It’s a stressful time of year, especially for transfer students who haven’t yet decided what major they plan to study at their four-year institution. Many students feel a lot of pressure to pick “the right major.” The pressure leads to panicky thoughts about what career they want to have “for the rest of their lives,” because the major determines their career path. Right?
Take a look at the following list of very different majors. Can you figure out what they all have in common?
·History ·Psychology ·Accounting
·Literature ·Chemistry ·Sports broadcasting
The answer? They’re academic majors pursued by movie, sports and television celebrities. Actors Will Farrell and Jake Gyllenhaal took very different college courses but ultimately ended up in the same line of work.
The celebrity analogy might seem like a stretch, but the point is still valid. It’s not solely your choice of major that’s going to determine your career path.
When you’re daydreaming about possible career options, consider the following:
Career paths rarely follow a straight line. Ask an established professional about their career history, and you’ll likely hear about different jobs in different industries. Ask the person what she studied in college and she’ll probably talk about an academic major that seems very different from the job she’s working in today.
You won’t be the same person in 10, 20 or 30 years. Interests inevitably change over time. So do roles. Think back to who you were 10 years ago. Can you imagine yourself in that same role, enjoying the same interests?
The world of work is changing every day. New job titles are surfacing every day. Ten years ago no one would be applying for jobs as app designers, social media managers or sustainability experts – because they didn’t exist!
Skills are just as important as studies. Very often employers may list particular degrees in a job posting, but also indicate an interest in talking to applicants from other majors. When employers are surveyed to ask what qualifications they seek in applicants, they focus on skills – which can be developed in a variety of majors.
Career-related experience is critical. Whether through an internship, co-op, job or volunteer position, the importance of gaining related experience prior to graduating can’t be overstated. Consider the following candidates who apply for a marketing position:
Candidate A: Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
Candidate B: Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications. Completed an internship in the marketing department at a local bank. Was involved in the college’s student activities office and helped promote campus events.
Candidate A may have picked “the right major” but isn’t necessarily the right choice for the job. Skills and hands-on experience go a long way.
So now you might be wondering why your choice of major is important at all?
Certain degrees are required for certain industries. There are degree-specific professions (engineering, accounting and pharmacy for example). If you plan to work in an industry requiring a certain knowledge base, pursuing the appropriate degree is necessary.
Interest fuels solid grades. Students struggle in classes that don’t hold their interest. You’ll be studying courses in your major for at least two years. Don’t you want to enjoy the topics you’re learning about?
Different degrees develop different skills sets. Students majoring in English or history have the potential to develop strong writing skills, whereas students studying biology or math are more likely to use quantitative and research skills. Which skills do you want to use in a job? Which major(s) might better develop those skills?
At the end of the day, research is key when selecting your academic major. Choose a major that appeals to your skills and interests at this particular time. Learn about career options that compliment your current focus. Plan accordingly but be open to the idea that your professional future may take unexpected turns. For most of us, it usually does.