Your college degree ain’t worth what it used to be. Gone are the days when a college degree represented the gold standard of education – and students are looking desperately for ways to distinguish themselves. At the same time, students have developed a perception that modern careers require a diverse skill set. The result has been an emphasis on loading up a transcript with double majors, extra minors and dual concentrations to cover one’s bases and build career fall-back plans into one’s education. The goal of a secondary field of study is either to increase professional appeal or learn a new subject. Not only are these approaches only marginally degree-enhancing, but they end up breeding students who graduate as jacks of all trades – yet masters of none. Students should forget about a secondary field of study and instead look towards D.C.’s unique opportunities to acquire a diverse set of experiences that serve to distinguish them from every other college student in America.
For most fields, the professional world agrees. In the eyes of an employer, a college degree has simply become a check mark on a resume. Most employers don’t scrutinize your education, and consequently won’t notice your secondary fields of study, either. I have watched as my interviewer literally folded my resume in half to display only the most recent work experience.
Last week, I met a student who was majoring in Psychology and minoring in both exercise science and religion. On paper, this student should be applauded – clearly, he’s motivated enough to go beyond the minimum and shows an interest in learning. But what are his true intentions? If they are to become more professionally appealing, he would be better off performing research with a psychology professor, let alone interning and building contacts at organizations like the American Psychological Association. If his intentions were to diversify his knowledge set, the first-hand knowledge gained at either aforementioned experience will outweigh classroom education every time.
The reality may be that this student is stalling for time; unsure of what he wants to do in life. He’s trying to demonstrate on his transcript – in the most official way he knows how – that he has many interests. It’s perfectly acceptable to be 20 years old and unsure of which career path you want to follow – in fact, I’d argue that everyone should explore their interests and life’s different paths. Yet this student is succumbing to the prevailing attitude among many college students of indecision and borderline laziness. At GW, internships in numerous fields are so abundant that they truly can take the place of minors. Time spent fulfilling requirements for a secondary field is time not spent experiencing those fields in real time and in the real world. Additionally, these professional experiences won’t just teach you what type of work you want to do-it can also enlighten you as to what type of work you don’t want to do.
I too am guilty of shifting interests among various studies, but my interning experiences have lent to my knowledge on this topic. Although I originally came to GW to study business, I quickly became taken by politics. I had no idea in what capacity I wanted to work in the field, but I have since interned for a member of Congress, as well as at CNN and a lobbying firm. Each experience has provided me with a different perspective on the legislative process and helped me build a dynamic knowledge of politics without having ever set foot in a GW political science course.
Ultimately, the value of GW resides less in a sole reliance on academics than in the entire “GW experience,” which consists of learning as much from living in the nation’s capital as from sitting in a classroom. While the University could arguably encourage students to take advantage of “experimental learning” through more reasonable credit incentives for internships, any change in the near future is unlikely. Until then, however, GW students should not waste their four years at GW on second and third areas of study, but should instead get out and explore their interests in the real world through volunteering or interning for organizations. With this knowledge, the student body can leverage GW’s location to the fullest, and build a résumé that is the envy of all college graduates – even if it means taking fewer classes to do so.
The writer is a junior majoring in business administration.