Dear New Shrink,

My son is currently a sophomore in college and although he is not sure about his career plans, he believes he has talked a lot about working in business. Given the amount of loans he has to take out to fund his education, I want to make sure that he is successful in securing a job after graduation. We have heard conflicting advice about the best subject to major in to secure an entry-level job. Are certain degrees more adaptable than others given the current job market? Is it best for my son to study business administration or something more specific like finance or accounting? Perhaps I am overthinking this, but it seems like now is the time to start planning.

Signed,

Major Mom

Dear Major Mom,

Majors that require and teach students critical thinking and analytical skills tend to produce entry-level candidates who are best prepared for today’s job market. Ultimately, an undergraduate degree provides a student with a basic overview of that general subject matter. In my opinion, students should explore majors that will allow them to build on their personal strengths while also gaining abilities in those skill areas that are most desired by top employers, including communication skills, analytical skills, problem solving skills and teamwork.

More important than the major is how well the student can market that major. Specialized majors often have faculty who are familiar with the professional industry and can educate students about the key skills that employers are looking for. I have found that students who are best able to articulate their specialized skills and abilities are most likely to be successful in the job search.

Business administration provides a great foundation and can be a good option for a student who is interested in “business” but has not yet narrowed down which aspect they would like to pursue as a career. Because the degree provides a general overview, it can be a great way for a student to determine their true career passion by testing out their interests. Some schools allow students to attain a degree in business administration and select a concentration or focus in another area like finance or marketing, which can be a great way to get a well-rounded education while also gaining basic skills in a more specific area.

For some industries, like accounting, there are specific state guidelines dictating the amount of coursework and hours a student must complete to become licensed or certified. Students interested in accounting should explore the state requirements and determine whether they can meet those requirements with a general business administration major and a minor or if they need to fulfill a major in accounting to meet the requirements for the CPA exam in their state.

Career-focused training can be beneficial for students who have a strong sense of their career goals. The coursework is generally focused towards the technical skills required for the field and students often have practical opportunities to apply their skills through internships or fieldwork experiences. Candidates with specific technical skills can fare well in the job search, especially if they are effective in marketing that skill and connecting their unique abilities to the needs of the employer.

Given the challenges of today’s job market, it is important for students to consider the versatility of their degree. Ultimately, students should be concerned about selecting a major that will teach them a variety of skills, especially communication skills. Employers are often open to hiring candidates from a variety of majors, but they are not willing to compromise on communication skills and an ability to think outside the box. Many managers believe that they can train new hires on the technical skills required to complete a job, but are not willing to take the time to teach responsibility, effective communication or teamwork.

KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com.

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