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Why Your Degree Choice No Longer Matters.

How much will I earn? What is the starting salary? What will others think of me? How prestigious is the profession? These are just some of the questions that many students ask as they sit down to select a course to study and pursue later on in life. It is often an understated fact that students rarely know what they want to study. Ask any group of teenagers and the list of careers that they want to pursue are likely to be the same. Studying medicine, engineering and law is seen as the apex of the intellectual and academic journey. Of course, this trend is slowly changing, as other role models such as musicians, radio presenters, TV and news anchors enter the picture.

When JAB meets to select students for the regular program, it sets the cut off points for each course. The courses with the highest cut off points are usually Law, medicine and electrical/computer engineering. Even though the admission process is on merit alone, in some instances, at least implicitly, some diversity and
affirmative action may be undertaken. For instance, for a medical class to be truly representative there will have to be sprinkles of students from some marginalized areas even if they may have scored a point or two lower.
One aspect that has been overlooked is that courses are rapidly merging. For instance, courses such as engineering, business and computer Science/ Information Technology share many aspects. It is perhaps with this realization that companies are now hiring from a variety of courses. It is not uncommon these days to find biotechnology graduates working as bankers, engineering graduates working as bankers, teachers working as human resources professionals etc.  For many companies, the basic degree or diploma enables one to work in many disciplines. What the employers are saying in effect is that the skills that they seek in potential hires can be acquired from a variety of disciplines. Such skills as communication skills, problem solving, hard work and creativity can be acquired from many disciplines. What employers would consider more is how highly the students passed. They can also unearth such skills by administering aptitude and personality tests. 

In fact, one problem that has made many students change professions is their unsuitability to certain professions. For example, it is a well known fact that even though you can get great grades, but you do not love assembling and dissembling objects or being generally curious, then you might not make a very good engineer. Similarly, if one doesn’t have the flexibility of their fingers and have a sharp visual sense, they might not make good surgeons. Equally, if one doesn’t have the strategic flare to make effective judgments, then they might not make great managers even if they got great qualifications in business management. In the same breath, if one isn’t highly creative and artistic, then they might not make the best architects even if they graduated at the top of their class. With this realization, many companies and career coaches are now conducting personality tests so as to know where to post their would be workers. 

The rise in popularity of the management trainee recruits or graduate trainees is partly born out of this fact. Many leading companies administer graduate recruitment programs. This are in principle put in place to hire the Fresh graduates. They are then put in training, where they are taught several aspects of business and then posted to departments where the company feels that their talents match. In many such companies, the programs usually take about two years.
It is not unusual to find a biochemist being sent to the marketing department and so on. Such companies have been visiting campuses as they try to recruit students fresh out of university. They usually organize with the career counseling department.  

The career counseling department in universities and colleges has often been laid back. Apart from the one or two guest speakers that are often invited to speak to students, many of the departments do not have much in the calendar. In the proper sense, the career counseling would have started right from the day the student enters college up to the day they leave, even better when they leave with a job in hand. It has been argued that many college and university students do not have the requisite communication skills. Drafting a CV, a key requirement for anyone applying for a job, is a matter that is rarely emphasized by many universities. This is in spite of the CV being such an important tool in the job application process. Equally, carrying out of mock interviews is something that is not given much priority, leaving many students to certainly fend for themselves. Some universities have instituted measures to track the career path of their former students, but they are few and far between. Such universities and colleges are at least able to modify their programs to ensure that all their graduates are employable.

Still, one of the reasons that graduates change their career paths is the relative pay of the professions. In this, engineering graduates have been among the worst affected. Many have abandoned the profession and now work in banks and other financial institutions. According to a research done by the Pricewaterhousecoopers in 2009, the highest paying professions were in the Finance industry. It is for this reason that this sector tends to draw in the best and brightest graduates from all the other professions. One of the reasons for the rapid rise of the Master in Business Administration (MBA) course is that many students want to change to the highly lucrative but fluid financial sector. For such graduates, the fact that they spent four or five years on something they are not practicing does not hold water. The money rules, the money is king. And who is to blame them, when all of us are chasing the big money.

Even for those that feel they didn’t enroll in the courses they deemed were suitable for them, all is not lost. The parallel degree option as well as the opening of places in Private universities and middle level colleges has spawned many opportunities for students who would have otherwise had very few alternatives. For those already working, many leading companies now do not pay a high regard to the degree or diploma, as long as an applicant possesses the basic skills for the job.

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