“Major” Decisions

Choosing a major is a stressful experience for many college students. A variety of  factors can contribute to this stress (i.e. interest in several subjects, struggling in a pre-major class, parental pressure) but behind them all tends to float one BIG stress-inducing assumption:  I’m not just choosing a major…I’m choosing my career FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.

I remember feeling this way in college. I majored in geography, which I loved. But I rarely got the opportunity to talk with people about my coursework, the field work I did last week, or ideas for my senior project. Instead, almost everybody I met – relatives, friends, the person who cut my hair – reduced the conversation to three questions…

Sound familiar? This exact exchange, played out a  hundred times over several years, reinforces the assumption that there are “right” and “wrong” majors when it comes to preparing for the job market. While it’s true that some careers require specific course preparation (to be a physical therapist you need courses in biology, anatomy, math, etc.), most majors can help prepare you for most jobs. In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Scott Keyes writes:

The belief that technical majors such as computer science are more likely to lead to a job than a major such as sociology or English is certainly understandable. It’s also questionable. “The problem, ” as my friend Jose explained to me, “is that even as a computer-science major, what I learned in the classroom was outdated by the time I hit the job market.” He thought instead that the main benefit of his education, rather than learning specific skills, was gaining a better way of thinking about the challenges he faced.

Your education will open doors, not close them. Employers are looking for smart, adaptable, critical thinkers – skills that are not specific to a particular major. One of my favorite quotes is from Carol Geary Schneider, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in her commencement address to the College of Wooster’s Class of 2006:

People are not hiring you for the knowledge you bring; rather, they are hiring you for the potential you demonstrate…What they really want to know is whether or not you are a good learner, whether you have the curiosity and drive to grow with the organization, and whether you have the intellectual agility to tackle new challenges as they emerge and to help turn those problems into opportunities.

As you think about your major, what factors are guiding your decision? Is there a subject that you are passionate about, but you’ve ruled out as a major? Why? Sometimes it can be inspiring to research the careers associated with your majors of interest. The list is almost always surprisingly long. I recommend starting at home with this website from the University of Utah called “What Can I Do with This Major?” Also, be sure to visit the Career Center on campus in Hendricks Hall. They have resources and career counselors to help you with your search.