It’s that time of year again.

That’s right, it’s back-to-school for millions of college students across the nation.[1]

The university experience includes both the good and the bad, of course. Lots of parties and athletic events to attend on the one hand, but plenty of homework and cramming for tests on the other. The opportunity to dive deep into subjects of interest, and broaden one’s knowledge of the wider world, too. But also the pressure to maintain that all important grade point average.

And the chance for a brighter future and much improved career prospects.[2] But increasingly the likelihood of being crippled by student loan debt from which one might never fully recover. [3][4]

For freshmen, there is also the additional burden of having to choose a major – a decision with the potential to affect one’s future life path like no other. And if the advice today’s freshmen are getting is at all like what I got from my high school counselor way back when, it will sound something like this:

“For God’s sake, get a degree in something useful.”

In other words, pick a major that will one day get you a job. (All the better if it pays well.)

Typically this is taken to mean avoiding “soft” liberal arts subjects—like philosophy, history, or English—in favor of pursuing something more practical, like engineering, or business.[5]

Or maybe chemistry.

Well, for this installment of my Unconventional (Mis)management Non-wisdom series of posts, I’d like to offer the following for your consideration. Below is a list of people who didn’t do all that badly for themselves, and the “impractical” subjects in which they majored:[6]

  • Howard Schulz, CEO of Starbucks, was a Communications major (Northern Michigan University)
  • Mitt Romney, the former CEO of Bain Capital and former presidential candidate, was an English major (BYU).
  • Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was a Medieval History and Philosophy major (Stanford)
  • Paul Thiel, CEO and co-founder of Paypal, was a 20th Century Philosophy major (Stanford).
  • Michael Eisner, the former Disney CEO was an English and Theater double major (Denison University).
  • Hank Paulson, the former Goldman Sachs CEO, was an English major (Dartmouth).
  • Hedge fund manager George Soros was a Philosophy major (London School of Economics)
  • CNN founder Ted Turner was a Classics major (Brown University).
  • A.G. Lafley, the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble, was a French and History major (Hamilton College)

Oh yes – Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates never graduated from college, of course. Nor did Mark Zuckerberg, for that matter, or Larry Ellison (Oracle).

Nor did Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia)…or John Mackey (Whole Foods)…or Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay Cosmetics)…or David Geffen (Geffen Records)…

 

Think I’ve missed any? Or have one that you’d like to add? Post it in the comments section below…

 

 

Endnotes

[1] According to the National Center of Educational Statistics, 20.5 million students are expected to attend American colleges and universities in the fall of 2016, up about 5 million from 2000. http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372. Retrieved Sept. 14, 2016.

[2] A study conducted in 2011 by the Pew Research Center found that college graduates make more on average than their less educated counterparts. (“Is College Worth It?” May 15, 2011. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/05/15/is-college-worth-it/6/#chapter-5-the-monetary-value-of-a-college-education. Retrieved Sept. 14, 2016.) Another study by Pew concluded that the unemployment rate for college grads is lower than for those with a high school diploma or less. (“The Rising Cost of Not Going to College.” February 11, 2014. “http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/02/11/the-rising-cost-of-not-going-to-college/. Retrieved Sept. 14, 2016.) And according to a study conducted by Georgetown University, those individuals with a college degree were better able to weather the Great Recession than those without one. (“America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots, 2016.” Anthony P. Carnevale, Tamara Jayasundera, and Artem Gulish, June 30, 2016. Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. Downloaded from https://cew.georgetown.edu/publications/reports/ on Sept. 14, 2016.)

[3] According to an analysis of U.S. Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2016 by studentloanhero.com, “the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year.” A study conducted by American Student Assistance (ASA), a non-profit organization whose mission is to “remove the financial barriers to higher education,” found that “those with student debt are delaying decisions to buy a home, get married, have children, save for retirement, and enter a desired career field because of their debt.” From “Life Delayed: The Impact of Student Debt on the Daily Lives of Young Americans.” 2015 Edition. Downloaded Sept. 14, 2016 from www.asa.org.

[4] According to a report by Bloomberg, for most students who graduate with some student loan debt, paying it off within a decade is becoming increasingly out of reach. (“This Is How Badly We’re Managing Our Student Debt,” by Shahien Nasiripour. August 29, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-29/this-is-how-badly-we-re-managing-our-student-debt. Retrieved Sept 14, 2016.)

[5] According to one survey, however, the return on investment for an English degree is actually higher than for engineering, information technology, human resources, or marketing (assuming of course that you can actually land a job in that field.) “8 Degrees That Will Earn Your Money Back” by Dawn Dugan. http://www.salary.com/8-college-degrees-that-will-earn-your-money-back/slide/2/. Retrieved Sept. 14, 2016.

[6] Degree and alma mater information obtained from the respective Wikipedia entries.