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Want a Job? Don’t Major in Business.

February 18th, 2009 · 92 comments

The Business MythArbitrage

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.

Sigh.

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.

92 thoughts on “Want a Job? Don’t Major in Business.

  1. Will Godin says:

    I’m sorry, but this is terrible advice. Sounds like your way of justifying taking a pointless major.

  2. Kristina says:

    I couldn’t agree more! every guy I know wants to major in business and to be honest we have an awesome program. But, at the same time you don’t bring anything new to the table if that’s all you ever plan on doing.

  3. Liz says:

    What if you can’t stand liberal arts classes? I would never have gotten through undergraduate if I had needed to take an arts course every semester.

    I understand the power of combining different disciplines though. I got into a very competitive graduate program in psychology with borderline grades almost certainly because my undergraduate degree is computer science and that set me apart from the stellar GPA psych students.

  4. Ming says:

    What constitutes a “venerable” liberal arts major?

  5. Jeff says:

    This technique helped me move quickly up the org-chart when I worked in high tech in the mid 1990s: as an English major, I had a background that made the all-business types both envious and respectful. Maybe it works because so many people choose their majors based on practical concerns.

    And Liz: the idea that you can’t stand liberal arts classes is pretty broad: English, history, language, literature. Heck, you could major in film studies and get the same effect and go through college just watching movies! (OK, there is a lot more to a film major than just watching movies, but who doesn’t secretly wish for a degree in film?)

  6. Janet says:

    What if you just really, really like economics?

  7. Nazim says:

    How would this work out with medical? Could I substitute those math courses with pre-med classes; or better pre-med and math?

  8. Maureen says:

    While I agree the value of a Commerce degree is not what students perceive it to be (i.e. getting a good job after graduation), I don’t agree with you that a Commerce is just as or not as valuable as for example a BA.

    You say, “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.” While it’s true you don’t need four years to land your your first job, a Commerce degree is more practical to most businesses and with a Commerce degree your chances of contributing more to the organization are higher because you understand the principals of business more than an English major. I don’t agree also when you say, “In almost every case, you’ll be taught what you need to know by your employer.” Maybe if you take a job at McDonald’s you’ll be taught but employers hire you for the skills you bring to the table now. I believe your chances of moving up in most business is greater with an education in how business make profits, create marketing plans, execute business strategy, reward performance, etc.

    Do a liberal arts degree might make you a more interesting person but the more employable and the person with more potential to grow in an business generally goes to the person who understand how businesses operate and drive profitability.

  9. Interesting, I think I have the same remarks as most of the previous commenters. I agree that no one should do a business major just because they feel it’s the only way to get a job, but some people find business, finance, and economics fascinating. I see no reason why they should be discouraged from that.

  10. Kurt says:

    Hi,

    I would venture out to say that my major, Accounting, would be the one exception (within the business majors–although I’m not sure whether you’re specifically referring to the undesignated Business Administration major, in which case I wholeheartedly agree with you). In many states, a degree in accounting is required to sit for the CPA exam (for those that want the credential). However, I wouldn’t advise on majoring in accounting unless a person would really enjoy the work (few do), or would actually be like the subject matter (even fewer so–even though I actually thought it was fun). Also, despite the currently high demand for accountants, it’s still a rather competitive field–on interviews employers focused mostly on my minor in Literature and my ability to speak another language fluently (which ultimately helped me win a position at a top accounting firm).

    With regards to choosing a major, if you show competence and genuine interest in what you’re studying/intending on pursuing a career in, the jobs should follow accordingly.

    P.S. For being good at business, follow publications like the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal/Financial Times, and Institutional Investor. You don’t necessarily need to go to a business school to learn about all this. If you can get away with it, major in something like Architecture, or Plant Science.

  11. Sol says:

    I have to agree with Maureen. I am a finance major right now and I love what I am studying. It is also a lot more practical than you make it seem to be. It is good to know successful management techniques and basic information about investments. often times when we learn about business, we learn a lot about contemporary businesses and statistics about businesses, which can come in really handy. More handy than let’s say a Classics major with a math minor. However, I agree about the dabble part. It doesn’t have to be with math though. My advice is to always keep it real. Don’t take classes you hate just because it might make you more “interesting”. Dabble in something you are actually interested in. But anyway, I really enjoy your blog and have used a lot of your tips to my benefit (ex. to-do list, calendar, use folders etc.)

  12. Jay says:

    Yes, this is indeed an unusual tip. If I were an employer, however, I wouldn’t care whether you took Ancient Greek or dabbled in discrete — I’d just want to know how you can make me money.

    Anyway, you mention “struggling to decide on a major,” and I think that this is an underlying problem. Maybe it’s time to revise the idea that college is somewhere one should be if one doesn’t even know what he wants to major in (Interesting read here in Forbes Magazine, “The Great College Hoaxhttp://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0202/060.html).

  13. Gray says:

    It really depends on what kind of employer you meet. If the employer is looking for a down-to-earth person who is capable of getting some work done, he/she won’t favor someone who intentionally chose an impractical major. If I were an employer, I would favor a Commerce major over someone who is a Philosophy major, for example.

    Also, unfortunately, the general public’s impression of a liberal arts program is not “hard” or “requiring deep thought”. Those descriptions stereotypically go to engineering. Liberal arts are more popularly known as “easy” and “impractical.”

  14. Daisy says:

    in my area, the business majors are generally known as “slackers who are not really serious about college”. I think it’s got something to do with how people here usually decide on a business major when they don’t feel like going to college. they think it will be easy.

    it’s a popular major but doesn’t seem to wow other students here culturally speaking.

  15. John says:

    Surely it’s true if you major in business, you can understand fully how business work, but you cannot say he doesn’t understand how business work because his major is not business related one.
    There could be many chances for you to learn business.
    I think this is what this article is telling. I see some successful men in our country even didn’t graduate business course, but they know how to run business and achieve success in business.

  16. Corina says:

    I agree, business majors are overrated by (prospective) students. I say this as a business graduate, who after graduation started an engineering major. Maureen says persons “who understand how businesses operate and drive profitability” are more employable. True, but you definitely don’t need 4 years to learn that, it’s a waste of 2-3 years.

    If I had known what I know now, I would have majored in engineering from the beginning and took up a one year MBA afterwards.

    I would say any combination of a major with a bit of math on the side and an MBA will get you a better deal (for your life/satisfaction, and career), than a 4 year business major.

    If you want to do economics research etc, that’s another story, then you need to study economics, but from my experience this is really the case in maybe 5% or less of engineering majors.

  17. Corina says:

    sorry, in the last sentence of my comment above I wanted to say “…this is really the case in maybe 5% or less of business majors.” NOT engineering majors.

  18. Liz says:

    Do you have any advise for students with massive non-academic time liabilities? I.e. students who have to work for a living or suffer from chronical illness. I completely screw up my college time because of both, but I managed to get into computer science grad school nevertheless. I don’t want to repeat my bad experience… and I’d love to follow your tipps but find a lot of them hard to follow. Especially regarding time management. I tried to construct a students workweek, but with one day in hospital and one day at work I seem to always end up with 12 hour workdays and not enough time to sleep, let alone party. Any ideas?

  19. Scott Young says:

    Agreed. Don’t do a business major if you aren’t interested in the workings of it.

    But as a business major myself, I can’t say it’s as dismal as you make it sound. Just that it isn’t for everyone. ;)

  20. Mary says:

    I wouldn’t be impressed by anyone telling me they “dabbled” in anything they would want me to see as a serious endeavor. The first picture that comes to my mind is someone painting as a pastime. Wouldn’t it be just as much work to minor in math?

  21. Wow! You’ve created quite the controversy.

    I think it comes back to two things:
    1. Like you said in the deep procrastination post, be true to yourself. Do what you love. If that’s finance, go for it! If that’s Spanish, disfruta!

    2. If you get a liberal arts degree, I highly recommend developing a great deal of practical experience through internships and/or research and networking like crazy. Although you may not need to know the technical elements of running a business, you have an advantage by knowing how to work in a business.

    Getting a major in magazine journalism, a concentration in interior architecture, a minor in business and lots of internships and contacts prepared me for both the corporate world and entrepreneurship.

  22. Study Hacks says:

    Guys, these are great comments. I haven’t had time yet to roll up my sleeves and jump into the fray, but I will soon. Until then, I’m learning a lot just by reading what you have to say.

  23. marcus says:

    I’m a business major and my concentration is in accounting. I have to disagree about the educational part of the business major curriculum. Although on a practical side, the accounting and bookkeeping I’m learning is not useful for when I work public practice, learning how businesses operate, practical advice from profs, learning business terms, have all come useful in my life.
    For example, I just had a business meeting with a partner discussing about a business idea. He doesn’t have a business background. It was clear that my business background was helpful in suggesting business ideas, strategies, etc.
    Also being in my business program has given me countless opportunities to network that people from other faculties won’t hear about. Also you build great contacts with classmates. And also you are in an environment that is competitive and gets you thinking (most of the time too much) about how you can separate yourself from others.
    However I wished now that I had continued with my math studies because that indeed would make me look a lot better compared to my classmates.

  24. rupss says:

    This is very interesting advice, especially since I’m a high school junior interested in business and economics. What do you think of majoring in economics and having a liberal arts minor, such as English or French literature? That’s something I’m starting to seriously consider, because it combines 2 completely different fields which I’m interested in, and provides some variety!

  25. Arman says:

    I already seeking for job now, and I major in Business Administration. What should I do now because I already major in business and I find your advice is true!

  26. Study Hacks says:

    Instead of answering individual comments, let me condense the above into the main points I see…

    (1) But what if I like majoring in business (or economics, or accounting, etc.)?

    Then do so!
    The best strategy is always to major in what interests you. On the other hand, if you have no idea what you want to major in, or you want to major in the liberal arts, but worry about the job market, this post should provide some food for thought.

    (2) If I was an employer I would want to hire someone with a business major, not something impractical!

    Actually, you probably wouldn’t. Based on my past experiences researching and writing about post-college job recruiting, the most common traits desired by employers are grads who are smart, creative, personable, and can follow through on tasks.

    For example, when I interviewed at Microsoft after college, they were quite interested in my Art History minor and writing — even though it had nothing specifically to do with being a project manager. (I beat out hundreds to win that job offer.)

    Another example: I recently met an MBA admissions counselor who had just returned from a meeting of MBA admissions officers. A central point of discussion was how they wished they would get more liberal arts majors applying, and less business majors, as the job market thought the former had more creativity and broader thinking skills.


    (3) Liberal arts are impractical!

    Four-year universities are not job training programs. An educated populace is the cornerstone of civilization, and so forth…

  27. Lindsay says:

    I went to a career fair yesterday at my university. (Business is BY FAR the most popular major, and our business program is well-known.) I went to almost every booth. NOBODY was interested in me because I didn’t have a Business major. When I told them that my majors were Psychology and English with a Creative Writing specialization and a Minor in Women’s Studies (all things I chose because I loved and was interested in), they would pretty much blow me off. It was fine with me, because to be honest, I have no interest in working in an office and was only there to speak with a med school that had opening in Psychology research for people with undergraduate degrees.

    Only one company showed me interest. It was a financial advisory firm. They said they could teach people the business side — the numbers and the technology, but they couldn’t teach people to work with people. He actually sounded interested in my degrees, and was especially interested in my work at restaurants (nobody ever is!), because that meant I had experience with working with people and sales. They called me for an interview today. So obviously, there are some companies that are looking for somebody that stands out from the crowd. I still think that those are few and far between.

    Perhaps it is only because my university is only business oriented (plus, the city I live in is very business-oriented), so the companies there were those likely to be looking for somebody with a business background, but the response I received yesterday showed me that business isn’t a useless major at all. I personally have no interest working in an office and will likely choose not to. However, if I DID want to work in a business setting and chose a liberal arts major despite that, I would have been regretting that decision quite a bit yesterday.

  28. Study Hacks says:

    When I told them that my majors were Psychology and English with a Creative Writing specialization and a Minor in Women’s Studies (all things I chose because I loved and was interested in), they would pretty much blow me off.

    I would be wary about extrapolating perceived non-verbal reactions at a job fair into a larger observation about hiring criteria. Then again, different industries and different types of jobs might have different criteria…

  29. Dilpreet says:

    It’s a controversial, yet very refreshing point you make here Cal. I completely agree, it’s better to spend that tuition money on opening a business and learning from that. What better way to grow as a person and challenge yourself. You’ll learn to create a network of contacts, learn how a business really works, and just things one cannot learn from studying business.

    The only problem is that we live in a world where having a safe, boring lifestyle is expected. People have a phobia of taking risks. We’ve become socially conditioned to think and be “practical.” Without a doubt, capitalism has gone out of hand and recent economic news is a prime example of that.

    If you are really interested in studying business and are fascinated by it, I would still say don’t study it. It’s better to just read some basic books and then talk to people who are in business. Visit local businesses, especially which field you’re interested in, talk to founders/CEOs, store owners, just people who are successful. Go out on lunch and I’m sure you can learn more from them than in a classroom.

  30. Wendy says:

    Thanks. Always find this stuff useful even though I’m in a complete situation on a different continent ;). But hey there are univeral things about studying and employers. Helped me rethink many things personally. :D

  31. Mike Petersen says:

    I don’t knwo how I feel about this advice. It seems like a double edged sword.

    In my opinion, this is terrible advice for students at schools with competitive business programs, but may work for students where their business program has little or no prestige.

    But then again it is true, it’s a myth that you have to major in business to work in the field.

  32. Leon says:

    I wish you told me this 4 years ago! I’m business admin major with a minor in fine arts. I’ll be looking for a job in web development because that’s what I realized I love doing.

  33. Study Hacks says:

    In my opinion, this is terrible advice for students at schools with competitive business programs, but may work for students where their business program has little or no prestige.

    This is a good point. If you attend a school that’s known, above all, for business, and doesn’t have strong departments in the liberal arts, this advice might flag you as you suspicious.

  34. RF says:

    Really interesting article. I, like an above poster, is in year 11 (junior) and am really fascinated by economics and finance but also love english and history. Your tips and articles will really come in handy when I start choosing what to major in sometime next year for the year after. It’s already provided me some thoughts and ground to think about. Thanks Cal!

  35. Will Farris says:

    Outstanding advice. I am an Electrical engineer with another degree in Philosophy and yet another in accounting. General business education has always been crap. The same goes for engineering but in a different way. Mix those 2 and you are still half-baked. But when you add social sciences and humanities, all of a sudden there is some real flesh. The quantitative and technical stuff adds a needed backbone to the flesh. General biz majors are a dime a dozen (accountants excepted somewhat) and it does not matter what school you went to and gazillions of dollars you blew. Do it now because you will probably never get a real education down the road when all your time is spent chasing jobs. This is not hubris, it is simple reality. You want to argue? Good! Philosophy will teach you how. There is a long history of it in literature and in many languages.

  36. David says:

    It does matter which school you go to, just learn about the opportunities available to graduates from Wharton. However, I would say that if you have any interest in something like engineering, and you are interested in business, major in engineering.

    I think it basically comes back to majoring in something you enjoy. If something you enjoy can also help you in the job market, do that. Don’t major in liberal arts just because you think it might make you “more competitive.”

  37. Jim says:

    I like the classics approach to education and I believe it is a very good degree in business. It’s been said that what one will learn after 5 years on the job is more important than what was learned in college. I couldn’t agree more. I double majored in classical studies and english with an emphasis in creative writing. I have been in the business and project management world for over 17 years now. I have learned a great deal on the job about business, organizational behavior, leadership, etc., but I learned how to communicate well, specifically writing, in college. I have taken the necessary business courses over the years, but I would trade my two majors for anything.

  38. Jim says:

    In the last sentence of the above comment, I meant to say “… but I wouldn’t trade my two majors for anything.”

  39. Thibs says:

    Hi everyone!

    Very interesting article, as always :). As a future BBA graduate (2 more years) in France, I have to say that it really is fascinating to look at the flexibility the American college system offers. In France you only ever “major”, there are no minors, and electives are virtually non-existent. I am following a prestigious business program here, (in a private business-only university, not public) and I have to say, it does get boring sometimes (ie: IFRS, Accounting classes of all sorts…) and perhaps it is true that 3 years would be sufficient to learn the material. The curriculum is filled with internships (11 to 18 months overall), probably to make up for the lack of material actually taught. To the program’s credit however, some classes are really great and taught by amazing teachers, especially the “main” ones (macro- and micro-economics, geopolitics, international trade,…). I have always enjoyed liberal arts, have been fascinated by History, Philosophy and English Literature while in high school. I used to be good at and enjoy Quantitative subjects (I’m talking solid mathematics) and nowadays it simply boils down to learning a few processing methods that require you to multiply, add and divide and voila! It gets old, I really hope the level of quant skills will pick up in the next two years. Sometimes I miss all these subjects, and wish some of them were offered here.

    Despite the fact that my Bachelor of BA is well recognized, I do feel US students are lucky to have such a flexible system available to them. Take this dilemna as an incredible opportunity. Choose what you know you’ll enjoy, but also what you feel will challenge you (or it WILL get boring, and you WILL procrastinate and watch your grades turn average instead of great, and what’s perhaps even worse: without actually caring much). If it’s business you really crave, so be it. If its History, than choose that! You can always take a few econ, finance, or accounting classes on the side as you go along if you prefer liberal arts, to reassure employers when recruiting time comes! ;-)

  40. Rocky says:

    I could not disagree more with this post. I am an accounting major and I don’t know of any employers who would want to waste 2-3 years of their time paying you just so you can learn. If you look at the average salary of a liberal arts major it is $10,000 less than that of a business major.

    A business major is only worthless if you graduate with a low gpa or you interview poorly. If you do a specialization in a good business field and join an honors society you will be much better off than most liberal arts majors.

    A business major is practical. As a business major with an accounting concentration and I can crunch numbers and manage money. I also have am eligible to take the CPA exam after a few years and have an understanding of technical writing and management principles. The average salary of an accounting major is much higher than that of a liberal arts major. >$15,000.

    I have no idea how you came to the conclusion that a liberal arts major is better. Give me some real statistics or an interview with a professional.

  41. Study Hacks says:

    I am an accounting major and I don’t know of any employers who would want to waste 2-3 years of their time paying you just so you can learn

    You studied something very specific so you could get jobs doing that very specific thing: accounting. This doesn’t generalize. Yes, people hiring accountants will hire people who trained in accounting, and Intel will hire people with computer engineering degrees. But these are niche jobs. Most jobs do not have such specific skill requirements.

    If you want a summary of the research on major selection, read my article:

    http://calnewport.com/blog/2007/10/24/does-your-college-major-matter/

  42. Anonymous says:

    You are ridiculous and do not know what you’re talking about, so please stop.

  43. English Major says:

    What if you just really, really like economics?

    Then you are probably not getting laid.

  44. Totally agree with this post and this is one of the reasons I’m glad I didn’t major in business. Good stuff.

  45. Iviri says:

    Nice blog. I liked reading this a lot.

  46. LC says:

    Saw this on College Confidential:

    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/715750-why-undergraduate-business-school-3.html#post1062574702

    “I have to dispute the notion that an undergrad business program somehow deprives you of a well-rounded and holistic education. That might have been true a few decades ago, but business is now a mature academic discipline in its own right, with its own scholarly societies (the Academy of Management, INFORMS, CCC, and others) and its own academic journals such as Management Science, Strategic Management Journal, and the Academy of Management Review. Furthermore, many of the leading ideas within social science were developed not within pure social science departments, but rather within business schools. For example, Professor Austan Goolsbee was Barack Obama’s senior economics advisor starting from his Senate campaign and through his Presidential campaign. Yet he doesn’t even hold a faculty position at a pure economics department. His formal academic position is at a business school (the UChicago Booth School of Business).

    Far from being a narrowly defined course of study, business is arguably the most well-rounded of all of the social sciences due to its inherently interdisciplinary nature. Rather than drawing from only economics, only sociology, or only psychology, business schools draw from all three. Economics provides applicable theories as to how markets work, but has much less to say about how companies operate internally, which is the preserve of sociology and psychology. How do you motivate a team? How do you construct teams to maximize performance? How do you effect organizational learning, in which not just individuals, but the company itself is able to adapt to new information? These are questions that cannot be readily addressed through economics, but can through sociology or psychology. Similarly, the fields of sales and marketing often times has little to do with economics, as customers do not always behave rationally. Many products are bought because of their perceived “coolness” cachet or through peer pressure – the entire luxury goods market is replete with examples – and the questions of how do you make your product seem “cool” can be addressed through sociological or psychological tools.

    A business program can provide you with knowledge of all of those social sciences, rather than of just one. Many econ majors, for example, know nothing about sociology or psychology and are then baffled to find that people and teams do not always behave rationally. Similarly, many sociology and psych majors do not understand economics and therefore have great difficulty in understanding market forces and price signals.

    Now, to be fair, it is certainly true that many (probably most) undergrad business majors are not looking to gain a deep academic and theoretical understanding of business. They don’t care about the Academy of Management. They don’t care about the journals. They don’t care about the research papers of management academia. They just want to get a job.

    But the same is true of any other major. Let’s face it. Most econ majors don’t care about the American Economic Review or QJE. They just want to get a job. Heck, many of them are majoring in economics simply because their school didn’t even offer an undergrad business major (or they weren’t admitted to it), and econ is therefore seen as the next best alternative, even though, as I said, econ is actually quite poor at explaining intra-organizational phenomena where market forces do not directly impinge.

    The bottom line is that undergrad business can offer an education that is at least as holistic as any other major out there, and possibly even more so. But the students still have to desire such an education. Pursuing a business degree with the tunnel vision of obtaining a job is no different from pursuing any other major with the same tunnel vision of obtaining a job.”

    1. Economics Major says:

      Dr.Austan Goolsbee got his BA and MA in economics at Yale. Finally, his PhD Economics at MIT. Economics professor can hold business school or economics dept tenure positions….. while most business professors can’t. Not to mention he has served in various government sector (economic research posts). You will realize how much social science and math is involved in economics compared to the common sense bs you learn in business….. the human nature assumption in economics is only part of the Chicago school of thoughts . . . Try going to a more Keyesian or Marxian economics dept. Most economic majors are taught to do research and write so regardless if they like the journal or not they will be forced to read them and use them. Business major is a different story since most of the professor don’t emphasis the so call business journals and intensive writing in the course.

  47. Study Hacks says:

    Pursuing a business degree with the tunnel vision of obtaining a job is no different from pursuing any other major with the same tunnel vision of obtaining a job.”

    Well put. A business major pursued for a deep interest in its content is just as valid as any other major. A business major pursued due to the misunderstanding that your studies most exactly match your job is a shame.

  48. Econ Major says:

    I agree with this article in most ways. I’m an econ major and I see a lot of people choosing “generic” business administration majors not really understanding what they are getting into.

    I would not compare these people though with passionate people who truly study their craft. Any good econ major will take psychology, philosophy, and sociology on the side. Economics is often called the strongest of all social sciences.

    I think people who want to go into go into business but don’t really love it should major in something else that will get a job and minor in math, econ, or finance. This way they will have to option to at least go into the business area of their field.

  49. Study Hacks says:

    Economics is often called the strongest of all social sciences.

    I agree. When I refer to “business majors” I actually mean the pre-professional business major. Economics is a different beast altogether.

  50. Rebecca says:

    I laughed so hard at this article. I think the advice in it is pretty bad though. Why are you recommending that people attempt to manipulate their way into a job rather than choose classes, like a full math minor, that would make them truly qualified for the job, rendering deceptive self-representation unnecessary? I recommend taking this article down. It makes you sound very young and inexperienced, although other parts of your blog are worth reading.

  51. Sydney says:

    interesting and mind probing post cal, thank you for sharing your wonderful insights:) but I’m a little skeptical on this one.

    so basically, major in something you’re truly interested in, even if its business, because you’re passion will take your studies to the next level, thus making you a standout in your department. good advice.

    So you’re saying Microsoft was interested in your Art History minor and writing because this shows that you can think creatively? I still don’t see the connection between Microsoft and Art History. So basically, holistic approach is the way to go, but dosen’t this contradict your point about focusing on being a standout in one department.

    so do places like Goldman Sachs hire English majors over econ or finance majors? What Relevant skills can English majors bring that econ and finance majors cannot? Moreover, English majors may not have the business mind set that is needed for certain executive roles. I don’t think this could be learned on the job.

    on a side note: would you say major in literature + take math classes > major in engineering + take literature classes?

    although I don’t agree with everything you say, this is a fantastic post! keep up the great work!

  52. Josh says:

    This advice is terrible. You lost me at business degrees are boring. And every degree in its own right is thought provoking. It really depends on the person. This advice should be takin with a lot of grains of salt.

  53. James says:

    Alright, now does this work the other way around? If you are taking a technical major, like say, engineering, could you dabble in arts courses to seem just as impressive as the classics/math guru?

    Thanks,

  54. Study Hacks says:

    Alright, now does this work the other way around? If you are taking a technical major, like say, engineering, could you dabble in arts courses to seem just as impressive as the classics/math guru?

    I did that. (My minor was Art History.) I don’t know that it helped in the job hunt, but it did make my college experience more interesting and diverse.

  55. Sam Jackson says:

    I’m a little disappointed. I started following your blog yesterday after being redirected from “I Will Teach You to be Rich”. I find the post above to be pretty offensive and not at all in line with other posts of yours I’ve read and appreciated.

    I can’t speak for other Business schools, but at my particular academic institution, 90% of Business majors have concentrated by third year. Personally, I chose to concentrate in Information Systems. I love it. My passion for computing and problem-solving efficiency as it applies to business extends to my personal life, and it’s what led me to this blog.

    My personal experiences have been that:
    – You need to be passionate, or at the very least, interested in your Major to succeed
    – It’s a lot harder to be an “A*” as a Liberal Arts major. I know many, many Psychology, English, and Political Science majors that are not working anywhere close to their field.
    – People who write posts like this one ensure that no one creative ends up in Business because they will be accused of being boring and narrow-minded. I get this all the time from people who aren’t interested enough in their discipline to tear themselves away from the television most days. Shame on you for perpetuating this kind of mentality.

  56. Concojones says:

    I may be wrong but my impression is that it’s mainly the big corporations that are willing to hire alternative profiles and teach them the specialized business knowledge needed on the job. They have a long-term focus and sometimes have dedicated graduate programs. Another impression I have is that in a down economy everyone looks again at the short term and dedicated degrees only.

    Never thought about complementing Liberal Arts with some additional ‘useful’ courses (math, business). But it does make sense to me, esp. if combined with extra-curricular responsibilities (leadership).

  57. Philosophy major says:

    Cal is right on the money. I majored in philosophy and also took 4 math classes and 4 econ classes. Upon graduation, I was hired by a very well known investment bank.

    What relevant skills do philosophy majors offer? A deep understanding of critical thinking, analysis, and logic. That applies to any career field you pursue.

  58. Nervous says:

    Hi,
    I’m pretty nervous about this post, since i just met with my counsellor today and we set up the gist of my schedule (which is in the major-Business, minor-Art direction). Now I’m wondering if I made a mistake…
    I’m not really sure what I want to do FOR SURE yet, but possibly advertising? Does anyone know what I should major/minor in to get into the advertising field? Thanks

  59. Andrew Lu says:

    Hey Cal (or anyone else who wants to comment),

    Would it be worth it to take these math courses even if it were to drag down your GPA and/or take up a bunch of your time? I suspect your answer would depend on how much, but what do you think? I’m someone who can do alright in math if I spend a LOT of time at it (probably almost as much as the rest of my classes combined). I do enjoy doing math, so this wouldn’t make life suck, but it would take up a bunch of my time and may prevent me from becoming the departmental star. Would a good solution to this be to take these hard courses over the summer at another college so they don’t impact my regular set of classes?

    Thanks!

  60. Andrew Lu says:

    Oh, I forgot to add, about how many math courses are you recommending over the four years? I’m entering college this fall and will probably start in multivariable calculus/calculus III (I’m currently in AP Calculus BC).

  61. Study Hacks says:

    I do enjoy doing math, so this wouldn’t make life suck, but it would take up a bunch of my time and may prevent me from becoming the departmental star.

    I hear you. If your sprinkle the courses throughout otherwise light semesters, and/or start with real intro courses, I think you might find it’s not as bad as you thought.

  62. John says:

    What if we majored in Sociology (not considered the strongest social science) and minored in Philosophy (maybe the strongest of the classical liberal arts)? I’m approaching graduation and I wished I was aware of this math portion. If I’ve known I would’ve started with intro courses and worked my way up to Calc. III and throw in Discrete Mathematics. (sigh). Oh well.

  63. jenna says:

    hey cal!

    I agree with your post entirely! I immediatly have immense respect for ANYONE who has a major in math and to combine that with something like a liberal arts which isn’t the most ‘stable’ in terms of jobs represents a very well rounded person.

    Is there a way this technique could work for the sciences?
    I’m majoring in Biomedical science right now and would love to try this technique.

  64. Study Hacks says:

    Is there a way this technique could work for the sciences?

    Minor in art history? That’s what I did…

  65. Britt says:

    I found your blog via Chris Guillebeau, and wish I had known about it during my four years of undergrad! As the proud possessor of a JMU Bachelors in Business Administration, I laughed outloud at the title of this post. Many of your arguments are absolutely valid, and a running joke between those of us business students who don’t take ourselves too seriously. Just like ANY degree, you should never choose business because you think it’ll get you a job or you don’t know what else to do. Unfortunately, in many college of business’ attempt to develop ‘well-rounded’ graduates, you’re required to fulfill requirements that you just don’t enjoy/care about.

    However, reading some of the comments from confused students, I thought I’d offer some thoughts from my experience as a business student.

    – The COB often emphasizes teamwork more than any other program. Constantly working in groups to complete projects, papers, simulations, etc, taught patience, the share-credit-accept-blame mentality, and when its worthwhile to put my foot down. I learned that often I don’t have the best ideas, when to step up and (and how to) lead, when to fill the support role, and the importance of holding each other accountable. These concepts are crucial in most employment, and for people to want you around!

    – COB classes teach analytical skills and objective decision making, which I use as a waitress, youth group volunteer, friend, and adult.

    – I’m probably the best money-manager of my friends. I can budget, forecast, etc with the best of them, thanks to the COB.

    – I had to write roughly 10 papers throughout college. While I’m an awesome test taker, I REALLY wish I’d taken a couple more writing classes above the GenEd requirements of COB.

    – The pressure that comes from COB professors to graduate with an entry level nine to five that will ‘set you up’ is immense. They tell stories of recent grads who had to move to middle-of-nowhere Iowa and work 80hrs a week, but someday they’ll have that corner office (though you won’t know your children)! This is what you should aspire to, according to most COB. If this is what you want, awesome!! It wasn’t what I wanted, and not what I’m doing, but I still loved my COB education and feel that it benefits me every single day.

    In summary, pick the degree that you’ll enjoy. Then graduate, take pride in your degree and find a job or lifestyle that you’re excited to wake up to each morning.

  66. Jane says:

    I was a business major for two years, and I can safely say it is the least appealing major to me. Almost ANY other major would be preferred. I would major in Kinesiology, Political Science, Art History, Biology, Health, or Theater…like I said, anything, before I would major in Business. It’s not that I don’t think it’s worthwhile (it certainly is practical); I just think it could not be more boring. I went from being a Business major to an English major (two extremes as far as practicality), and I was really happy with the change. I feel like your education should be something that you’re interested in and that makes you more interesting. I’m not just plugging for English, though. Political Science is interesting, Psychology is interesting, Criminal Justice is interesting. Business…just isn’t. That said, I don’t think Business as a major is “easy.” If you’re doing Accounting or Finance, that’s pretty hard material, I imagine. If you are a Management or Marketing specialization, however, it’s fairly easy.

  67. Jane says:

    Oh yeah, I am an English major. I finished undergrad a few years ago and am now almost finished with my Master’s degree. I’m working in my field; I teach Composition and Literature at the university where I go to school, as well as at a nearby community college. I think people who don’t work in their field don’t want to work in their field. I pretty much refuse to not work in my field, so I only interview for jobs/gigs that are related to what I’m studying / did study. A lot of people do view English majors as “useless.” I don’t begrudge this stereotype. I suppose I don’t feel useless, though, because I use my degree to teach (I’ve also taught middle school and high school). Everyone needs a basic education in the English language, as well as some cultural literacy, which being well-read provides. My favorite thing about being an English major is that we use literature as a springboard to discuss ideas and trends in culture and the social world we live in. Dealing with such things isn’t exactly meaningless or useless. As I said, I *was* a Business major; I also worked in the business world for a good eight years before I returned to school and got a degree in English. That period of my life (the Business period) was the most vapid and empty experience ever.

  68. Ramy says:

    I’m wondering, Cal, what advice you would give to someone who made the mistake of majoring in something that was supposed to be a “tight fit” for a job. If you replace “business” with “computer science”, that’s the boat i’m in.

  69. Shen T. says:

    I have to totally disagree with you. The skills that come with a degree in business is helpful in any line of work.

  70. Pingback: http://%/bvyhsei
  71. Dan says:

    “I believe your chances of moving up in most business is greater with an education in how business make profits, create marketing plans, execute business strategy, reward performance, etc.” so ironic that this guy is ragging on English majors when he doesn’t even seem to know the word “businesses.”

  72. Melissa says:

    I think this is great advice for people who are not exactly interested in a niche career (like most of the business majors I have met) and that having some sort of humanities education beyond the requirement is useful. While I don’t think it is important that every interviewee knows the symbols used in Crime and Punishment, taking a few writing-focused classes would be beneficial. The main problem I see with young job-seekers is their lack of communication skills. Most cannot write persuasively and some cannot even write coherently.

  73. Iris says:

    It would be difficut for any manager to hire and give the responsibility to a new liberal arts graduate to analyze a business process, find the problem and offer solutions. Would a liberal arts major know SWOT analysis, PEST analysis, Porter five forces analysis, value chain analysis, competitive advantage, etc.? Do you really believe these are the basics skills that can easily be taught at work? I was hired after business school and immediately, the manager had tasked me to conduct several analysis of their existing programs. No one assisted me through the process; I did everything on my own – analyze the data, transcribe it into Excel with graphs and wrote reports. Thankfully, because of business school, I had the necessary KSA (knowledge, skills and abilities) and was able to saved our department several millions in costs because of my recommendations.

    Often times, the managers are so busy that they expect the newbie to already have the necessary skills and abilities to do the job. Frankly, as a manager, I only hire new liberal arts graduates as admin assistant unless of course, he or she has other necessary skills such as Excel and Access VBA programming, can create a performance dashboard, has great analytical skills (can think outside the box) and ahas excellent business writing skills. If that person has these skills, then he/she is a great asset to me notwithstanding the major.

    To sum it up, it’s not about the major that dictates your success. An uncle of mine barely finished high school, but owns a multi-million dollar business. One things for sure – he does possess the drive to succeed against all odds.

  74. Actual boss says:

    Iris, sorry but I’ve hired many many people and he’s right. You are probably very capable and would get hired. However someone with the mentioned resume would be deemed as management material and end up as your boss asking you to do that analysis.

  75. Harry says:

    Well a business degree will contain subjects such as Marketing, Economics, Banking, etc which will be ESSENTIAL if you wish to get a job in that area. Eg a bank manager studying banking in a business degree.

    You’re talking about shitty jobs

  76. Aussie says:

    Majoring in Business will help people a step closer from becoming EXTREMELY WEALTHY!

  77. GermanEngineer says:

    Here in Germany at my university you are set on specific courses you have to take over a 7 semester time. There’s not much you can choose from.

    I am studying Industrial Engineering. And although it sounds quiet technical it actually is a combination of business and mechanical engineering courses.

    My main interest lies in the automotive field. So engineering, despite its hard exams, always has been quiet appealing to me. But in the context of the business courses, they were becoming glooming.

    Reason for that is, because a lot of Industrial Engineers land in managment positions and actually not working on engineering subjects. And thats actually not what I wanted.

    I share the inherated hostility against business students. That really struck a cord in me. Over the course of my college experience I realised, that most busines subjcts can be learned on your own. I am not speaking about the hardcore accounting stuff, but every other subject works.

    I am quiet suprised that nobody mentioned the combination Engineering and Business major. And if someone is thinking about doing something like that, I would highly recommend not to do so.

    If you are interested in engineering, do a pure engineering degree. You will enjoy your college experience a lot more, as beeing always beeing inbetween those poles. Beeing a passionated engineer is something great.
    If you want to have an interesting time in your courses and in college in general, I would do an engineering major with a liberal arts minor in something you are interested like music.
    Besides you are learning a great major you are improving you musical abillities.

  78. Lazar says:

    The point is, you wont get an interview in the first place if you majored in something silly like “liberal arts”. Why not take business AND math?

    I agree that business majors are silly for the most part, but for a whole different reason entirely.

  79. George DeMarse says:

    This is actually very good advise. What you’re saying is dabbling in college math for a classics major (or philosophy or history) looks good and does come across as difficult and bi-major groovy and “deep.”

    Unfortunately, there are very few liberal arts majors capable of passing five semesters of college mathematics.

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    The Sage of Wake Forest

  80. Ernie List says:

    This article is an example of some of the dumbest advice I have ever seen. I am a current business manager and would always hire a business major of any sort over a liberal arts major. Business majors are a lot more focused on running the business in comparison to IT majors and liberal arts majors. I work with all of these degree types, and this is the behavior I have observed. The only exception I have seen in the course of a day are English majors.

  81. Matt says:

    I AM A CLASSICS MAJOR from UNC Chapel Hill – And this is horrible advice!!
    When you apply to jobs (Private Equity, IBanking, Hedge Funds, etc.) they will look for applicants who have a financial background such as majoring in accounting or business.

    Unless you nab those internships early where the job rate is super high coming from that internship, breaking into the finance world is difficult. Especially if you want to work on the Buy Side

  82. Goltan! says:

    As a liberal arts major who moved into tech after teaching myself, this advice is wrong on so many levels.

    I went abroad after college and worked in vastly differently industries before returning to the states. Without fail, I got that whiz kid reputation for doing so much when I was younger and quickly found it super harmful:

    Nobody wants a whiz kid unless your a whiz in something that = $$$$$.

    Tech industries are used to people teaching themselves but even they’re suspicious and say “You studied _____? HOW did you get into tech?!”

    Lastly, after your first few years in college, nobody gives a crap what you studied let alone what classes you took.

  83. brannon says:

    I feel that getting any college degree is better then not having one at all. Sure, you can get lucky, or mayby inherit your familie’s business, or get lucky some how and not get or need a college degree to make money. It happens. If you are that person, more power to you. But, Im not that person, and I find myself struggling now that Im 47 years old. You see, in my yonger days, I screwed around, wallowed in my folly of youth. All that is great and everything, you should have fun when you are young, in highschool, and in college, those days should be the best days of your life. Also, you should study your behind off, and party after you have studied. Well, I did not do that. I partied, and ran around, and did not care. Got a job, did not finish college when I was young, and had the time and chance to do it. Now Im 47, married, with a dead in job, trying to make ends meet. Im not complaining because Im married. I love my wife, and my life, but, I have over 60 hrs college credits, and Im back in school now, going at night and Saturdays, trying to finish my degree. It was business adm I started out in back in junior college(excuse me, community college)but I cant stomach it anymore. If I would have had my head on straight in my younger years, I would have finished my degree in field biology, with mayby a minor in some business related field, like adm, marketing, human resourses, whatever. To be quite honest, im really not a business person at heart. I could care less about it. Im not a mover or a shaker, back stabbing, ladder climber. And Im not saying everyone in business is). Thats just not me. Early in life, I listened to people to much, when I asked for advice in what to take/major in college. Everyone told me Business, so thats what I set out to do, not knowing that to me, thats the most boring stuff on the planet(to me personally). Now, Im not knocking people who have business degrees. If thats what they want to do, and if they are excelling in a business related job, more power to them. Sadely after 47years on this planet, I have found that its really not for me. I wish it was. I wish I could be a big top exec, or mover and a shaker in big business, but im not that at all. I have to be who I am. Now, Im back in college, finishing a degree in Social science, and a minor in human resourses. After I finish my degree, Im taking some field biology classes also, just because I want to…..Im trying to salvage what is left of my interest and desires…..If possible….Its hard, doesnt get any easier, especially at my age. My advice to the younger people out there. Follow your heart and your desires, your plans in life. If someone says major in this and that, and in your heart, you are not feeling it, dont do it. Follow your own heart, then you will be happy and satisfied in the end. FInish your degree early in life, party later. You could have not told me this back in the day, but now, I have regrets, Please dont take the path I did. Study, and finish what you want to finish your major in. Life doesnt get any easier. Peace…..

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