Many college students in the twenty first century come to a university with the idea of learning a specific skill. Perhaps the student wants to become a doctor, a pharmacist, a teacher, a computer specialist, or a journalist, a diplomat, a financial analyst.
With a little luck these students will achieve their ultimate goal.
The road to that goal is sometimes a straight line. However, just as often the route is circuitous.
On May 20, 2013, Brad Plummer wrote a report that was published in the Washington Post that said only 27 percent of college graduates were able to find a job in a field that related to their degrees. The converse of that statistic is that 73 percent of college graduates are not working in field that directly relates to their major subject.
Brad Plummer is a very successful journalist. His college major was Mathematics.
Jenna Goodreau, a journalist for Forbes Magazine, offered this advice to a high school student aspiring to be a writer. She recommended pursuing a double major, Journalism and something completely unrelated to Journalism.
Liz Ryan, also a Forbes Magazine writer, wrote an article published on March 2, 2016 listing 12 qualities employers are looking for in a job applicant. The willingness to learn something new and the ability to problem solve were among qualities most important to a potential employer.
Jeffrey Selingo, a journalist for the Washington Post, in an article published February 2, 2015 quoted Wesleyan University President Michael Roth, “It doesn’t matter what you take in college, it matters what you do,” Roth said. “You should be able to show your teachers, and then anyone else, how what you’ve made in a class, what you created, demonstrates your capacity to do other things and what you’re going to do next.”
The Dean of the Notre Dame Law School delivered an address to the students of a high school not too far from Seton Hall. Her advice to high school students who wanted to become lawyers was to study as many different subjects as possible in college. She even emphasized the advantages of taking courses completely unrelated to law. She explained that studying a specific discipline gives you knowledge, but doesn’t teach you how to think or solve problems.
Condaleeza Rice in 2001 served as national security adviser to President Bush. In 2005 President Bush appointed her to the office Secretary of State.
Ms. Rice started her college education as a music major hoping to become a concert pianist.
However after a few years studying music she decided that she should study Political Science.
She also had a fascination with the Russian language. Her ability to speak Russian enabled her to stand out among the many Political Science majors looking for a job in Washington and was probably a major factor that led her to the third highest office in government. After a very successful career in politics she returned to the music world and is now enjoying a career as a concert pianist.
On my last visit with my primary care doctor we talked about music. He told me that medical schools look very favorably upon students with the ability to play a musical instrument because it develops dexterity, a very important attribute for an aspiring surgeon.
To successfully engage the road to a goal it is necessary to have the ability to see and understand everything in front of you, to the left and right of you and even in back of you. And it helps to have a vehicle with four-wheel drive because two-wheel drive cannot always overcome the obstacles. The metaphor refers to the necessity of having many skills to get you where you’re going.
The powers of observation and comprehension are not an act of the will. A student doesn’t just decide to be observant or think analytically. The goal of a liberal arts education, among many other goals, is to enable students to develop these skills.
Adjunct Professor of Piano Studies