Saturday, January 10, 2009

Advice for the College Youth

I got an e-mail from Kyle asking about changing majors, and after writing the response I figured this would be decent advice for any college aged youths or youths contemplating college;

Hi Kyle,

Heh, thanks for reading. I am particularly grateful in that maybe my experience might do some good for a younger fella.

Here's the deal. Anything worth getting a degree in is going to take a lot of math. This means subjects such as engineering, computers, medicine, etc. It is not whether you "like" the subject you are majoring in as (especially in light of this economy) you cannot afford such a luxury. In other words, you may think majoring in something is "tough" but it is a much more difficult route to major in something that you may like and suffering trying to find a job for the rest of your days (consider a nerdy engineer who slaves and tolls to get his degree in 4 years vs. an teenage gangbanger who slacks off, over time the gang banger has a harder more difficult life). Ergo your desire to change majors is great.

As for the major itself, if you are going to go into economics, then don't even bother unless you plan to get your masters. A bachelors will not do. Additionally, being in economics, you will most likely work in the financial services industry which is basically corrupt and based on nepotism instead of skill. Getting a masters will allow you at minimum to teach at a 2 year community college (which is what I did for a while) where the politics and corruption are a mere faction what they are in banking. Do not have any grad illusions of being heard or having your work implemented. You do not have gray hair and you are not the husband of the vice president. You will be a cog in the banking machine (albeit a highly educated one)

If you are not willing to go all the way and get your masters, then a subject such as accounting or engineering or computers is the other routes to go. Those are 4 year degrees that will get you jobs. However, if you want more guidance all you have to do is look at starting salaries. The labor market will tell you what's in demand. Teachers start off at $32,000 per year . Chemical engineers I think are around $52,000 or so.

The final thing I'd recommend is this;

DO NOT WORRY IF IT TAKES YOU ANOTHER 3 YEARS TO GRADUATE. I am explaining this to you so you do NOT make the same mistake I did and therefore can have a better life. Learn from my mistakes, it's immensely cheaper. You may not like school. You may have a plan to get out in 4-5 years, but;

1. Nobody in the real world gives younger folk a chance, no matter how smart or educated you may be. A 45 year old baby boomer does not see a difference between a 22 year graduate and a 26 year old graduate. In their eyes you're all incompetent punks barely able to wipe their own asses (and based on the majority of leftist idiots graduating from college, they're right). Regardless, it is here you are a victim of your generation. An eagle surrounded by turkeys. You may as well spend your time getting a good degree AND ENJOYING IT. No need to rush. Take another 3-4 years in college. It's much more enjoyable. Chase girls, get drunk. And for god's sake, don't worry about your GPA. Just keep it above a 3.0 and you'll be fine.

2. The economy is shit and will continue to be shit. School is an ideal place to be.

Sorry to be so glum, but hopefully that will provide you a little bit of guidance above and beyond what the "student counselors" will.



Anonymous said...

Thanks, Captain.

I'm currently working my way back into college looking into a degree in Finance with a concentration in Economics. I've already decided getting my Masters was a route I was going to take, if not a pHD later in life. Teaching is something I've always considered. I've been told by multiple friends I should consider it since I tend to get passionate about subjects I enjoy and can explain them better than others. We'll have to see where I end up but I know it'll at least be in a position that I can do some good.

I have to admit, I was worried about taking too long in graduating because I can't go full time as I have to work to pay off past mistakes before my "waking up" to economic and fiscal reality.

That's definitely advice I don't think I'd have gotten from the career counselors here, they preach to follow what you love to do. If that's the case, I'd major in the art of playing video games and wasting time, unfortunately that doesn't work in the real world.

Thanks again.

CBMTTek said...


And, where were you when I was in college? I had to decide on my own to change majors from Communications to Engineering because I wanted to get a job when I graduated.

Anonymous said...

One thing to add - graduation from college just moves the education provider from a sheltered institution to the real world school of hard knocks. That's one reason new college hires don't generally start out in positions of influence.

It's the after college that the real education begins.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to add:

"Under no circumstances should you ever take a liberal arts course unless you absolutely have to, and then try not to pay attention or show up drunk"

Hot Sam said...

Econ is a great major, but pair it with a minor or double major in Finance, Accounting, or Math. Captain is right that a BA in Econ is almost worthless. You need an MA or PhD and PhDs are HARD and you have to enjoy research.

Finance and Accounting PhDs make the big bucks but they are harder.

In Econ though, if you have great quantitative skills you are golden! Learn SAS and SQL.

Econ, Engineering, Computer Science, Accounting, Finance, Architecture, Math, Statistics, Business, Biology/Chemistry, are all great. Everything else is a total load of crap.

Go through ROTC or OCS and become a military officer. It's a great job.

Take ballroom dance classes. Take martial arts. Learn to ice skate. Do an internship with a government agency or financial institution.

Try as many different beers as possible. Keep a list.

"There's a time and a place for everything. It's called college." - Homer Simpson.

Hot Sam said...

One more thing: having a PhD has almost NOTHING to do with teaching nowadays. Your worth is all about RESEARCH. Teaching is an afterthought.

Read research in Finance and Econ journals. If you don't think you'd enjoy writing that stuff, it is not worth getting the letters after your name.

Teaching is wonderful, but the market barely values it. That's why so many professors are so very bad at it.

Anonymous said...

Read research in Finance and Econ journals. If you don't think you'd enjoy writing that stuff, it is not worth getting the letters after your name.

That's correct. But don't give up too early. When I first saw Econ journal articles, I was shocked and thought it was boring. However, I have learned that those articles don't have to be boring, it's just that 80% of them are written so badly.

Anonymous said...'s_law

Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crap”. (originally known as Sturgeon’s Revelation)

Sturgeon wrote: “I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud”.

Shakespeare's Debtor (Aren't we all?)

Anonymous said...

Hey, it's not all doom and gloom out there. Parade Choreographer is the hot new career these days. Big bucks in that field.

Anonymous said...

Hey all,

I'm the person that sent the Captain the e-mail. I'm at George Washington U, I came in as an International Affairs major (the top program here) as a Freshman but I decided to double major in Econ because I've come to realize that even my IA degree from one of the best in the country for that degree is borderline useless. The best job I could hope to get is at the State Department - where I would make 30k a year, compared to the 30k it costs for me to go here, WITH a 50% tuition scholarship.

I didn't switch majors like some of you may have thought from the Captain's reply, I've decided to double major in econ, partly based off of the Capt.'s continuous bashing of useless majors. In particular I liked the graph that showed the typical major of a Playmate.

I do actually like economics, which is why I decided to double major in it. I had to take a macro and a micro course, and I loved (and did well) in both of them. That led to me to look up Captain's blog, as well as the blog Big thanks though to everyone who commented on this, I do have a government internship, one in the DOJ since I am contemplating Law school as well as getting a masers in Economics (or perhaps first the latter, and then the second).

And to the person who said I should do ROTC - I actually tried to as a high schooler, but medical disqualification.

And in reference to trying different beers - don't worry, we keep a list of different liquors we try and our opinions on them.

I (as well as other college students) do appreciate the advice given. It doesn't fall on deaf ears.

Anonymous said...

One more item you should have mentioned: take English courses, especially those involving composition. Most college graduates can't put together a coherent sentence. Being able to write in clear English will put you at the front of the hiring queue.

Hot Sam said...

Great point dtrum! Certainly you're not going to understand a lot of what you read in Finance and Econ journals off the bat, but that's where you are headed. The key is to understand that being a professor ain't about teaching in most places

Believe me, top researchers are worse teachers than writers, so much of a PhD program is self-teaching.

No one ever teaches you how to do research. The profession puts finished products in front of you and says, "Do stuff like this, or you're fired."

It's not all that bad - you find colleagues to work on papers with. But useful data sets for empirical work are very expensive and guarded by Cerberus. Theoretical work is suited only to the smartest people on the planet.

Look at what this Yale Econ major did with her life:

Anonymous said...

"Go through ROTC or OCS and become a military officer."
Notice no mention of the service academies, because they are just not worth it.

Anonymous said...

Look at what this Yale Econ major did with her life:

Wow! A hot female economist who cooks professionaly? Where do I have to send my marriage proposal to?

Hot Sam said...

Notice no mention of the service academies, because they are just not worth it.

You said it, I didn't.

I graduated from OCS. The only real officers dug latrines as an enlisted guy for a while. I taught ROTC.

For most West Pointers I've met, I wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire.

Joe said...

Old, old post, but worth commenting on.

So much of this I agree with. Some of my biggest life regrets thus far (I'm 29) are:

- Going to college immediately after high school. I believed that I "needed it" or else I'd simply be pushing back adulthood for an even less appealing alternative of working a crappy, low-wage job.
- Going immediately to a four year school. I could've spent more time researching jobs that my education could help me land (I was a math major, which was good, but I literally had no idea what to do with my degree besides possibly being an actuary). Moreover, think about how ridiculous it is that a suburban princess majoring in English has the same general career ideas as a Math major; teachers don't really bother to tell us what we can do besides stay in the academic nest egg.

Aaron's right; outside of a few industries (tech coming to mind), if you're under the age of 40, no one will take you seriously, so why waste your time killing yourself to join the rat race? Sadly, one other observation I've had is how tragically warped my generation is when it comes to expectations of a partner. The advice of "work hard but don't kill yourself" is completely lost, as it seems like women either want to marry whatever loser they happen to be in a relationship with at 23, or wait until they're 35 for the guy that is a C-level executive who still magically has tons of hobbies, a massive circle of friends, a bodybuilder physique, and likes to travel the world. "Taking your time" is a tough pill to swallow for a generation brainwashed into such polarized branches (either you're some run of the mill person, or diving head first into the rat race by 22, like I did).