What should I study to pursue a career in the automotive industry?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm very interested in automobiles. I get all the magazines, read them from cover to cover and, of course, read your column and listen to your radio show every week. I'm only a junior in high school, and I want to pursue a career in the automotive industry -- in the design, restoration or sale of cars. How should I pursue this? What should I major in at college? Should I get a job in an auto shop after school? -- Jason

TOM: Well, if you want to go into automotive sales, I would suggest you major in medieval history, Jason. And pay close attention to the courses on torture techniques.

RAY: Actually, I think "sales" is as much an innate talent as a learned skill. There are some people who can just flat out convince people to do things they don't want to do. And these people tend to gravitate to professions like car sales, telephone solicitation or leadership of the free world.

TOM: On the other hand, the skills and talents needed for restoration or repair are entirely different from those used in sales. So I would recommend that you take several different types of after-school jobs over the next couple of years and try some things out. See what you're good at and what really gets you excited. Besides, real-life experience can only help you get jobs in these fields.

RAY: If mechanical design turns out to be your thing, then I'd recommend that you lean toward mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or computer engineering at college. According to SAE (the Society of Automotive Engineers), those are the three most common majors for people who become automotive engineers. There are hundreds of good schools that offer these majors, and some even offer courses specifically geared toward automotive engineering.

TOM: On the other hand, if you're more interested in the styling aspects of design, then an artistic-design school might be a better bet. Check out the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., or the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, both of which specialize in automotive design.

RAY: You can also poke around at the SAE Web site (www.sae.org) and click on the "Student Stuff" area.

TOM: And if you're still not sure by the time you head off to college (my brother majored in girls and Foosball), nothing beats a good liberal-arts education. If you learn how to learn stuff, you'll always be in a good position to get into any field that interests you.

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