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What’s So Special About Specialized Majors?

Narrowing Your Focus is Both Risky and Rewarding

May 11, 2011

What’s So Special About Specialized Majors?

by Alexis Mattera

Starting college with a specific idea what you want to do with your life can make choosing a major, selecting classes and finding internships much easier than the decisions facing your undecided roommate. But is that specificity better? The answer is yes...and no. Well, actually, it’s a maybe.

With the increasing demand for expertise in narrow fields, some schools are putting programs in place to produce candidates perfectly suited for these niche jobs. SUNY at Albany, for example, has opened a College of Nanoscale Science to meet what The National Science Foundation estimates will be about 2 million workers with nanotechnology-centric backgrounds needed by 2014. The results so far are promising – even first-year students have already been offered summer internships with companies like Intel and IBM – but is this kind of specialization always wise?

To an extent, but career counselors, hiring consultants and academic officials think it’s more important for students to diversify their undergraduate years. Industry-specific skill sets may get a graduate into their chosen field faster but may severely limit career flexibility down the line. You may think you know your ideal career path but wait until you’ve taken a wide enough variety of classes to be sure...especially when employers report they value soft skills like effective communication, critical thinking and problem solving over precise training.

What do you think? Should you specialize right away or sample what your school has to offer before making a potentially life-changing decision?


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