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Lynn O’Shaughnessy, higher education journalist, author of The College Solution, and expert on all things college and financial at the College Solution Blog and CBS Money Watch, recently wrote a thought-provoking piece called “8 Reasons Not to Get A Business Degree.” I highly recommend Lynn’s post for college students wrestling with the daunting task of choosing a  major. I was intrigued to find that employers favor liberal arts majors because of their critical thinking, communications and teamwork skills.

That said, how can a liberal arts major prepare for a job in the real world?

1. Prepare for a career in the same content area as your major. This is the most direct, purist approach, not requiring that you think outside the box. It also requires great passion, superior talent to your peers, and perhaps a graduate degree in the field, since many content areas are highly competitive with few available positions.

Examples include: a music conservatory performance major seeking a job in a major symphony; an English major aspiring to earn a PhD and become a professor at an elite college; an archaeology major aiming to become the next Indiana Jones; an astrophysics major seeking to become an astronaut.

2. Translate your major into a more broadly saleable version of your content area. This approach keeps you  involved with the content area you love, with less risk about the prospects of making a living. There are more positions, so you don’t have to be a freak-of-nature prodigy with perfect luck to succeed. It requires thinking ahead and taking additional courses, choosing a specific concentration in the major, or a graduate degree.

Examples include: a music major who takes the music education track and gains teaching certification; a chemistry major who concentrates in food science to work in R&D for a food manufactuer; a criminal justice major who earns a law degree aspiring to become a district attorney.

3. Transfer the core skills required in your major to a more broadly salesable content area drawing upon the same fundamental competencies. Sometimes two content areas that appear very different on the surface actually have deep underlying similarities, in terms of the fundamental skills required and the thought patterns involved. This kind of transfer is really thinking outside the box!

This approach almost always requires additional undergraduate coursework, or a certificate or graduate degree that adds a brand new layer of content skills that is integrated with the original content area based on their inherent compatibility. This is the classic idea of the liberal arts college grad who gets an MBA, with a natural link between the undergraduate major and area of concentration chosen in graduate business school.

Examples include: a psychology major who transfers his capacity to understand human behavior and decision-making into a career in marketing; a mathematics major who transfers her analytical ability into a career in financial analysis, economic forecasting or intelligence cryptology; a theater major who transfers his ability to captivate an audience into a career in sales or public relations; an art history major who transfers her visual, conceptual orientation into a career in advertising.

A New Educational Fusion. In his thoughtful response to Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s blog, Daniel L. Everett, Dean of Arts & Sciences at Bentley University, a business-oriented school, discussed how undergraduate institutions are combining liberal arts foundations with business training. In my view, this is an encouraging direction. There are even schools where you don’t begin a BBA program until junior year, such as Emory University (Goizueta Business School). In the first two years, students satisfy liberal arts requirements, trying prerequisites like accounting to see if they possess a business skillset.

Educational fusion does not only apply to business. Many liberal arts colleges have 3-2 programs with engineering schools, to train engineers with a Renaissance educational foundation (imagine that!). In a recent US News & World Report article, Lynn O’Shaughnessy also reports on that educational development. I believe there are opportunities to combine liberal arts with many types of  “practical” training programs at the undergraduate level. The possibilities are endless…

What about a 3-2 culinary program, so an intellectual undergraduate could enjoy a world-class liberal arts foundation, and then gain professional training for another passion that is more directly related to employment? And become a true “Renaissance chef?” Brown University has teamed up with Rhode Island School of Design with a dual degree program for the truly sophisticated artist. Just to keep it all in Providence RI, how about Brown teaming up with Johnson & Wales’ College of Culinary Arts?

Don’t hold your breath on too many wild, creative partnerships like this between undergraduate institutions. It may be up to the student to create one’s own education through an undergraduate degree, certificate programs and graduate degrees. But it can be much more interesting than just majoring in business!

Relevant reading: Smart Moves for Liberal Arts Grads: Finding a Path to Your Perfect Career by Sheila J. Curran, From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology by Donald Asher, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career by Katharine Brooks, Now What? The Young Person’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Career by Nicholas Lore.

Related posts: Getting a Job with a Lackluster GPA, Your College’s Career Center, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, What Is Informational Interviewing? and College Internship and Entry Level Resumes. From my other blog: Why Study Liberal Arts in College?

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Like a broken record, your parents keep nagging: “Have you gone over to Career Services yet?” Automatically, you don’t want to go there. It’s like a sugary Pollyanna suggesting you skip down to the public library to find a book when it’s so much easier to download that book to your Kindle.

It sounds even more lame when the guys in your fraternity tell you it’s worthless, even though they themselves have never gone over there (they just listened to their frat bro’s who have never gone either).

The reasoning goes something like this: “University career center counselors are most likely bureaucratic paper pushers who probably couldn’t get a better gig themselves. So how can they help me anyway?” How good the career counselors are ultimately depends on your college’s local job market. But that’s not why you go there. Here are the proverbial three reasons to visit your university’s career center, early and often:

1. Infrastructure. The college career center is a ready-made venue that hosts career and job fairs; where companies that are specifically interested in your college’s students make informative presentations; and where you can register to interview for  jobs. If your college is in a remote rural location, or even if it is in a urban  area, but not in one of the USA’s professional meccas, how do you think you are going to be able to interview during your busy semester if you don’t do it on campus? That would be expensive, time consuming, stressful… most likely, it won’t happen.

So we are talking major convenience and efficiency here. Conversely, if you fill out an online application, and then, by some miracle, your credentials are so superior to those of thousands of applicants that you land an interview, then you have to travel to the company’s headquarters for the next step in the process.

2. Job Hunt 101. To participate in this convenient infrastructure, you have to register, take a few fun career tests, sit through a workshop, do a mock interview, and develop resumes and cover letters that fit its system. It is like taking another distribution requirement, and more useful than, say, astronomy as a lab course.

Although it all seems pretty intuitive, why re-invent the wheel? Job search techniques are life skills that your college career center is offering you for free (or at least as part of your $50K per year college price). It’s a fair trade for use of instant infrastructure!

3. Broadening Your Horizons. Isn’t that why you are in college, anyway? If you already knew everything about, say, anthropology, why bother to take the course? It’s the same with careers, industries and companies. At the career center, you are presented with a landscape of what is out there, already organized into a syllabus. Firms interested in hiring undergraduates have sought out your campus, to present information to you and then interview you. You don’t have to be particularly savvy to identify industries and companies that might be good bets for jobs. It is all done for you at the career center.  All you have to do is show up.

Relevant reading: What Color Is Your Parachute for Teens: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future by Richard N. Bolles, Getting from College to Career : 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollak, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something’s Guide to the Business World by Alexandra Leavit, and  From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology by Donald Asher.

Related posts: What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Er, InternshipWhy Should a College Student Be on LinkedIn?, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship… What To Do?, Best Wesbites for Careers in Finance, What Is Informational Interviewing? and College Internship and Entry Level Resumes.

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