Wheaton College career services: how to market a liberal arts degree

“Would you like fries with that?”

This quote hung in the air between my boss and me during the summer following my freshman year at Wheaton College. I had just told him I was majoring in communications, and he had a bit of trouble understanding the validity of a “bachelor of arts” degree. A few months later, I was speaking with my uncle, a very successful and practical lawyer, who advised me to “change my major to something actually useful.”

My heart sank, for my future all of a sudden looked very, very bleak. If Ben the golf pro and my lawyer uncle didn’t think I could make a living doing what I loved, what was I supposed to do? With my future spiraling before my eyes, my saving grace came out of the mouth of my other uncle at Christmas dinner that same year:

“If you have a passion for something, and you choose to pursue it, you will do it better than anyone else. If you can do something better than everyone else, you’d better believe there will be someone willing to pay you for it.”

My heart jumped for joy at this quote, much like it did while speaking with Wheaton College’s career services experts Ita Fischer and Dee Pierce a couple of weeks ago. Wheaton’s career services office agrees with my idealistic uncle, insisting liberal arts degrees are “extraordinary.” Career Services Director Ita Fischer encourages students to, instead of depending on a specialized degree, identify and embrace their personal and professional strengths during their undergraduate education in order to best adapt to a tumultuous job market. According to Fischer, recent grads will have 10 to 14 job changes by the time they’re 38, so here are a few ways Fischer and Pierce insist recent graduates can capitalize on an undergraduate liberal arts degree:

1)   Identify your strengths

Fischer says that identifying personal strengths is a crucial part of being marketable in an ever-changing marketplace. “Ninety-five percent of the students that come in this office say, ‘I want a people person job. I want a job where I can work with a variety of people every day.’ And I say, ‘Perfect – I’ve got it – you can be a toll booth attendant!’ And they say, ‘But, that’s not what I mean.’ But what do they mean? The size or mission of the organization has nothing to do with your feeling of purpose – if you get to use one of your strengths every day, you will get a sense of purpose in what you do.”

2)   Articulate your “dream job”

Fischer says it’s important to think of careers in specific terms. “We are big on a nuts and bolts Internet quiz that starts by asking students: ‘Would you rather be a nun, forester or bartender?’ This is a good one because it helps students see fields. This generation doesn’t see fields, they see companies – ‘I want to work at Google.’ Well, what do you want to do at Google?’ Think about departments – human relations, marketing, accounts receivables – for example, don’t just look at the restaurant industry – there are sous chefs, bartenders, waitresses, hostesses – which position is the best fit for you?”

3)   Get an internship

Both Fischer and Pierce agree it is ‘absolutely necessary’ to complete an internship. “Internships, paid or unpaid, are more important for corporations than languages and study abroad,” Fischer said. “Companies hire 80 percent of their employees from the intern pool, and post-graduate internships are popular right now too – look for ones that are paid.”

4)   Try something you might hate

Students often develop prejudices against specific fields or companies before setting foot in the door – Fischer says this is a recipe for disaster. “We say there are two reasons to get internships: elimination and confirmation. We recommend people take two: one in a field they think they’ll love, and one in a field they think they’ll hate. Odds are they’ll swap. This world tells you to look for a slot – I’m telling you to look for a fit.”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: