One major can complement another
February 9, 2012 3:50PM
Updated: March 11, 2012 8:30AM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw — I read your last column about the stress students are under when they apply to college. I have another other issue: the stress of choosing a major.
I have a general idea that I want to study business or history, but no firm convictions either way. I may even decide on law school, but I want to wait until I am in college before I choose a career.
How important is it to decide on a major early on? My parents are worried that I might make the mistake of choosing a major that is unmarketable. — UndecidedDear Undecided
— What is a marketable degree?
The answer is in the eye of the beholder.
To choose history does not mean you are locked out of a business career. To choose business does not mean you must be a business person.
Either major will open doors to a whole range of career options. Law and medicine are attainable with either degree, as are other careers such as financial planner, teacher or the military.
Consider Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court as an example. He was a history major at Harvard College and went on to Harvard Law School. Roberts was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review, so, clearly, the writing skills he learned as a history major helped prepare him for law school.
Roberts graduated from La Lumiere School near LaPorte, a small Catholic boarding college-preparatory high school.
Conor S. Tochilin, the newly selected editor of the Harvard Law Review and a second-year law student, has a similar background. He graduated from Westminster School, a small Christian high school in Atlanta.
Tochilin started as a math and philosophy major, switched to history after reading Adam Smith and Karl Marx, and finally decided to major in economics and philosophy.
These two examples show that students can end up at the same place, but take different approaches to choosing a major. Roberts remained focused on history as an undergraduate; Tochilin needed to experiment with several fields before making a decision.
My professional suggestion is to deviate slightly from Roberts and pick a major that requires some math.
If that approach is not for you, I suggest taking at least a core of applied math classes, including statistics.
Math will sharpen your critical-thinking skills while giving you an edge on the competition if you decide to go to graduate or professional school.
Students excel on the GRE, LSAT and GMAT if they have a strong background in math.