My advice to college students

This article was printed in the Boulder Daily Camera on August 27 2011 in response to the question:

What advice would you offer to today’s college freshmen, or college-aged young people? What words of advice do you wish you would have received at that age?

My friend Alex thought he wanted to be a software engineer. As a CU-Boulder student, he majored in computer science.  Since loved philosophy, he majored in that, too.

With computer science, Alex ensured he would graduate with marketable job skills. This may sounds obvious but apparently many students don’t share this view. According to economist Richard Vedder, “30 percent of the working college graduates in the U.S. … have jobs that do not require a college degree.”

By his senior year, Alex realized that instead of becoming a software engineer, he preferred a career in academia as a philosopher. He is currently completing his philosophy PhD at a top-ranked philosophy department.

So what’s my advice?  Choose an enjoyable “money” major that gives you marketable skill. If you’re most passionate about this major, great.  But if you’re more passionate about a less job-oriented field, make this your “fun” major or minor.

Pursue your “money” major as a backup, but also explore how to create a career doing what you love. Know who your heroes: people you admire, be they entrepreneurs, scholars, or artists. Learn their career paths. Talk to professors and alumni to figure out the next step toward emulating your heroes.

You might end up choosing a profession based on the “money” major while remaining a weekend amateur in your “fun” major.  But so long as it’s a conscious choice, rather than “doing what’s practical,” you won’t regret it. “Amateur” derives from the Latin “to love,” after all.

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