10 leaders who show that college major isn't everything

As a growing number of rankings use graduate salaries to evaluate student success, students can feel pressured to pursue high-paying majors, writes Ellen Ryan for the Washington Post.

But approaching college with only salary in mind can lead students to miss out on exploratory experiences that will influence their future success, warns Ryan.

To illuminate how interdisciplinary exploration influences personal fulfillment, Ryan asked ten successful residents of Washington, D.C. about the unlikely majors that shaped their professional development. Read their responses below:

Patrick O'Connell, Michelin-starred Chef
Catholic University, Drama
A creative writing course transformed the way he defines and lays out his thoughts, recalls O'Connell. In his experience, cooking and writing both require you to visualize and then actualize.

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of American Association of Retired Persons
Spring Hill College
, Political Science
American history classes emphasized the importance of understanding where we've been to think about where to go next, notes Jenkins.

Ted Leonsis, CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment
Georgetown University, American studies
His alma mater's famous course, "The Problem of God," offered an invaluable lesson on empathy and critical thinking, says Leonsis.

Why majors matter for on-time graduation

Nadja West, U.S. Army surgeon general
U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Engineering
For West, "General Psychology for Leaders" taught students how to get people to do things they may not want to do. The course's focus on empathy is invaluable in her day-to-day work with patients, she notes.

Tracy Smith, poet laureate of the United States
Harvard University, English and Afro-American studies
"Moral Perfectionism" urged Smith to embrace failure. When advising her own students, Smith pushes them to understand that failing often is crucial to moving forward.

Horacio Rozanski, CEO at Booz Allen Hamilton
University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire
, Business
In a probability theory class, his professor carved a chunk of cheddar cheese in the shape of a distribution and shared the tasty results with the class, he recalls. Beyond the memorable display, his statistics background informs how he approaches client problems and complex business decisions, says Rozanski.

What success means to your students, in their own words

David Skorton, Smithsonian Institution secretary
Northwestern University, Psychology
As a college saxophone player, Skorton travelled through Chicago in a rhythm-and-blues band and learned about improvisation. He applies these improv lessons to ground unusual and sometimes complicated team structures, he writes.

Cathy McMorris, chair of the House Republican Conference
Pensacola Christian College, Pre-law
McMorris' experience as a piano player in community musicals mirrors her view of the legislative process, where harmony happens best when people listen and learn from each other, she writes.

Marin Alsop, musical director at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Yale University, Violin performance
A 20th century literature course helped Alsop develop his interpretation of musical works and to realize that each piece of music tells a specific story, he notes (Ryan, Washington Post, 9/5).

Four metrics progressive schools use to manage student success


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