As the coordinator of freshmen and sophomore initiatives for our office, I meet with underclassmen nearly every day. The number one concern of most freshmen and sophomores I meet is choosing the “right” major. I met with two students this week, both faced with deciding what to study. How to pick a “good” major, how to pick the “right” major, how to pick the “best” major- no matter how you phrase it, the question is the same. You want to study something that will benefit you when you leave college, but what?
There are times where careers or industries do require you to pick the “right” major. If you dream of being a software developer, you’ll need the right computer skills and a Computer Science major can help you get there. Perhaps you dream of being a college history professor- you can bet that majoring in history to prepare for graduate school will be beneficial.
But for the rest of us, majors are a sticky issue because more often then not, they are not linearly aligned with career choices. One of the students I met with this week asked me what my major was in college. “Journalism,” I told him, and waited for the inevitable jaw drop or confused facial expression. I got it. But I told the student, as I’ll tell you, that choosing to be a journalism major gave me a skill set that I use every single day in my job. I know how to take a complex issue and write about it effectively. I developed interpersonal skills through lots of interviews and conversations with the subjects of my stories. I learned how to respond productively to criticism from editors and apply it to better my work. I developed confidence, learned to navigate deadline pressure and manage stressful situations. In sum, my major prepared me well for my career.
I was a journalism major, yes, but I am not a journalist. For me, major did not equal career and that is totally okay because I know the ways in which that major was beneficial for me. What I challenge you to do as you think about major choices is to re-frame the question you’re asking. Don’t ask what the major can do for you in the job search. Ask yourself what skill sets the majors you are considering will help you to develop and learn to clearly articulate them. Ask yourself every day what you are learning and why it matters. Because in the interview or on the graduate school application, you have to convince others that you’ve got the skills they need. And whether you got those skills from a psychology major or an econ major may matter less than your ability to articulate what you’ve learned, how it applies to your goals, and what you have to offer.
Parents, alumni and other readers, I invite you to share in the comments your experiences with how you link your major (or not) with the work you do.
The path we take from major to career is unique for everyone.