Factor global economy into major
September 20, 2012 1:48PM
Updated: October 22, 2012 6:18AM
My role as a college admissions consultant has increasingly become that of a career adviser, as students have become aware it is not just where they study but what they study that prepares them for success.
The global economy and shifting of our manufacturing base overseas means being smart and ambitious is not enough anymore, especially if you grew up in one of the older industrial areas of the country, such as Northwest Indiana. First-generation college students from blue-collar families are especially vulnerable because they have limited chances to learn about professional careers outside their communities. Often lacking is access to professional advice and information that can help them link their educations to careers.
Few know, for example, that in a global economy, a banker or money manager must have a broad understanding of political issues in order to compete. Students interested in politics and history may not realize that a major in political science and foreign language will help prepare them for a career in one of these lucrative fields.
Gone are the days when high school counselors simply scheduled classes and handed out college brochures. Today’s counselors must have a solid understanding of where job growth will occur in the future. Events taking place worldwide might determine everything from bond prices to interest rates in a global economy, and advisers must counsel students accordingly.
Harvard professor Niall Ferguson reports that Chinese manufacturers are making even greater gains in price parity, making their products more competitive in the world market than they were last year. This will boost pressure on American engineers as they struggle with job security and outsourcing.
Ferguson said global markets are booming, and initial public offerings of stock in China last year reached record highs. He warns us to expect price increases in real estate and even the arts markets. An astute career adviser will point out this means there will be unique opportunities for business and fine-arts majors.
The Wall Street Journal reports that employers plan to hire more graduates in accounting and consulting, which will increase the demand for graduates with strong math skills. The best bet for math students is to follow the lead of billionaire Steve Ballmer of Microsoft Corp. His major at Harvard was economics and applied math.
Although these are difficult subjects, they require little more math ability than the standard mechanical engineering curriculum. Yet, starting salaries for these graduates normally are double or triple those of engineers.
Dale Miller of Miller Consulting Group in Indianapolis reports that jobs for engineers specializing in medical and surgical instrument design often go unfilled. Even in engineering there are opportunities, but you must dig to find them.
What if you aren’t interested in math or aren’t quantitatively gifted? Thanks to the ever-expanding world economy, opportunities exist in other majors. Oriental studies degrees built around foreign languages are in demand by virtually every top employer. A degree in the classics — perhaps because it involves moral judgments — is rare and that puts the holder in an excellent position for a career in business and law.
At the opposite end of the job market, the auto industry is suffering, and counselors need to caution students expecting to major in fields related to it.
Once students prove over four years that they can write sound essays on difficult subjects, many employers will assume this ability can be transferred to trading bonds or writing a marketing plan.
The key is to choose a major in which you have well-defined skills and a passionate interest, while keeping an eye on the world economy. This will let you tailor your college courses to meet job-market demands after graduation.