Two years ago the faculty at UNLV was debating changes to the business core curriculum. This is the set of courses all students take as part of their BSBA degree (we have a similar set at UCF). The curriculum hadn’t been revised in years and while most people agreed the core had to be changed, there were differences of opinion among the faculty about how to move forward. One morning I was in the courtyard discussing this issue with Professor Wimmer when he said: “I tell undergraduate students that if they can do physics and write well that they will do fine.” I share his view.
No I don’t want you to change your major. This blog post has nothing to do with your major. Being a good economist, Professor Wimmer was emphasizing the importance of general skills. As our world has become more complex, these skills have become more important. Those math geeks you mocked in high school are taking over the universe, especially Wall Street and Madison Avenue. Do you want to earn your fortune there someday? And it is inspiration creatively presented and communicated that goes viral on YouTube. Fame rarely comes to the inarticulate.
Mastering these skills isn’t just important for those seeking fame and fortune. Employers never tell me that the only thing that stands between students and a good job is an internet gaming course or expert knowledge of the economics of sports and entertainment. They tell me that ineffective job candidates don’t write well, can’t think on their feet, aren’t data driven decision-makers, don’t work well in teams, or present themselves poorly. And, while it is common for students to think of themselves as “analytic” or “people-oriented,” the skill sets associated with these descriptions aren’t substitutes for each other. An “analytic-type” who cannot communicate their brilliant solutions is just as unemployable as a “people person” who expertly communicates half-baked ideas. Conversely, if you can identify new opportunities, use data to creatively solve problems, work well in team settings and communicate your ideas effectively to others (preferably in multiple languages), you are golden in any profession: $$$$$.
This is why most b-schools won’t allow you to advance into business courses without a record of success in lower-division courses: If you cannot prove to us that you have the math, statistics, communication and critical thinking skills to do well in the general education curriculum, there really is no point in us trying to teach you specific business knowledge.
So why am I telling you this now? Registration for spring semester classes will begin sooner than you think. Half the credits you earn at UCF will come from outside the college. Work with your advisor to take serious stock of your strengths and weaknesses. Choose general education courses that will help you improve these skills. There is no such thing as too much math or statistics. Embrace courses that give you the opportunity to write and present your ideas to others. While you are at it, take some courses that are very different from your major. Exposure to different perspectives will help you gain perspective and develop your innovative potential. If it seems like a lot of work, it is. The best students will take up this challenge. I have written this before: Whether you like it or not, you are in a competition to realize your dreams. Don’t enter it with only half a degree.
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. The following post appeared on September 12, 2012. Follow him on Twitter @pauljarley.