Want a Job? Don't Major in Business.

From Cal Newport's blog, "Study Hacks":

Business administration and management is the country’s most popular college major. The reasons are not surprising. Many students incorrectly believe that their major needs to be a tight fit with their post-grad job. They note that they want a job working for a business, so they conclude they should major in business.


This trend upsets me for two reasons:

  1. You don’t need to spend four years at college majoring in business to learn the skills you need for your first job. In almost every case, you’ll be taught what you need to know by your employer. If more advanced training is needed, you’ll get an MBA down the road. No one expects an entry-level hire to take over the accounting department.
  2. No one likes majoring in business. It’s boring! This, in turn, makes problems such as deep procrastination more likely to develop. Also, it just seems like a waste of four years you could be using to master something that excites you.

In this post, I want to offer an unconventional alternative to a business major — an alternative that you’ll enjoy and will make potential employers drool over your resume.

I Dabbled in Discrete Math…

Here’s my unconventional formula for really impressing employers: choose a classic liberal arts major, then take 4 - 6 math courses on the side. When I say a “classic” liberal arts major, I mean the venerable subjects like literature, history, or english. Once you’ve chosen this major, find a sequence of math courses that you can take over your four years. Start with a beginner course then move up to more advanced stuff. Not too many — just a sprinkling throughout your college career. If you’re not a math person, take them during light semesters when you have time to devote to the subject.

This combination has a freaky way of making people assume you’re brilliant. Just imagine the job interview:

Employer: What did you study?

Student: I majored in the classics, focusing, mainly, on ancient Greek, but I also dabbled in some discrete mathematics on the side, because I found it interesting.

This student sounds like a brainiac! The two dozen business majors vying for the same job, on the other hand, come across like backwards trolls by comparison. Why? First of all, everyone is secretly impressed by a classic liberal arts major, because they seem hard, and artsy, and requiring of deep thoughts. It’s the type of field that would repel a grind. (Probably some form of the failed simulation effect is at play here.) Second, someone who dabbles in math seems like someone who is bursting with confidence and quantitative brilliance.

What’s crazy about this strategy is that you’ll actually come across as more able than someone who suffered through a purely technical major like economics or computer science, or tacked on a complete math minor. The insouciance of the “dabble” is a powerful signal of ability.

I’ll admit, this is an unusual hack. But it’s one that’s been rattling around in my head for a while. Peoples’ perceptions of majors are weird and biased. You can take advantage of this reality. If you’re struggling to decide on a major, give this option some serious consideration.

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