Specialized College Majors: High Risk and High Reward
Business majors that pursue accounting degrees, journalism students who focus on broadcasting, and nursing students who spend more time in clinics than classrooms often eschew diverse classloads in order to hone very specific skills applicable to a narrow set of jobs. Though specializing within your major may seem like the fast track to a job and competitive salary immediately after graduation, many career counselors, hiring consultants, and academic officials think it's wise for students to diversify their undergraduate experience.
Spurred by the once-suffering and now slowly recovering economy, and new technologies that have caused a spike in demand for talent in narrow fields, some schools are placing an increased emphasis on specialization. For instance, The National Science Foundation estimates that around 2 million workers with nanotechnology-centric backgrounds in fields from medicine to engineering will be needed by 2014. To help meet this need, the University at Albany opened a College of Nanoscale Science. The school awarded its first Ph.D. in the field in 2004, and an undergraduate program was put in place last year.
The curricula for the nanoscience and nanoengineering students is steeped in broad, basic sciences like chemistry, biology, and physics in a student's first year. The later years are devoted to nanoscience or nanoengineering coursework.
The college's chief executive, Alain Kaloyeros, claims that first year students are already receiving internship offers from top technology firms, and that specializing on the undergraduate level will give students graduate-level expertise and desirable employment opportunities during and immediately after college. "We train them not to memorize, but, even at the undergraduate level, how to use their brain, how to be analytical," he says. "They're all being offered internships for the summer with IBM, Intel, you name it."
For students with a sharp focus and well-defined passion, programs like Albany's can propel them to the career they've long desired, experts say. However, unless you're completely certain that your heart is in your specialty, career counselors warn that students should give themselves time to carve a path as they mature. "You should specialize only when you know what you want to specialize in," says management consultant Nick Vaidya. "It is a [backward] way of thinking to specialize prematurely just to get into a job."
Certain professions will require a great deal of specialization during the latter years of undergraduate study. For biomedical engineers, computer scientists, and quantitative analysts, among others, the bulk of their high-level classes as upperclassmen will need to be geared specifically toward their profession, says Cheri Butler, president of the National Career Development Association, and the associate director of the University of Texas -- Arlington 's career center. And while these specialized programs are effective at training students for jobs in those fields, they require that students be passionate about what they're learning, as they offer little room for diversity in the job search.
A 2009 survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities indicates that employers most value skills like effective communication, critical thinking, and problem solving -- so-called "soft skills" that can be molded to fit nearly any task or work environment -- more than they do skills that require precise training, such as statistical analysis. "Technical skills are typically not in the top 10 characteristics that an employer looks for in a hire," Butler notes. "An employer will say, 'If you don't have some of the technical knowledge that we need, we can teach you that.'"
But for the majority of students who don't have an idea of what they want to do, they should expand their undergraduate experience so they're not trapped in a track that doesn't fit, some school officials say.
"Some -- not many -- know at age 5 [that] they're going to be a doctor, and that's great," says Tori Haring-Smith, president of Washington & Jefferson College . "[But] 18-year-olds rarely know what it is they want to do in life."
Available on Amazon.com:
- Dear Class of 2011: Good Luck You're Really Going to Need It
- Americans Split on Value of a College Degree
- Specialized College Majors: High Risk and High Reward
- YouTube Goes to College
- Last-Minute College Options Abound for Fall 2011
- Not Too Late to Find a Summer Job or Internship
- Financial Aid 101: Fill Out the FAFSA
- Pros and Cons of a Post-graduation Gap Year
- WikiLeaks Copycat to Expose Universities' Dirty Laundry
- 7 Biggest Money Mistakes College Graduates Make
- Where the M.B.A. Jobs Are
- Commencement Speakers to Inspire
- What Potential MCAT Changes Mean for Premed Students
- Educators Rethink Teacher Training
- Top Ways to Save Money At College
- Customize and Digitize Your College Education
- Online Education May Transform Higher Ed
- Solving Our School Problems Not a Matter of Gimmicky Ideas
- 10 College Classes That Impact the Outside World
- Don't Settle When Choosing an Internship
- How to Accept College Rejection
- Colleges Bring Campuses to Facebook
- Get Educated about Student Loan Repayment Options
- 10 Steps to Picking the Right College
- Treat Your Career Like a SmartPhone
- Child-Friendly College Programs for Parents
- Online Law Schools Have Yet to Pass the Bar
- Is It Time to Go Back to School?
- A Harvard Education Is Not As Advertised
- The College That Rejects You May Be Doing You a Favor
- College Rejections Are Not the End of the World
- Is Everything We 'Know' About School Reform Wrong?
- Potential Cuts to Pell Grant Could Affect Students in 2011
- Executive MBA Pay and Demand on the Rise
- How to Evaluate College Financial Aid Options
- Graduate Schools Quantify Your Potential
- AP Science and Math Enrollment Surges
- 4 Tips to Learn a Foreign Language in College
- In My Opinion, I Am Mother, Hear Me Roar
- School Choice Is the Most Critical Civil Rights Issue of Our Time
- 6 Steps to Beating the Shortage of Financial Aid
- Cheaper Student Loans, But Shortage of College Grants Likely in 2011 and 2012
- Your Professor, Your Computer, and You
- Reach Your Goals More Quickly: Use Incremental Change
- Searching for 'Perfect Fit' College Can Be A Big Mistake
- Best and Brightest Teachers Key to Solving U.S. Education Crisis
- 'Tiger Mom' Offers Clues to Race Gaps
- M.B.A. Programs Go Global
- New Website Streamlines College-Aid Application
- Law Students Rank Their Future
- Resolutions That Could Lower Your College Tuition
- Where the Fortune 500 CEOs Went to College
- Get Into Business School: Work Experience
- Get Into Business School: Letters of Recommendation
- Get Into Business School: Admissions Essays
- M.B.A. Hiring Trends Improve in 2010
- Spanish Classes Thriving in U.S. Colleges
- Where to Start if You Want to Be a Rhodes Scholar
- M.B.A. Programs Are Biting Apple's iPad
- Business Schools Add New Entrepreneur Programs for MBA Students
- Unique MBA Programs Build Leadership Skills
- How Changes to the GMAT Will Affect You
- 6 Tips for GMAT Test Success
- How to Get In: Old Dominion University College of Business and Public Administration
- How to Get In: Loyola University Chicago Graduate School of Business
- How to Get In: University of Louisville College of Business
- How to Get In: University of Hawaii Shidler College of Business
- How to Get In: George Mason University School of Management
- How to Get In: University of Florida Hough Graduate School of Business
- How to Get In: Babson College F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business
- How to Get In: University of Virginia Darden School of Business
- How to Get In: University of Connecticut School of Business
- How to Get In: Syracuse University Martin J. Whitman School of Management
- How to Get In: University of Richmond Robins School of Business
- How to Get In: Wake Forest University Graduate School of Business
- How to Get In: The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School
- How to Get In: Brandeis University International Business School
- More M.B.A. Graduates Will Get Jobs in 2010
- Tips to Picking Your Ideal Online MBA
- 6 Tips for GMAT Test Success
- 8 Tips for GRE Test Success
- GRE Fast Becoming GMAT Alternative for B-School Applicants
- Business Schools' Great Ethics Debate
- You Can Work Your Way Through 11 Grad Degrees
Copyright © 2011 U.S. News & World Report. All rights reserved.