Last Friday we had a very successful welcome to the major event. It was an opportunity to acknowledge an important milestone in our students’ lives: getting into the business school, as well as discuss the COBA culture and what we expect of our students. It also gave our department chairs a chance to pitch their majors. It was a friendly, but spirited, competition to convert “business students” to “accounting”, “economics” or “management” majors.
But all of us: faculty, students and administrators overstate the importance of choosing a major in the course of your future. Think of your choice of a major more as a bureaucratic imperative necessary to graduate than a choice that will forever influence the course of your life. Frankly if I had my way there would only be two undergraduate majors in the College: Accounting and everything else. And there are many days I’m not that convinced about accounting, but I digress….
Why am I so cavalier about choosing a major? Recognize that choosing a major is not the same as choosing a career. Loving to study something is not the same as loving to do it. I love to read the history of World War II, but that doesn’t mean I would have enjoyed fighting in it. To know you love a job requires that you actually do it. This is why I meet successful alumni everyday who are doing something very different than what they studied: accounting grads who are venture capitalists, economics grads who become business school deans, physics majors who do high finance. Sometimes what you study is also what you love to do, but don’t count on it.
This is one of the reasons why I encourage students to think in terms of acquiring skill sets that can be used in a wide variety of careers, rather than specific majors. For example, our data shows that lots of our finance majors go into financial planning. Sales skills are essential in these jobs and sales is taught in marketing, not finance. If you are going out to do this type of work by opening your own financial planning company, you will also need entrepreneurial skills, which are for the most part, taught in management. I could make the same observations for aspiring public accountants–entrepreneurial and sales skills are valuable in almost any career…..so are math, statistics, and writing skills. Making sure you acquire strong sets of general skills is way more important than the label attached to your major.