A good friend of mine asked me to advise the daughter of a good friend of his about college and I gladly said yes. I spent 18 months much earlier in my career as the Associate Dean of Advisement and specialized in advising incoming students, both freshman as well as transfer. I recognize what an important difference advisement can make and am always willing to serve as an adviser. The daughter was interested in a very specialized niche area of business and also interested in a tiny college that specialized on that niche area. The young woman was just turning 18; she is not all that interested in higher education but she is very interested and highly motivated in making her mark in her intended field. The school she selected may be somewhat known in that niche area; it is certainly not known outside of that area. I am very familiar with many colleges and universities, especially in this area; her choice was one that I had never heard of.
Now I greatly admire her interest and determination to make her mark. Too few 18 year olds have a strong focus and too few really know what they want to do in their working lives. On the other hand, working in a niche area and being educated in only that area has its limitations. It is hard for me to remember back to when I was 18 but I am certain that I never thought of being an economist at that time and even more certain that I never considered working at a University. What I wanted to do and where I wanted to work evolved over time and by the middle of my doctoral education, I had made up my mind.
In talking to this young woman, her passion for working in the field she has chosen is clear and I spent no time at all questioning her decision. Instead I made two key points. First, keep an open mind toward other fields and other opportunities. Over time there may be another field that interests you and over time, opportunities in the field you have selected may become more robust, may remain as is, or may diminish and even dry up. No one comes with a crystal ball, keeping your options open is the next best thing to do. To keep your options open, a more general education is an important facilitator. Select a college or university that is at least somewhat well known and select a major that has more general applicability plus an internship in the niche area. That major, together with the internship, will serve you well in your niche area; it will also serve you well if interests and times change. By pursuing a more general major, you are often better positioned.
Now I’m not at all sure that my advice will be taken. I think it can be hard to change course when your passion has directed you toward one area and one goal. Passion often trumps practicality, but practicality when all is said and done usually carries the day.
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