What does it take to be successful? Obviously, the very definition of success is different for each individual. But when it comes to potential fields of study that can prepare college students for lucrative careers, you can simply look at statistical data on jobs that pay well, but there’s a lot more to the equation.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the careers with the highest projected growth potential between now and 2024 include those that involve technology and health care. With a national push toward STEM-based educations (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), this isn’t surprising. But what if you don’t want to follow a STEM-based educational path?
“One major that many individuals steer away from is liberal arts because they don’t feel like it has a high earnings potential,” says Alisha Bazemore, director of career services at Norfolk State University. “As a career services practitioner, we essentially have to be neutral when we share information on the fastest-growing careers. But at the same time, we have to really make sure each student finds his or her own niche. When you find your niche, you can excel in any field you’re in. The important piece is really making sure they understand and know the importance of having core competencies—digital technology, leadership, professionalism, communications and critical thinking. Once you have all of those, I think you can excel in a number of fields and create a number of opportunities as well.”
Dr. Juan Alexander, executive director for admissions at Norfolk State University, agrees. “I encourage students to look into something they are passionate about doing,” he says. “I believe if you are passionate about something, eventually the money will come.” Dr. Alexander also advocates looking at all areas of study with an open mind. “Another area I would emphasize students take a look at as a career path is agriculture. I’ve learned, working at two land grant institutions, that agriculture is not all about plants and animals. You can go into food science. You can be an administrator of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). There’s a major called Agri-Business. Or you could be superintendent of a golf course. All of those are agriculturally based occupations the government pays a lot of money for. There’s more to agriculture than just farming. And at the end of the day, guess what? We all have to eat. So those kinds of jobs are always going to exist.”
Coming from a liberal arts college, Michael A. Post, vice president for enrollment management at Bridgewater College, strongly believes in forming a good core to be successful. “I guess the term is fairly vanilla and rather ambiguous, but the phrase well-rounded is the best advice I can give,” he says. “While I’m biased to the liberal arts institution of developing the whole person—and I don’t want to say that can’t be achieved at a large, state institution either—I think all colleges offer the ability for all students to not just excel in their major. I also believe employers are not just looking for the best biologist or the best accountant or best counselor. I think they are looking for someone who fits into their organization, who is a good team player, that can present well and that can hold conversations on topics outside of work-related issues. They want someone that other people enjoy working with. I don’t think the advice I would give would to be you need a 4.0 GPA, or be the best student in your major, and if you’re the expert, you’re going to get hired and be successful. I believe that sometimes in interviews for graduate school or for employment, they’re looking for more than just whether you can do the job. It’s also about how are you going to fit with our team and in our office environment or our sales team or with a cohort in our classroom? I think they are looking for the well-roundedness of individuals who can be creative and have a brainstorming session. It depends on the field, but my advice would be, if you’re looking for success outside of graduation, I think a lot of it is to be well-rounded.”
For those considering a trade school as opposed to a traditional, four-year university, there are still some core competencies you will need. According to Dr. Alicia Uzzle, academic and student affairs manager at The Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding, having a previous background in STEM-related coursework combined with CTE course (Career and Technical Education) will benefit applicants greatly in their careers.
“To build the products of the shipbuilding industry, an apprentice must have a propensity toward math, science, engineering and technology,” she says. “In addition, CTE programs and courses give students applied skills in industries, such as manufacturing, that are not necessarily taught in core academic classes. For high school students, CTE programs can make the transition from school to employment less of a challenge because they have gained important skills needed for workplace success.”