How To Pick Your University Subjects
Choosing your university subjects can be daunting – making a series of purchases (each costing $1,000 - $2,000) based on the name of the unit and some casual comments from family and friends.
You’d never buy any other product this way – instead you’d look at various reviews, examine it yourself, shop around and pay a lot of attention to what past customers have said.
But for some reason, once we’ve chosen our broader degree, we treat subject selection lightly.
Some decisions are pre-determined – core requirements of your degree.
But others, like your major, minor or breadth subjects, are up to you.
The question that seems to be used is “Is it easy or hard?”
The inference being that we already have a lot on our plate, so let’s find something with a low time commitment and an easy assessment process.
Unfortunately, it’s a faulty question.
The real test is “Do I find this interesting?”
When something captivates you, you lose track of time.
It gets stuck in your head, and you find yourself talking about the subject with friends.
These are the areas of study that can shape our careers, rather than just constituting a “P” on our transcripts.
Therefore, we need a way for finding out if a subject will be interesting.
Luckily, I have a neat trick for you.
If you’re considering a subject, go and read one of the bestselling books on that topic.
What just happened when you read that sentence?
Did you get excited or did you sigh in exasperation?
This is a huge indicator.
First and foremost – if you’re not willing to spend the time reading the book, you certainly won’t want to spend a semester writing reports, presentations and exams on the topic.
Secondly, if you don’t want to spend the $15-30 on the book, why spend $1,000+ on the course?
That’s what makes this such a great test.
If the subject is a good fit, then a book will add more fuel to the fire.
If you can’t get through the book, great.
You’ve just dodged a bullet, and can now pick something more engaging.
Here are some examples I frequently recommend:
If you’re contemplating studying Marketing, read either Purple Cow by Seth Godin, Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott, or Branding in Five And A Half Steps by Michael Johnson
If you’re looking at Economics, try The Economics Book by DK, Misbehaving by Richard Thaler, or 23 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha Joon Chang
If you like the sound of Management, look at The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team by Patrick Lencioni, Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday, or The E Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.
Some people will point out that “You’ll learn so much more by going and starting your own business”
While that’s technically correct, it’s also dead useless advice.
Not every young person wants to drop out of university to take huge risks and lose sleep, nor do they all want to be leaders/entrepreneurs.
If you’re in a course that has no options/flexibility built in, then I’d say that FOUR books can teach you as much as a single university subject, if not more.
The trick here is choosing books that collectively cover a few elements of the topic.
For example, for Marketing I’d pick one on branding strategy, one on customer psychology, one on storytelling, and one on measuring online campaigns.
If you read four books on a subject, you’ll be ahead of 80% of the students studying those topics, who are doing the bare minimum to scrape by.
How to make yourself valuable
There are very few skills that automatically get you a job.
Instead, the best people tend to have a unique combination of talents that makes them irreplaceable.
Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) wrote a post about this in 2007.
“Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist.
And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people.
The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes.
It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare.
And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.”
That’s where this reading strategy becomes so powerful.
For the price of four books plus some cheap practice/experiments, you can add a new dimension to your career.
Books aren’t that expensive, sometimes you can even get them for free.
I personally prefer to buy mine; by committing an amount of cash, I increase my likelihood of actually reading it.
Where do I find good books?
· You can find some great examples in The Book List or my 2017 favourites.
· I personally use sites like Goodreads to see other people’s reviews, and Audible to choose audiobooks.
· Keep an eye out for interviews with people you admire and see what books they recommend, that often gives you obscure titles you’d never have considered