity research in Manhattan.” Internships are a critical component for translating a college education into employability.
Now, to be fair, they do vary greatly by two things: parental income, which no student can control, and graduate education, which is purely up to the student. The biggest single factor in lifetime earnings is post-undergraduate degree attainment. That does matter.
“In one sense your undergraduate education may have very little to do with what you end up doing in life,” says Schwaab. “But in another sense, it is the foundation. I learned how to read and write and think on my feet and hold my own in an argument.”
Those are skills essential for someone who must convince clients he’s capable of managing their money.
It’s working out for Schwaab. He’s now an online marketing consultant in Boston, at double his Wall Street salary.
He welcomes your comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.