Getting Entrepreneurial with Your Major

A student came in this week interested in one of the great, though struggling industries – magazine publishing. This student is quite bright and curious, but I had to caution that the publishing industry is struggling and jobs are scarce in the field. While choosing the right major is important, the student is interested in journalism, I suggested that what is more important is obtaining the right skills and standing out. The student may be able to do that through the journalism major, but that isn’t the only option.

This particular student is interested in fashion magazines. Since Sex and the City many young women dream of heading to NYC to write thrilling articles about fabric, accessories, and trends. That dream is doable, but no major alone is going to produce that result. To even land the internship that leads to that kind of job this student will need experience. She’s landed an internship for the summer, but I also stridently urged her to make a name for herself. With all of the resources on campus for funding, and the world wide web, a fashionista without clips or a web presence is doomed.

Our campus newspaper doesn’t have a fashion writer. I suggested she pitch herself. Maybe she should start a blog, or a podcast. Whatever the method one chooses for distinguishing herself she should know that employers are indeed looking for go-getters. Employers haven’t had training programs for new employees since the 1980s, and especially not in competitive fields. They want people to be ready to go on day one. This reality is not always fair because job seekers then must shoulder huge costs trying to get their foot in the door, but knowing that the market is as it is helps one to plan accordingly.

In choosing a major, and job seeking, the world is almost like seeking out a romantic partner.

  • Employers want someone interesting and different, and not just another person like the one they already have or the one they just fired. BE YOURSELF.
  • Just like a particular outfit can get you noticed on the quad, so can the great internships or experience get you noticed in a pile of resumes. If you created a job for yourself then even better! You’ve already shown leadership. Continue to amass experiences that fit your interests and the type of work you want to do.
  • There is no set formula for snagging the job. An employer likes what they like and there is no guaranteed combination of major or experience that does the trick.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Explore Early

The chance to open your mind is in fact what a great deal of what a college education is supposed to be about. However, that doesn’t mean that you should not also consider your future.

Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory
Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

College is a great and wonderful place to discover new things. You may not have known that you were interested in geology until you had to take it because it was the only class available that fit into your General Education Requirements.  The chance to open your mind is in fact what a great deal of what a college education is supposed to be about.  However, that doesn’t mean that you should not also consider your future.

Students who plan on going into specific professions have very specific requirements.  For example, the student know absolutely knows that they are pre-med must take classes such as organic chemistry early on in the collegiate careers so that they can get to the more advanced courses that are required of students who want to take the medical school entrance exam in their junior year.  Also, engineers must take several courses in mathematics before ever starting courses in their major.  The student who discovers that they are interested in either of these majors well into their college careers could be forced to spend longer than necessary at school.

As an English professor, I can only hope that you take the time to enjoy some fabulous course in literature if you’re into the sciences.  Conversely, I hope that all of the humanities and social science majors find the time to take more than the required number of courses in either the natural sciences or a professional program like business.  However, exploration also has it limits.  In order to ensure that you can graduate in four years, be eligible for internships, and start building a relationship with a faculty mentor it is important to make the decision in what you want to pursue at least for the first phase of your life.

Not all education is good education

In “Education is the Key to Success” I discussed the merits of the argument that an education should guarantee you a job.  I contend that it is important to obtain some form of college education.  However, it is imperative that students know exactly what type of education they are getting, and from whom they are receiving it.  As the New York Times points out in “In Hard Times, Lured into Trade School and Debt,” not all schools are created equal.

How much is too much to pay?

There are many “schools” out there promising students the opportunity of a lifetime.  They recruit, and recruit hard.  They call you constantly. They email you daily.  Yet, what they are offering may actually be fools gold.  Before signing up to go to any college or university you need to do serious homework.

Some schools are known as “diploma mills”.  These are schools where you do very little to earn your degree besides pay tuition.  While this might appeal to some people, they are highly upset when the realize that these “degrees” have no weight in the business world.  Employers and graduate schools know a fraud when they see it. Diploma mills are often nationally accredited if accredited at all.  Keep in mind that it’s not national accreditation you want; instead you’re looking for regional accreditation.  This is important.  Accreditation is a process through which schools recognize each other.  It means that the school has been evaluated and it is agreed upon that the members of that body will accept each others credits.  Look up the schools you have heard of and you’ll find that they are regionally accredited, not nationally, and this means that these schools only recognize other regionally accredited schools.  If you try to apply to let’s just use Harvard University for graduate school, and your degree is from a nationally accredited institution, they will reject you without looking at any of the rest of your application.  Be sure to ASK about accreditation because even major schools have lost it before.

However, other schools that are properly regionally accredited schools still promise the moon and charge you the sky to deliver.  As discussed by this article, people who are going for trade school certificates are starting to be fleeced, and often they don’t even have a final credible credential to show for it.  One rule of thumb I tell prospective students is that if the school is trying too hard to get you to sign up quick, fast, and in a hurry then the hairs on the back of your neck should stand up.  Look for what they aren’t telling you.  What happens if you decided to sign up for classes and want to drop them?  Can you get your money back?  What is the refund policy? What is the institution’s placement rate after graduation? (Although in this economy everyone is having troubles in this area.)  How much is the tuition in comparison to other colleges and universities?  A 40 thousand dollar per year education, from a little known school may not be worth the sticker price.

A successful college experience centers within your ability to be sure that whatever college you attend, whatever degree or trade school certificate you earn that you can come out of the experience with a debt load you can manage, and a credential that has some long term potential for growth.  You’re going to have to get out there and ask tough questions, filter through long-winded answers, and with hope, find the right fit for you.

Spring is recruitment season

Spring semester is the time when students beg professors to hold classes outside  if they go to class at all!  It is super easy to go from stellar student in the winter to spring slacker because you are  dying to get outside after being bundled up in a coat for months.  Your

Spring Fever

friends may be hanging out in front of the library or in the grass on the campus quad.  However, the wise student knows that the spring signals an even more important time of the year – recruitment season.

Every year college career service offices work hard to bring employers to campus to work with their students.  A college’s reputation rests on many things, and the rate of employment placement  of its students is one of the most important.  Right now employers are looking for their final hires for summer internships and new permanent hires.  Don’t wait until May graduation to begin looking for a job!

These tough economic times call for students to be super proactive, and there are a few keys to being successful.  First, get to know your professors.  Every employer is going to want recommendations.  If your professors don’t know who you are then they are going to give you lukewarm references if they agree to give you one at all.  Professors you’ve had in the past are great as well.  Go visit them and update them on how you’re doing. If you’ve been a classroom wallflower then bone up on how to impress your instructors here.

You should also visit the career services office.  These offices typically have the counselors who can help spruce up your resume, and

Time to Visit Career Services

provide you with the latest information on who is hiring on your campus.  Show the initiative by making an appointment, and dressing well when you stop by.  Remember they are trying to sell the college to employers, and not necessarily you.  Make it easy for them to recommend you instead of the next person.

Lastly, check in with your network.  Do your parents have contacts they can introduce you to?  How about your neighbors?  What about your high school teachers?  Landing a position in a down economy is about having both the right credentials, and then having those credentials reviewed by the hiring manager.  If someone recommends you for a internship or job then your resume may go to the top of the pile.  Don’t be obnoxious and demand that someone help you, but it can pay off to shoot a well crafted email or pay a visit to those who have known you and helped you along the way.

Still searching for the field you love?  No worries, see “Preparing for employment” for ways you can begin thinking about building the experience and knowledge necessary to compete.