Major Choices : Vol.II home page       prev | next

Department: German

Altschuler German

Randolph Brody Altschuler ’93

Co-Chief Executive Officer, OfficeTiger

Expanding my worldview

I chose to major in German for several reasons, some of which were based on a strategic analysis of what was available at Princeton and others, not surprisingly, based on less concrete factors. It turns out that my choice was not only important but lucky!

When I applied early action to Princeton, I was already immersed in German: I had been selected for a Congress/Bundestag Fellowship, in which a group of American high school seniors were selected to spend an entire academic year living with a German family and attending a Gymnasium. I had rarely traveled abroad, but I knew that if it worked out well, my life would be changed forever. It did, and it was. My family and I grew close to “my German family,” and visits, phone calls, and e-mails have been exchanged regularly for almost 20 years. That Cologne family made both the life and language of German-speaking people a natural part of my expanding view of the world.

The emotional factor that urged me to be a German major was the warm and exciting letter from the department that followed hard on the heels of the University’s acceptance letter. They wanted me! But there were more concrete factors as well. The letter and what I saw when I got to Princeton made it clear that the German department was small, well connected, and well funded. Its faculty took a personal interest in the entire college experience of the department’s students, from course work to thesis topic selection to placing its majors in interesting summer jobs in a German-speaking country. I knew that in the German department I would be seen as an individual, not just one of many, albeit talented, students in the larger departments, with their potpourri of focuses and agenda items.

Also, globalization was in the ether, and I, with my high school experience, knew it was inevitable. With a German major, I would have some of the tools to be a part of that incredible and growing change in the air and on the ground. I learned to speak excellent German. I was exposed to the governing policies, interests, and concerns of the nascent European Union.

It was that level of comfort that enabled me and a Princeton classmate to start OfficeTiger in Chennai, one of the earliest companies providing high-end outsourcing services in India to major American and European companies. OfficeTiger, which also provided new jobs here in the United States, was recently acquired by RR Donnelley.

Value to my career

Choosing to go to Germany in the first place, and then electing to major in German, were choices not for the faint of heart. Those choices meant that I needed to be proactive and creative going forward. For example, I decided that after graduation I both wanted to continue my studies and eventually work in investment banking. Interestingly, receiving a Fulbright to study in Vienna, Austria, actually helped me get a job as an analyst at a large investment bank. Not only did they agree to defer my job for a year, they were thrilled with the notion that they would be able to tell clients that one of their analysts had been a Fulbright Scholar. Later in my business career, the German background came in handy again, as I was able to write a cold letter to the newly appointed head of Deutsche Bank North America and be hired as his assistant.

Here are my thoughts for students. First, picking a major is a serious matter. You have to work out some balance between your ambitions to become an “X” after college and your long-standing yearning to at least sample the incredible goodies of Princeton—the best college in the country. Second, you have to be realistic about your decision, and that involves researching the paths of students who have made various kinds of choices. Finally, you have to have a fairly clear-headed idea about what you’re doing—so clear-headed that you will be able to explain it to prospective professional and graduate schools as well as employers. Choosing a major is a major choice. But life has its way with even the most planful of us, and if you’re lucky, as I was, Princeton will turn out to have prepared you for any number of exciting, worthwhile, and productive lives.

“You have to work out some balance between your ambitions to become an “X” after college and your long-standing yearning to at least sample the incredible goodies of Princeton...”