Secrets of Making the Most of College

Parents always seem relieved when their children decide to major in something practical like business, which is the most popular major in America.

While students can succeed in life regardless of their major, families often don’t take that argument seriously.

I was thinking about this over the weekend when my husband and I were visiting our son, a sophomore at Beloit College. During the college’s family weekend, I had conversations with two parents of Beloit students, who have first-hand experience dealing with young college graduates.

Getting Into Medical School

The first parent is a physician, who is on the medical school committee at Johns Hopkins University. We both belong to the parent committee at Beloit and happened to sit next to each other. She told me that she had commented on one of my posts that I had written this past summer about the career opportunities of art majors. She had been an art major and had ended up going to medical school. Here was the blog post:

So Your Child Wants to Major in the Arts?

Here was her comment:

I majored in Fine Arts (with a concentration in Film) and was accepted into NYU’s Cinema Studies Masters program, but decided to go to medical school instead. I now sit on the Admissions committee for the medical school where I’m on the faculty. Never underestimate the power of an arts degree.

Medical School Applications

Her medical school gets lots of applications from bright college grads, who majored in the sciences with hopes of one day becoming an MD.  The physician told me that the applications that really stand out in the admission process, however, are from students who followed a different path as an undergraduate. A bright person, who earned a degree in philosophy or another less popular major, can enjoy an advantage.

If you’re wondering how a kid who spent four years studying the likes of Plato, Descartes and Locke could possibly be prepared for med school, here’s the answer:  a student who selected art, philosophy, linguistics, Spanish or any other non-science major, would still have had to take the requisites science and math classes as an undergrad and pass the MCAT.

Can This Graduate Write?

Also at Beloit this weekend, I talked with the father of one of my son’s best friends, who happens to be the vice president of human resources for a major national pension fund.  I asked him about the assumption that the way to get ahead in a career is to major in business. Not true, he said, before launching into an animated take on what hiring managers value.

He insisted that employers are looking for graduates who can communicate orally and with the written word.  What he particularly lamented was the dearth of  young grads who can write.  Students, he said, are emerging from college with atrocious writing skills. In fact, these grads are in such a short supply that his employer has to send new hires to classes to learn how to write.

One more thought….

Beyond improving their writing and communication skills in college and choosing majors that excites them, here is something else that I think can improve students’ chances of being marketable:   making the most of their college time outside the classroom. My daughter provides an example of what I’m talking about in this post that I wrote back when she graduated in May:

5 Secrets To Getting a Job After College

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News & World Report.

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