Wondering what undergraduate major best positions you for a successfuly career in finance? Evan Forster has the answer, and it might surprise you. 

This is a shout out to parents, high school students, and undergrads choosing their majors. Simply put, liberal arts majors can fare better in graduate business school admissions than finance majors do.

I deal with a great many undergrads and their parents who argue that getting an undergrad finance degree is the best way to serve them on their path to success, their track to getting into HBS, and ultimately having successful business careers. While certainly there are those who go from being undergrads at Wharton, Ross, McIntire, and a handful of other great undergraduate business programs to the most competitive jobs on Wall Street, another entire (and in some ways more competitive) group are economics, political science, and even English majors from selective schools like Amherst, Williams, and Colgate.

Not only do we see our own college candidates eventually get these jobs, we see the resumes of our legions of MBA candidates. There is a reason why these candidates get snapped up by the likes of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey and, eventually, Columbia Business School. The reason is this: strong critical thinking and leadership skills. A strong liberal arts background develops leaders—people who can think across the board and are not limited to their understanding of spreadsheets and quarterly projections.

This is not to say that having great accounting skills is unimportant. Any Wall Street-bound or pre-MBA college student should take calculus, microeconomics, statistics, and accounting. But these classes are not enough. Understanding the human condition through Shakespeare signifies that the candidate is operating on a higher level—the analytical ability such classes develop improve your problem-solving skills and add intellectual nimbleness. Critical thinking skills come from writing a paper on comparative literature or comparative religion, not from comparing the bottom lines of year-end reports.

In short, and with all due respect, people who have really strong liberal arts backgrounds hire those who have the ability to run a calculator. That's the difference, folks. If your goal is to ensure getting a job just outside of college, then yes, you probably want to major in accounting. And if you want to get a really great accounting job, go to Ross undergrad. If you want to get into graduate school at Ross and eventually transform GM, take some good quantitative coursework. But major in French. 


Worried that the person writing your letter of receommendation might inadvertently do you wrong? Then take control and help him/her do right. Evan Forster tells you how.

There's nothing worse than having to write a recommendation. NOTHING. I speak from experience when I say that it absolutely sucks.

Here's the deal: If you want a really great recommendation, help your recommender help you. First, let's dispel the myth that you can't read your recs. When you go into the application to submit the names and email addresses of your recommenders, you are asked if you "waive your right to see the recommendation." Waiving your right is commonly misunderstood to mean that it is illegal or unethical for you to read your recommendation before it is submitted. This is not true. Waiving your right does not mean that you have never read the recommendation. What is means is that, should you be admitted to the school and therefore have the ability to look at your application file, you agree to let the recommendations remain sealed. This is supposed to make your recommender feel free to be completely honest with the committee.

With that out of the way, let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with helping your recommender as he or she prepared to write your recommendation. No one expects him or her to recall all of your great moments in history. So how do you help him or her? You provide your recommender with examples (bullet point format is great) of your growth, accomplishments, and moments of leadership. This will aid them in painting a fuller picture of you and giving insight into your candidacy otherwise not expressed anywhere else in your application.

So, in the case of college recommendations, make a list of great papers you've written, growth you had in grasping difficult material, large improvements in test scores, or an extracurricular activity for which that teacher was the advisor. For general graduate and law school admissions, do the same. In the case of an MBA, your recommender will have very specific questions to answer regarding the how, what, where, when, and why of you, and it would be really smart if you went thought the questions and gave possible talking points to your recommender. But whether its college, graduate, or business school, the overarching point is--one ultimate thing has to happen: specific examples! I cannot stress this enough: particularly examples of leadership!

So, if you launched a new chess club in your high school or led a volunteer day at Barclays Capital for elementary school students in Chicago's South Side, provide that in a list of examples to your recommender.

The last important thing to ask of every recommender, whether for college or graduate school, is to review his or her response to questions about a weakness that you had to deal with or overcome. You want to be careful that your recommendation is not a giant commercial. You're not Prince Charming, you're not Nelson Mandela, you're not the new iPhone. In the absence of some kind of weakness or criticism, your rec reads like a 30-second commercial and ultimately has less credibility. Remember, weaknesses are opportunities for growth, not candidacy killers.

The only topics to skirt completely are: bad leadership skills, shyness, bad verbal communication skills, fear of confrontation.