Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Notes to a High School Senior

I did a career day recently for a high school summer program I did eons ago. I got the question afterward, about what major to pick for someone interested in "mainly math, physics/chemistry, and economics" and interested in graduate studies maybe in economics. I hadn't thought about picking majors in a long time. These were my thoughts, but if anyone else has thoughts...

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter too much what you major in, and you really don't need to know what you will major in, until sophomore or even junior year.

I do think that math is probably a good baseline though, as it gives you a lot of flexibility in the future. Esp if you want to do graduate studies in economics, a math degree with a few econ classes, is probably a good solid flexible preparation (you can take that in a lot of directions, including law school even or finance, which is a typical route people find themselves taking to make a lot of money). But major doesn't really matter.

To do grad studies in economics, you just need a few econ classes and a strong math background (either from a math minor, or a physics degree, or an engineering degree), and then your major can be whatever you discover you like. In high school, it is really hard to know. College is a good time to explore, and consider weird things like cultural studies, anthropology, political science, philosophy, sociology, history, education, etc. I think if you do wind up pursuing economics, or whatever, it's nice to have a solid foundation of different ideas for inspiration.

As for which programs, that's hard to say. I think what you'll learn will be pretty comparable anywhere you go. Heck, all the professors went to the same few grad schools. So I would pick that based on ranking (I do think ranking matters in that it affects the quality of your peers), geography, size of school, etc.

College visit might be important, but don't put too much weight on your gut feeling. There is some evidence out there that the weather the day of your college tour is a big determinant of how much you like it there. People like schools much more on sunny days than on rainy days. So things like weather could easily bias your decision.

Hope that helps.


andy said...

i may just be the touchy feely brother of us, but i still think gut reaction should play much more of a role in selecting a school than rankings, etc. even if one's affinity for a school is heavily determined by things that seem as arbitrary as weather, so is a person's happiness determined by the same things. visiting a college and having weather that you like, seeing students that you might relate to, doing activities that seem fun to you - these are probably things that matter. a college visit might be a good indicator of the typical environment of the school, and if that suits you, then allez. frankly, the "quality" of student is not so different from a harvard to a uchicago, from an oberlin to a vanderbilt. you will find them anywhere. what will probably matter more is the KIND of student you find, the timbre of students. that's something more easily judged by a gut feeling than a ranking, i think.

HoBs said...

Fair enough. Shouldn't underestimate the power of intuition. Or "blink" as Malcoml Gladwell calls it. The book points to many examples were a flash of insight is far more accurate than lots of rational deliberation. Though at the same time, "blink" also points out lots of examples where intuition fails.

Ashlyn said...

Every day I kick myself for not being a math major. It would've made my life so much easier.

But I was a business major, and from that I learned how to speak well in front of audiences. Not something that a lot of math majors learn.

B.S. skills have served me very very well. Ben, you are a rarity among gearheads in that you can speak well. I think you should take up the torch to let other (less socially inclined) gearhead kiddies to take classes that force them to interact with others and speak publicly (like typical BS MBA classes).

HoBs said...

actually, agreed completely that the ability to communicate either speaking skills or writing is probably the most important thing you can learn going into any field. a good book for young economists advises that while 50% of your research effort is coming up with new ideas, 50% should be coming up with ways is to communicate them/write them/talk about them.

it is interesting you credit your business studies for that. it's something i would have thought is hard to learn in a classroom.