Repost Wednesday: Half a Degree

A few years ago when I was at UNLV, the faculty was debating changes to the business core curriculum. This is the set of courses all students take as part of their BSBA degree. The curriculum hadn’t been revised in years and while most people agreed the core had to be changed, there were differences of opinion among the faculty about how to move forward. One morning I was in the courtyard discussing this issue with Professor Wimmer when he said: “I tell undergraduate students that if they can do physics and write well that they will do fine.” I share his view.

No I don’t want you to change your major. This blog post has nothing to do with your major. Being a good economist, Professor Wimmer was emphasizing the importance of general skills. As our world has become more complex, these skills have become more important. Those math geeks you mocked in high school are taking over the universe, especially Wall Street and Madison Avenue. Do you want to earn your fortune there someday? And it is inspiration creatively presented and communicated that goes viral on YouTube. Fame rarely comes to the inarticulate.

Mastering these skills isn’t just important for those seeking fame and fortune. Employers never tell me that the only thing that stands between students and a good job is an internet gaming course or expert knowledge of the economics of sports and entertainment. They tell me that ineffective job candidates don’t write well, can’t think on their feet, aren’t data driven decision-makers, don’t work well in teams, or present themselves poorly. And, while it is common for students to think of themselves as “analytic” or “people-oriented,” the skill sets associated with these descriptions aren’t substitutes for each other. An “analytic-type” who cannot communicate their brilliant solutions is just as unemployable as a “people person” who expertly communicates half-baked ideas. Conversely, if you can identify new opportunities, use data to creatively solve problems, work well in team settings and communicate your ideas effectively to others (preferably in multiple languages), you are golden in any profession: $$$$$.

This is why we won’t allow you to advance into business courses without a record of success in lower division courses: If you cannot prove to us that you have the math, statistics, communication and critical thinking skills to do well in the general education curriculum, there really is no point in us trying to teach you specific business knowledge.

So why am I telling you this now? Registration for spring semester classes begins soon. Half the credits you earn at UCF will come from outside the COBA. Work with your advisor to take serious stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Choose general education courses that will help you improve these skills. There is no such thing as too much math or statistics. Embrace courses that give you the opportunity to write and present your ideas to others. While you are at it, take some courses that are very different from your major. Exposure to different perspectives will help you gain perspective and develop your innovative potential. If it seems like a lot of work, it is. The best students will take up this challenge. I have written this before: Whether you like it or not, you are in a competition to realize your dreams. Don’t enter it with only half a degree.


2 thoughts on “Repost Wednesday: Half a Degree

  1. Paul,

    I often have students come to my office wanting advice on an “easy” elective. My standard response is: “If it is easy, everyone else will take it and it will have little value.” We then launch into a discussion about what electives can create value and can add a positive signaling component for the future employer. The courses that I recommend are usually tailored to each student and their unique goals and skill sets. A recent grad that followed my advice found himself in a bidding battle between competing offers. Had he taken the well worn path of many of his peers I doubt that he would have had the same level of interest from the market.

    Rob Hines

  2. Dean Jarley;
    I completely share your opinion. Personally, being a double major in finance and economics, I found a little too late the actual importance of having a heavy quantitative background geared towards my majors. During my first two years I took up to business calculus and when faced with more advanced classes in my economics major (Modern Industrial Organizations & Game Theory and Econometrics, not to even mention Mathematical Economics that was very challenging and posed an opportunity to motivate myself) I found that my preparation was not only inappropriate but I felt at a disadvantage when compared to some of my other class mates. This is something that I have discussed with many of my other peers and even with faculty. I believe that, and more so in the disciplines of economics and finance, there is a need to strengthen the quantitative skills in the COBA students at UCF. Ultimately, I ended up picking up a minor in mathematics that I am completing during my last semester at UCF. I wish I would have understood the importance of the quantitative side coming into the program as I would have completed at least up to calculus II before even starting my economics courses. After all, I ended up doing everything in reverse and it is one of the things I regret during my time at UCF.

    Jose Marquez
    The Economics Society @ UCF & Omicron Delta Epsilon

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