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A&L grads compete in business

Kristen Durbin | Friday, April 20, 2012

When senior Mitch Gainer began interviewing for a position with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), he expected most of his peers to have studied business during their undergraduate careers.

But as he progressed through the interview process, Gainer, an economics major, said he noticed a majority of the interviewees had educational backgrounds grounded in the liberal arts.

“The majority of the top-20 schools in the country don’t have undergraduate business programs, so I found myself competing against history and medieval studies majors,” he said.

Like most graduating seniors entering the job market, Gainer said he was worried about employment prospects. But after securing a job in the business world with a liberal arts degree, he said he investigated the statistics on post-graduate plans of students in the College of Arts and Letters.

“A lot of Arts and Letters students worry about getting a job after graduation, but that worry wasn’t reflective of what I saw [during interviews] at all,” Gainer said. “So I went to [assistant dean] Joe Stanfiel and the Career Center, and looked closer at the statistics.”

When Gainer was offered a position at BCG, Stanfiel said he and Gainer began analyzing 2010 data from the Office of Institutional Research for a different perspective on the post-graduation employment climate for Notre Dame students.

“[The interviews] got Mitch thinking about the generalized claims about who gets jobs after graduation and that the sorts of jobs people get would be something to look into as well,” Stanfiel said. “After looking at the data, we found that Arts and Letters students were getting competitive jobs in the business world in roughly equal number with business students.”

According to the data, 48 percent of 2010 Notre Dame graduates working in the business world hailed from the College of Arts and Letters, versus 46 percent from programs in the Mendoza College of Business, Gainer said. 17 percent of graduates working in business had degrees from both colleges.

Of the graduates working in the top-six consulting firms in the country, Gainer said 43 percent had Arts and Letters degrees, compared to the 40 percent who were business majors. Additionally, every Notre Dame student offered a position at BCG was from either Arts and Letters or the College of Engineering, Gainer said.

Since some of the country’s most elite institutions do not offer undergraduate business programs, Stanfiel said the notion that a business degree is necessary for success in the business world does not carry much weight.

“It would be very odd to tell someone at Harvard, Princeton, Yale or Stanford that you have to have a business degree to get a good job,” he said. “Notre Dame is an elite university in the company of those places, and the sort of person that comes here is coming from the top one percent of students.”

Stanfiel said Notre Dame students have a unique advantage in the pool of newly-graduated job applicants due to the resources available through the Career Center and Arts and Letters. This contributes to the low unemployment rate of Arts and Letters graduates: two percent.

“Practical experience would be favorable to have going into a job, so we promote internships and provide funding for students who take unpaid internships,” he said. “Between the outstanding education of Arts and Letters and other opportunities, graduates are going to find themselves very well prepared.”

According to the data, Arts and Letters graduates have also been successful in securing jobs in the public sector. 66 percent of 2010 graduates working for the Central Intelligence Agency came from Arts and Letters backgrounds, and 55 percent of students working in other federal government positions were Arts and Letters majors. Just under half of those Arts and Letters graduates working for the federal government were political science majors.

Additionally, 95 percent of Notre Dame students who obtain prestigious fellowships, such as the Fulbright and Rhodes scholarships, hail from Arts and Letters.

Gainer and other students said a liberal arts education at Notre Dame provides students with critical thinking and communication skills valued in almost every work environment.

“Arts and Letters was huge in the interview process, because I was able to take non-business experiences and show their value in business situations,” Gainer said. “My experience working to help establish farming cooperatives in rural India was probably the biggest reason I got a job.”

Senior Graham Thomas said his experience as a Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) major prepared him well for past internships, and helped him secure a job with BCG following graduation.

“The practice in oral communication provided by discussion-based seminars and oral final exams, a staple of the PLS Great Books seminars, sharpens a student’s ability to think quickly on the spot and to eloquently articulate ideas,” he said. “This skill has made me more effective in my internships when working on teams and attending business meetings, and it was crucial to my success when interviewing for jobs this past fall.”

Senior Christine Fagan, a double major in English and Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) who will be working as a project manager for the healthcare software company Epic Systems after graduation, said her undergraduate experience provided her with the skills necessary for success in any job.

“My role as a student worker in two FTT jobs helped me work with other people to achieve goals and manage projects and my time,” she said. “My English major has helped me organize my thoughts before beginning a project, so I think having a liberal arts double major has led me to be more well-rounded and learn a lot of business-related skills in an environment I enjoyed more ⎯ in theater and in writing.”

The success of liberal arts students in the business world speaks to the type of student Notre Dame attracts and the core identity of the University, Stanfiel said.

“If you take a group of incredibly talented people and give them a Notre Dame liberal arts education, we in the College of Arts and Letters feel like that’s the best type of education to have,” he said. “Specific technological knowledge can be learned on the job, but learning how to think and write takes an investment of years and can’t be learned on the job.”