When Yvonne Yi-Fan Hsiao started at Columbia in 2013, she was a SEAS student intending to major in APAM. After taking Latin American history with Professor Caterina Pizzigoni, Yvonne was inspired to shift gears—and majors.
Yvonne graduated from Columbia College in 2016 with her BA in History, and secured a job at IQVIA, a life sciences and pharmaceutical consulting firm. Now an Associate Consultant, Yvonne credits her history coursework with allowing her to develop the big-picture thinking and storytelling skills that helped her secure and excel in her current job.
Yvonne was one of four graduates of the history major who shared their wisdom with current and prospective majors at a panel last month. For all of the panelists, the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind gained through their history major have been essential in their career success.
Your Passion is an Asset
At the Federal Reserve Bank, Rebecca Raub (CC ’17) is the only research assistant who did not major in Economics in college. It was her history thesis on international monetary policy, though, that helped her get her foot in the door. She even attached it to her application!
Through her history coursework and thesis, Rebecca not only learned to think deeply and critically but also gained a deep knowledge of the institution that she showed in her interview and now uses every day in her job—both unique strengths often recognized by her colleagues.
Your Major is One Piece of Your Educational Experience at Columbia
What’s more, because of the flexibility of the history major, panelist James Bennett II (CC ’13) pointed out, you’ll have time to explore your other passions. For James, the Jazz Studies courses he took were instrumental in showcasing how he could apply his research and writing skills to an area of need at WQXR.
James “reverse-engineered” his job search, identifying a gap area and reaching out (and checking in, over the course of a year), eventually resulting in the creation of a new Staff Writer position for him. You can bet that without his passion for music writing and public radio, James would not have gotten the gig!
For Yvonne, the flexibility of the major allowed her to explore her interests through extracurriculars, study abroad, and lots of language classes. Not only did these experiences allow her to build skills, such as time-management and professionalism, outside the classroom, but her multilingualism has made her a more attractive candidate for global companies.
History Skills for Success
The panelists all agreed that your history degree equips you with valuable skills applicable to a wide range of careers.
“History is a lens. You can develop the hard skills on the job, but need to hone your critical thinking skills over time.” – Yvonne Yi-Fan Hsiao
Paul Imperatore (CC’ 10) has used the research and writing skills gained through his history major both as a law student and now as a corporate lawyer. “Law is all about reading and writing,” he told audience members. Since law was the most popular career field for 2016 grads of the major, this sure should come in handy!
Rebecca agreed, adding that when she worked at Thirdbridge, a financial research company, her experience from the history major helped her quickly find and synthesize key information to prepare for client meetings.
In addition to these research and writing skills, Yvonne added that her history major helped her develop her ability to structure a strong argument and narrative and to weather inconsistencies in data or gaps in information.
Regardless of the skills you have coming in, Rebecca reminded students, you’ll get company-specific training on the job. Though it might have been helpful to have taken a statistics or data analysis class, she reflected, she has become proficient in analysis in Excel through online tutorials and company-supported training.
You Don’t Have to Have it All Figured Out
While the panelists encouraged students to spend time in college reflecting on what they want to do, they also reminded audience members that they don’t have to have it all mapped out. As Rebecca put it, “If you enjoy school, savor it!”
After you graduate, James told the audience, the “real-world switch” isn’t just going to turn on—you can still be figuring it out. You may even be eligible for internships related to your major as a recent grad, as he was.
Throughout this process, Rebecca reminded everyone, CCE career counselors can help you navigate your search and determine how to articulate your history skills to potential employers. Thanks for the shoutout, Rebecca!
Check out Our Other Major-Related Resources
To learn more about where recent Columbia history majors have gone post-grad, as well as the major-related skills they bring to their work, check out our Majoring in History resource. And if you’re curious about careers that often appeal to history majors, you might like What Can I Do with This Major?