First Person: What My College Degree Means to Me

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My college degree helped me pursue a successful 30-year career in advertising and public relations. However, it only happened after I realized I had not made the right decision in choosing my college major.

Pursuing The Major Course I Wanted

It all began when I had earned four years of tuition under the GI Bill of Rights by serving in the U.S. Navy. Ever since childhood, I had wanted to be an artist, and that was my chance to enroll as a fine arts freshman at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now the University of the Arts).

An Enjoyable Fine Arts Education

Throughout my undergraduate years, I appreciated the challenges and encouragement of the school's excellent teaching staff. My courses consisted of drawing, painting, sculpture and other fine arts classes. Some of my paintings were accepted for exhibition at local galleries. I was graduated with top honors and the degree of bachelor of fine arts.

Then it was time for me to earn a living from what I had learned in four years of college. I made the rounds of the many galleries in Philadelphia and New York selling my art, and had some moderate success. However, the sales were few and far between, and my income wasn't nearly enough to support myself.

Had I Made an Error in Judgment?

After a year, I came to the conclusion that I had chosen a field that, while traditionally attractive, wasn't practical in the reality of today's business world. While I hadn't wasted my four years of fine arts studies, they had not prepared me for the necessity of making a living.

I had several choices. I could go on painting, get some kind of part-time job to pay my bills, and hope I'd eventually become a successful exhibiting artist. The other choice was to go back to college and major in practical business subjects.

Fortunately, an application I'd sent to the University of Pennsylvania earned me a lab assisantship and free tuition at the Annenberg Graduate School of Communications there. I majored in mass communications and public relations, with a minor in graphic arts. After two years, and armed with a much more practical resume, I began another job search.

A Favorable Career Turn

Another fortunate opportunity coincided with earning my Master of Arts in Communications degree. Prudential Financial, Inc. was just establishing an Eastern regional office in a Philadelphia suburban area, and hiring a staff of more than 3,000 employees. I applied for the newly-created position of Public Relations and Advertising Manager, and was hired to direct the 30-person creative staff.

I recently retired after 30 years with Prudential. Today I consider my education choices and experiences may be of value to college students in the same situation I was after earning my bachelor's degree. Looking back, I had not realized then the impracticality of attempting a fine arts path in the real world where income opportunities are very limited.

Business-related degrees are essential in finding practical career promises. I believe my decision to enhance my education goals beyond fine arts to communications offered me those opportunities. For today's students, armed with the right credentials and personal determination, there's no limit to the heights that talent, hard work and ambition can earn for them.

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