YOUR COLLEGE MAJOR IS NOT THE END-ALL BE-ALL OF YOUR CAREER. YOU CAN—AND PROBABLY WILL—CHANGE DIRECTION.
You hear it first during junior year of high school. It’s the season of college applications. Amid the flurry of SAT scores, admissions essays, and anxious anticipation, everyone starts to ask the same question: “What are you going to major in?”
It’s the question that follows you everywhere—followed not-so-far behind by inquiries about your relationship status and when you’re going to have babies. Somewhere along our life paths, the college major seemed to take on a new level of importance. Parents, friends, relatives, strangers were all increasingly asking: “What did you study in college?”
It was more than just the classes you took. Your major became your identity; an indication of your career and your eventual future.
But has it become too much?
As an advisor at my university’s career center, I fielded questions constantly from worried parents, students, and new grads: What type of jobs can I get with ____ major? What type of salary is that? What’s the best major here?
And you hear even more opinions all around: Business is a smart choice. What can you ever do with a Philosophy major? You should study Psychology. I heard that Computer Science majors are in high demand. You’re studying English—do you want to be a teacher?
The college major has become a crystal ball: an early prediction of your future career (and salary). It’s all great…until you change your mind. Or until you hit the professional world, only to find out that the path you chose is not really what you want to do.
The college major has become a crystal ball: an early prediction of your future career (and salary). It’s all great…until you change your mind.
And that’s not uncommon.
According to the New York Times, over half of college students change their major at least once. An even greater majority indicate being unsure of their choice at some point in time.
It’s unrealistic to place so much pressure on the college major.
Here’s the real truth: Your major doesn’t matter. At least, not as much as you think. College develops independence and critical thinking skills. It introduces you to new people and ideas, and it broadens your view of the world. But it is not the deciding factor of your career—or your future.
Of course, some careers do require a specific major. But even those career paths must be supplemented with experience, continual training, internships, and more, in order to be successful. A career is constantly evolving and it can always be redefined.
No matter what stage of life you’re in, there are always plenty of opportunities to supplement (or alter) your major and, consequently, your career path.
Here are just a few tips to combat what I like to call “College Major Stigma”:
WHILE YOU’RE STILL IN SCHOOL
Take a wide variety of classes. Challenge yourself to think and experience curriculum outside of your comfort zone. Join clubs and associations, write for the newspaper, and apply for an internship. It will help you find your niche and stand out on your resume.
WHILE YOU’RE JOB-SEARCHING
You’re on the hunt for a new career? Go meet people. Research other professionals and set up informational interviews. Attend job fairs and join professional associations. Refocus your resume and cover letters to make sure your best skills stand out for the position you want.
WHILE YOU’RE WORKING
Sometimes the opportunity to switch it up can be right in front of you. Research neighboring departments and talk to team members to get more information. Talk to your boss about other opportunities within your company. You may not be immediately offered the position, but if you communicate your interest, you’ll have a better idea of where you want to go. And, the next time a job opens up, you may be the first on their list.
WHILE YOU’RE LEARNING MORE
This applies to all of the above. Once you graduate college, you are never done learning. Ever. You should continue to strive to improve yourself, and there are limitless (and budget-friendly) opportunities to do so. Take a seminar or an online course. Complete a certification program. Take some classes at community college. Go back to grad school (this one is a biggie, both time- and money-wise, so make sure you do your research first).
Your major is a cornerstone of your career, not the entire foundation. Careers evolve over time, influenced by an array of experiences, classes, interests, skills, and passions. It’s a steady fluctuation that will continue to readjust as our lives change—and it’s never too late to change direction.