Walking home from the grocery store this past Sunday, I listened with interest to an NPR radio piece on relationship between the chosen majors of recent college graduates and their employability. The piece highlighted the need for more thoughtful career counseling—Would you major is Communication Studies if you knew graduates of that field faced an unemployment rate of 8%?
That line of thinking is missing the point of a career. It’s not just a numbers game. It should be what you love to do.
You should major in what makes you feel your most curious and your most creative, then make it your mission to meet everyone who is anyone during your four years as an undergraduate—offline and online.
Career counseling should be thought of as relationship counseling, and you shouldn’t feel limited by their campus, city, or country. Vital relationship building matters as much, if not more, than what you study. You must pound the pavement and the keyboard to make a career happen.
As Nathan Heller writes for The New Yorker in his piece, Laptop U, “Bill Clinton, a lower-middle-class kid out of Arkansas, might have received an equally distinguished education if he hadn’t gone to Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale, but he wouldn’t have been President.”
It’s not just what you study, it’s who you know. This isn’t news. No Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale for Bill, no network of the rich and the connected.
But you don’t have to go to Yale to know the right people: you just have to prioritize building relationships over four years in college as much as you prioritize making the grade.
Case in point: Professor Burt Swersy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute teaches an undergraduate course called Inventor’s Studio. As Ian Frazier writes in Form and Fungus in the same issue of The New Yorker mentioned above, Swersy compels his students seek out people as they vet their ideas and refine them for the course: “Getting out there and talking to people is absolutely critical,” he said. “If you don’t get out and talk to people, your grade is going to suffer.”
Talking to people forms relationships. Relationships open doors. Open doors lead to jobs.