Updated: August 14, 2012 6:13AM
The parents of some of my clients sometimes express concerns that their teenagers are interested in a “soft” major, such as history or theater.
A few of them even refuse to pay for college if their child doesn’t major in what they consider one of the more marketable areas, such as business or engineering. This is understandable, when statistics show 9.1 percent of new college graduates are unemployed and even more are underemployed.
I tell parents it is impossible for all students to pick majors before starting college, and they should not be alarmed. In fact, I tell them that getting admitted to a top college should be a student’s top priority and they need not worry about declaring a major until the sophomore year.
Although it is true business and engineering graduates are highly sought by employers, the key variable that ties all marketable students together is math. Graduates with strong math backgrounds normally will find good jobs, no matter what their majors.
One of my tutors at Harvard started with a top management firm in Boston with a degree in philosophy. He also minored in economics because he knew the best firms look for quantitative skills in their new hires. He also spent a summer break as an intern learning to build financial models that required strong skills in statistics.
I counsel my clients to take a broad view when linking education and career goals. What employers look for in new graduates is the ability to think globally, communicate and write.
These skills, coupled with a strong background in math, can be obtained in almost any major. Often, a liberal arts degree confers education in these areas better than a narrowly focused business degree, which many employers consider to be overly focused on vocational subjects.
The liberal arts, such as history, theater, anthropology, and foreign languages, are not as popular as business majors, but they might provide an additional edge in the admissions process because colleges and universities are looking for students to focus on these subjects.
Don’t forget, presidents Bill Clinton and Thomas Jefferson were philosophy majors, as were several of today’s top business leaders and members of the Supreme Court.
If your son or daughter is undecided on a major, a good place to start is College Majors 101 (www.college
majors101.com). This site provides detailed information about career paths, employers and starting salaries.
Freshman and sophomore college years should be exploratory. Students will discover that many subjects never were offered in high school and they may be exposed to anthropology, ethnic studies or environmental science for the first time.
It is easy to fall into a follow-the-leader trap and focus on the most sought-after majors, but you will find that adding a few math classes to a liberal arts major will make the degree just as marketable — or even more desirable — to employers.