No, she’s not (yet) planning to follow in Dad’s footsteps, but we’ve had some interesting discussions about her process – and my process (lo, these many years ago).
This week I asked readers how directly applicable their college degree was – to their current job.
Given how much water can pass under life’s bridges between the choice of a college major and today’s career, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a big disconnect between the two. Still, just over 15% said their college major was “a perfect fit, while just over 16% said it was about an 80% fit, and nearly 7% said “better than I could have hoped.” Just over one-in-five said it “depends on the day.”
“On the other hand, nearly 17% said “you’re kidding, right?” – and our biggest response wasâ€¦.”other.” As for what was in “other”, well this week it was a category that truly lived up to its name. There were some who said that “depends on the day” was too random, but also found that 80% was, all told, more fit than was merited. There were some who hadn’t gone to college, others that hadn’t finished college, and some that hadn’t “done” college in the traditional sense.
There were also some who took the point that one’s college major was not really intended to provide one with true job preparation. As one reader noted, “If you ask the question you miss the point of college. College is to teach you to read, write and think critically and take some time to learn about stuff you likely did not know even existed. Once you get out of college you can learn a tradeâ€¦.Rely on a college major to get you through life and you are out of touch in three years.” Another stated, “Wealth manager today, English lit major with nary a one business/finance class, however, I really learned how to learn.”
But, for the very most part, “other” was comprised of readers who found their college major applicable – just not perhaps in the way(s) in which they had thought they might. Here’s a sampling:
“I am an English major with a concentration in American literature, and yet my career has always been in accounting and finance. I am the only accountant I know who can write a complete sentence….”
“I was an elementary education major. I learned to work well with others, be respectful of the organizational hierarchy, and to always review your work before you turned it in. I would say it prepared me just as well as (or better than) my three years of law school!”
“401k/Retirement Plans Wholesaling 101 wasn’t on the curriculum when I went to college, but I was a communications major and those skills have come in handy throughout my career.”
“I majored in Spanish. At the time I had no idea that it would be almost mandatory to know it to work in California.”
“My degree is in Secondary Mathematics Education, with a minor in History. I am still working with numbers and answering questions.”
“I didn’t know what a TPA was when I went to college.”
“Oddly, it fits. I was a double major in English & philosophy, so I can understand totally illogical ideas.”
“I had a double major in Management and Marketing. I ended up doing record keeping and now I’m a Retirement Plans Specialist. But the lessons learned do apply to every day life. My majors helped me to understand strategies my employers had taken when they seemed out in left field to others.”
“Working with retirement plans is mostly on-the-job training. I started when I had no degree, but then realized that the lack of a degree was holding me back. So I went back at age 30 and got my business degree. My next employer said that my experience was what got me the job, but I contend that my resume would not have made it out of HR if I didn’t have the degree.”
“My major in college was Marketing. I read IRS and DOL regs for a living. unless I am trying to sell the IRS or DOL regs, it really is not applicable.”
I also asked readers - if they had to do it all over again - would they change their major? And a robust 48.5% said no. Of course, just under 30% said they would change, and roughly 19% said they might. The rest were - not sure.
But this week's Editor's Choice goes to the reader who said, "I double majored in Psychology (primarily Abnormal Psychology) and Criminology. Both of those majors are very useful at times, depending on the employees with whom I am interacting."
Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!
|NO use at all - except to make me unfit for anything but an admin job.|
|I majored in Spanish. At the time I had no idea that it would be almost mandatory to know it to work in California.|
|If you ask the question you miss the point of college. College is to teach you to read, write and think critically and take some time to learn about stuff you likely did not know even existed. Once you get out of college you can learn a trade. When I went to law school, ERISA (my field) had not even been passed, computers were big as a car in special air conditioned rooms and guys worn ties and coats to work. Rely on a college major to get you through life and you are out of touch in three years.|
|A perfect fit. My major was sociology.|
|Wealth manager today, english lit major with nary a one business/finance class, however, I really learned how to learn.|
|As applicable as I can tie positive reinforcement and motivation theories to employee benefits (which probably depends on the day!!)|
|Which major? I took the 20-year plan, so there were quite a few. My very last major was chosen by default. I'd finally had enough so I enrolled in a 13-month program to get my degree once and for all. There were only two programs being offered at the time: Management and Organizational Development (quite a mouthful) and . . . Christian ministry. Since I was already in HR, I thought it was a divine "coincidence," so I chose the former.|
|Graduated WWII (major undefined). Graduated teacher's college (Math). Learned to listen (intently). 1st job principal-junior high school. Guess I didn't listen enough. Now over 80 controller/HR. Still listening, learning, and liking it.|
|I was a Government major and I have enjoyed jobs in insurance group pension compliance areas for most of my career over 30 years (plan compliance or contract compliance). I am currently in a plan compliance and consulting role for DB plans.|
|History and music studies make for great dinner party conversation in soliciting clients.|
|Not at all. I am 40 years out of college and never worked in the field in majored in|
|I was a pre-med and ended up being wait listed at two medical schools but not being admitted and went to law school and then was in-house counsel for four large corporations where I developed an employee benefits experise. This expertise took me to four large HR consulting firms and now a law firm doing employee benefits work. The only relevance of my college education is that handling a pre-med program including courses like Organic Chemistry and being an employee benefits lawyer both involve difficult work so my college education was good preparation for the effort required to keep up with the very complicated DOL and IRS regulations I deal with daily.|
|My college major was adult vocational education with an emphasis in human resources development. This fits when I do benefit-related training. Since the communication aspect of this job probably really is the most important, even though it may not appear to be a perfect fit at first glance, it fits.|
|All things relative, a degree that emphasizes reading & writing skills is transferable to most any profession. It amazes me how many people write poorly, which unfortunately discredits their point.|
|Not in the ballpark!!!|
|I am an English major with a concentration in American literature, and yet my career has always been in accounting and finance. I am the only accountant I know who can write a complete sentence.... I did take graduate level accounting and finance courses once I realized how much I liked accounting. Go figure. I still haven't written that novel.|
|I do not believe a liberal arts major needs to be related. You are learning to think, solve problems, and write. That fits most jobs in the real world.|
|While my psychology degree does not directly impact my current position, I find it a plus when working with participants (and staff!!)|
|Not at all. My college major was history, minors in international law and education. I'm a pension analyst.|
|I swore I would never have anything to do with writing in my career, and now I find myself writing and reviewing volumes.|
|Somewhere between "About 80%" and "Depends on the day." I learned a lot in college about writing, reading, logic, critical thinking, and examining evidence - and it's these skills that I use every day.|
|My focus has always been on people, ideas and fixing things. My degree is in Liberal Arts and I had 10 years experience in basic industry before becoming a "professional." Not one business course during undergraduate and law school. Thank God my mind wasn't cluttered with B School claptrap.|
|I majored in education, taught school for one year and quickly found out that teaching was not for me. After helping my husband through graduate school, I took evening classes in accounting. After passing the CPA exam, I worked in the Controller's department for a couple of years where I prepared the Form 5500s. this eventuially lead to a job in HR and 401(k) administration. Bottom line answer is "You're kidding?"|
|I was an elementary education major. I learned to work well with others, be respectful of the organizational heirarchy, and to always review your work before you turned it in. I would say it prepared me just as well as (or better than) my three years of law school!|
|It depends on what I am doing. I was torn between a computer-related or Englis-related major. I wound up majoring in Communications. Most of my post-college career has been focused on Payroll ---- I became involved in Payroll while working my way through college. After graduation it was much easier getting a job in a field in which I had experience (and enjoyed). I am now the Manager of Payroll & Benefits. As much as I love working with numbers, logic and analysis, I really enjoy the opportunities I get to focus on communicating information to employees.|
|Well...I originally went to art school, then became an accounting major before realizing I needed to be in communications. My current job is a perfect fit for my communications degree, but a far cry from my original plan. That being said, I frequently tap into my accounting and design background in other areas of my job/life. No education is wasted.|
|401k/Retirement Plans Wholesaling 101 wasn't on the curriculum when I went to college, but I was a communications major and those skills have come in handy throughout my career.|
|Not even close|
|Oddly, it fits. I was a double major in English & philosophy, so I can understand totally illogical ideas.|
|I have a double major in Comparative Literature and Ancient Civilization (but started as a math major). Spent 13 years in bank audit and now 13 years in compliance. In my majors I learned about recurring literary themes and how history repeats itself. In my career, it's all about learning from mistakes (ERISA, junk bonds, SOX, mutual fund scandal, etc.) and closing gaps so we don't repeat themes. In college I spent hours researching in and reading books; now I spend hours researching regulations on the internet and reading Federal Registers and newsletters. I'd say my majors are pretty good fit for my current job.|
|I double majored in Psychology (primarily Abnormal Psychology) and Criminology. Both of those majors are very useful at times, depending on the employees with whom I am interacting.|
|I choose about 80%. With many of my employees (and other managers), I, as an HR Manager, have to put to use techniques I learned in child psychology courses. Every once in a while my course work in deviant psychology comes in handy too.|
|I had a double major in Management and Marketing. I ended up doing record keeping and now I'm a Retirement Plans Specialist. But the lessons learned do apply to every day life. My majors helped me to understand strategies my employers had taken when they seemed out in left field to others.|
|My first degree dosen't fit. I went gack to school and my second degree is about a 90% fit.|
|I'm trying to complete my degree but it has absolutely nothing to do with my chosen career in employee benefits. I'm an English major, with a multlingual minor in Latin, French and Spanish. If only I could go full-time!|
|Accounting major, Director of Corporate Benefits, a fit on some days and a lot better than I could have hoped.|
|Majored in Spanish, work in investment technology - no overlap|
|My degree is in Secondary Mathematics Education, with a minor in History. I am still working with numbers and answering questions.|
|I tried to go to college several times, unfortunately, I had to stop so that I could earn enough to live. I never was able to complete any degree. My current job isn't even close to what I was studying. My husband was able to go to college and earn a doctorate. His job has nothing to do with his doctorate either.|
|Working with retirement plans is mostly on-the-job training. I started when I had no degree, but then realized that the lack of a degree was holding me back. So I went back at age 30 and got my business degree. My next employer said that my experience was what got me the job, but I contend that my resume would not have made it out of HR if I didn't have the degree.|
|Barely any connection at all|
|My major in college was Marketing. I read IRS and DOL regs for a living. unless I am trying to sell the IRS or DOL regs, it really is not applicable.|
|I didn't know what a TPA was when I went to college.|
|None - Why do you assume everyone went to college?|
|My 25th college reunion is this year. At this point in my career, I think the work experience far outweighs anything I could've learned in college! That said, my math degree got me my first job - as an actuarial analyst for corporate pension plans. And that led to my 25 year career with Hewitt in benefits outsourcing. I am now a senior manager with overall responsibility for servicing benefit plans for 15 clients. Honestly, I don't do much "math" at all anymore. From the perspective of a hiring manager, my two most important criteria are 1) good GPA at a good school (I want to hire smart people who work hard); and 2) demonstrated problem solving and team player skills. The major really doesn't matter much at all. (good luck with the search - I visited NYU last week with my younger daughter who's a high school sophomore. We have a lot more visits in our future!)|
|Though I still want to be a major league baseball player. Maybe the senior circuit...when they get around to it.|
|High School band director to CFO, public retirement system|
|No relation unless you consider the psychology part of it.|
For the last 20+ years I've been a recordkeeper, compliance analyst and manager over those that do that type of work. My first three years of college I was a chemistry major (Organic Chemistry). Then on discovering that chemists didn't make a lot of money and from the advice of my old Scout Master who was now the president of the local office of a national securities firm I started taking some business classes and ended up with a degree in Business management (Finance) with minors in Economics, Accounting and Chemistry.
So, how has that applied to what I'm doing - other than helping me understand the theory of interest and the basics of investments I think my chemistry helped more than the business. In chemistry (or most sciences) you have to be able to track multiple problems at one time and understand their inner relationships. You need to understand the rules of what is going on and you need to explain what just happened to just about anyone. As a TPA that is exactly what I do.
When I'm looking to hire people I like a scientific background to some extent. These people seem to handle the problems better. It's easy to teach them the rules they need to perform testing and they just accept the dependencies that some tests have on each other.
I'm not saying other backgrounds don't work and we have a lot of various backgrounds here in the office but I seem to get more production from those that like the challenge of deadlines and bad data from clients...
I got a BA in Religion and double minored in early childhood education and business administration.
While my Bible classes certainly enriched me personally, the only skills I learned in college
that are remotely applicable are the business ones. As my children pick majors (they are all 3 in college this year), I often wonder if they will change their minds also. I think its really a lot to expect for 18 year olds to know what in the heck they want to do the rest of their life. I didn't find my niche until I was in my mid-30s. My oldest is graduating with a degree in journalism and going on to grad school this year. But through the process, he changed majors 3 times. We'll see.
Science major in high school, Biology major in college, even some Masters courses in Biology; and now I'm in Benefits/Human Resources.... But I'm sure I'm not alone in this career anomaly....
How applicable is my college degree?
Not much at all...........BS in English Education; Masters in Educational Administration; PhD in Administration, Curriculum and Instruction.
After 13 years in education, I started in HR for a manufacturing company. The first year I was there I used to tell people my job didn't change much....now I was suspending the parents of the kids I used to suspend in middle school. After 25 years of on -the-job-training and moving up through the HR department, it is really only my writing and speaking skills that were honed in college and that help me now.
I have a Bachelors and Masters degree in elementary education with a minor in mathematics.
With all that wonderful education to become a teacher, I now program computers. (COBOL, UNIX, JAVA, etc.) Therefore, my college education has absolutely nothing to do with my current job.........
|My first graduate degree was also irrelevant to my eventual career I cheated when it came to my second graduate degree. I chose a tax major when I got my MBA, but I chose that about 5 years AFTER launching my career.|
|I believe a quality liberal arts (not liberal brainwashing) education is the best option. Followed by more specific graduate work if warranted.|
|As executive vice president, my business management major is very relevant to my position. However, I have spent most of my career in Human Resources which was the weakest class I took in college.|
|Working at a public pension fund is the perfect fit for someone like me who loves econ, politics, and public policy! (I am advising my soon-to-be applying for college neice to get a degree in math so she can be an actuary, though.)|
|Great question! I'm shopping for colleges with my daughter too! I am a CPA - and it is a very marketable designation. I have worked in public accounting, CFO, City Budget Manager, Utilities Rates analyst, Special Projects for the City Manager - and now Plan Sponsor! I have been very happy with my career path and I volunteer in a high school teaching financial literacy (and promoting the profession).|
|My Bachelor's of Arts degree was very general with only a concentration in HR, but I needed a degree of any kind to get assistance with head hunters, to be invited to interview, and to be selected for consulting assignments. Most companies I've come across just want to see a degree - no matter what kind it is - before they will even consider you for anything. A friend of mine who is a Marketing Director for a large pharmaceutical company has a degree in zoology.|
|a liberal arts degree does teach you how to think, which is good preparation for anything else you want to do in life. When I think back to how naive and protected I was at 17 (which is when I started college), it's amazing to me that I've somehow done so well.|
|this is a good one|
|As a Communications major I was taught "Don't bury the lead" when writing or speaking. Today that guiding principle still serves me well. If you make it hard for people to find the point you are makiing, you can't be a successful leader in any field.|
|While my actual major fits my job today, I started out in Political Science. After my freshman year I realized that I was not likely going to be able to pay the bills with PolySci, so I moved to Business.|
|I feel for your college quest - I was rather lucky - two years ago, my daughter and I visited my alma mater, University of California, Riverside and she fell in love with the campus. She's been accepted and starts in the fall - may go into mathematics - hmmm, theme repeat!|
|I'm going through the college tour period with my second son as well! So different from the first - they want different things - but he's a sophomore so we have a full year in front of us of checking out the schools. It would be fun if it weren't so stressful!|
|A college course that would help ALL majors is one on office politics. The young people of today think life is all about them and what they want. If their parents don't prepare them for the truth, the business world will. A course in thinking of the other guy first might help them face reality!|
|I enjoy the newletter, read it thoroughly and use certain articles often.|
|My job directly benefits from my college major in a way few people can claim. I wish it was more.... but I have yet to have a client ask me to derive the formula to calculate the volume of a sphere.|
|As far as I am concerned, a bachelor's degree is simply a license to learn - completing it shows that you have what it takes to dig through the irrelevant to get to what truly matters. In which case, my answer to the first question above should be a perfect fit.|
|Have fun college shopping!|
|What's the day we have to work to where we have earned the equalivalent in pay our annual tax liablity for the year? I believe it is usually sometime in May. I'm also curious as to what that day would be if the tax cuts were repealed.|
|Gosh, McCain makes ever so much sense on this. We're facing a horrific deficit, due mainly to ill-advised cuts and suspensions of taxes, we're trillions of dollars into a war we never should have been in, and every part of the government that could possibly help people is facing reduction in services or elimination. So let's decrease our income even *more*. Idiot.|
|I have always told my children that the degree doesn't matter so much as finishing the process! Another interesting question is who pays for college? And why?|
|I recently switched jobs and would like to start receiving newsdash at my new email address. How do I change it?|
|I found my "dream job" by interning as an actuarial student. I was working with an ERISA attorney on a plan merger and that is what prompted me to go to law school. I always thought I would be an actuary....since I was 8 years old and now I'm an ERISA attorney.|
|I was a math major who became an actuary, so people would think I use what I learned in school. WRONG! I rarely (if ever) use calculus, number theory, differential equations, etc. However, I did learn to think and analyze in a mathematical manner. I did learn how to learn new mathematical constructs - think PPA and FAS158. OTOH, my undergrad was so long ago that the Dewey Decimal System only had 8 numbers!!|
|Great survey question. It's something I've thought a lot about in the last couple of years.|
|While retired, I'm responding in my previous plan sponsor role. My engineering degree gave me grounding in the importance of process, which was invaluable in investment management and the management of ERISA-governed plans. I "minored" in journalism through 3 years on the school paper, which was valuable in providing the structure for effective corporater written communication. Adding an MBA was just icing on the cake and got me in the door.|
|I wish I had known about actuarial acience when I was in college. I would have specialized then. With the math degree, I went into pensions, but didn't want to take exams. So I am still in pensions, but could have done better...|
Yesterday I reported on how directly applicable readers thought their college major was to their current job, and how many would, if they could, change that major.
Many wouldn't, of course (see SURVEY SAYS: How Relevant is Your College Major?) - but I asked those who would what they would change that major to.
There were a lot of liberal arts majors affirming the wisdom of their decision - but the major that respondents were most likely to want to change to - was business. In fact, if you add together those that actually picked "business" ( 18% ), those who opted for "finance" ( 10% ), and those who elected "accounting" ( 5% ) - well, you can do the math. A clear plurality, though not close to a majority.
The next closest was law, pre-law, or paralegal - which, combined, garnered 10% . Just over 7% say they would be inclined to opt for some kind of computer/technology focus.
"Change of" Scenery
At that point, for the very most part, I'm guessing (based on the responses) that readers who wanted to change majors - also wanted to change careers. In fact, one reader noted, "I would change my choice of careers before changing my major". There was a "medicine" grouping - 13% of the responses, IF you add together pre-med, nursing, pharmacology, emergency medicine, optometry, and general health care.
Just over 4% mentioned architecture - which actually tied with "still trying to figure it out." Roughly 3% each chose biology, economics (though that could arguably be in the business category above), teaching, journalism, mathematics (though some of those were surely interested in beefing up their actuarial bona fides, and another 2% explicitly chose actuarial science), and public administration.
Also on the list - but barely - were: astronomy, English, culinary arts, art, photography and psychology.
I'll leave you with this comment - from one of this week's respondents; "I can't imagine a person whose foresight is better than hindsight. I've pondered different job situations and tried to imagine a "stress-free" occupation. All I can come up with are Forest Ranger and Photo Booth attendant (do they still have those drive-up booths in parking lots where you drop off film to be developed?). If I could pick again, I'd be a Forest Ranger... except for the bugs, and the snakes, and the wild animals, and the lack of air conditioning, and the lack of bathroom facilities... Maybe trophy wife would be a better career."
Thanks so much to everyone for participating in this week's survey(s) - and for all the interesting and insightful comments!
As a bonus question in yesterday's Survey Says , I noted Senator John McCain's recommendation of a suspension of the federal gasoline tax - from Memorial Day to Labor Day - and asked readers if they knew how much that would be.
More than a quarter did (27.7%) - but more than half (51%) admitted they "had no idea."
The correct answer - 18.4 cents/gallon. And that's just the federal taxes.