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The Classroom of Experience

American School Counselor Association's picture

By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director, American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

People often tell me how happy they are that the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has a business person like me as the executive director. I think it’s time I make a confession I’ve told very few people: I’ve never taken a business class in my life.

Which is not to say I don’t know anything about managing a business or, to be more precise, about managing a nonprofit organization. I started working in association management 25 years ago and worked in the private sector before that. Although all my business training has been through experience, I think it’s been every bit as educational as formal training, and unlike a degree program, it’s been going on for 30 years and counting.

One of the more pleasant byproducts of wandering into the business world is that since my older son, Tyler, started taking business classes in high school, we’ve had some intense but exciting conversations about things like equities vs. fixed-income investments, double-entry accounting and the difference between income and revenue.

This summer, Tyler said he had to declare a major and couldn’t decide between finance and economics. Honestly, I don’t know the difference. Tyler explained they have the same course requirements but different approaches. He was more interested in economics but thought finance would be more practical.

“Look,” I said. “Nobody cares what your undergraduate major is. As long as you’re not applying for an accounting job with a degree in underwater basket weaving, employers don’t care what you majored in. They just want you to have a degree.” Of course this was slightly overstated, but when we’ve hired staff for ASCA, I want to know the applicant has a diversity of experience and knowledge and, most importantly, that the person will fit into the culture of ASCA. His or her college degree and major are secondary.  

Bill Coplin, director of the undergraduate public affairs program at Syracuse University, agrees. He spoke with numerous representatives of graduate-level professional programs, such as law schools and MBA programs, and most said applicants’ undergraduate degrees were not critical to getting admitted into their programs.

Coplin goes further. In his book, “10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College,” he estimates course work and degree programs provide college graduates with only 50 percent of the skills they need to be successful in any career. The other 50 percent of skills come from nonacademic activities such as social interactions, internships and job experiences and participation in student organizations.

I believe post-secondary education is important; however, I think students too often fixate on what they study and not what they learn.

This past year, Tyler’s been serving as the treasurer for his fraternity. He said he’s learned more from that experience than from all his business classes in high school. He’s also held some part-time jobs and is applying for an internship in Prague. Tyler decided to major in economics. I’m glad he chose to major in the field he enjoys more, because I know ultimately what he learns in the classroom may not be as important as what he learns in life.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

Image by Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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