There are few topics about college that create more controversy than “Does your major really matter to your career?” Many people think it does; others think it’s not so important. Who is right? And who gets to weigh in? Also, how do you measure whether something “matters”—by salary, happiness, personal satisfaction?
It may be difficult to say for sure whether your major truly matters to your career. One’s college major and ultimate career are not necessarily correlated. Consider the following “factoids”:
- 50–70 percent of college students change their major at least once during their time in college.
- Most majors lead to a wide variety of opportunities rather than to one specific career, although some majors do indeed lead to specific careers.
- Many students say that the skills they gain in college will be useful on the job no matter what they major in.
- Only half of graduating seniors accept a job directly related to their major.
- Career planning for most undergraduates focuses on developing general, transferrable skills like speaking, writing, critical thinking, computer literacy, problem-solving, and team building, because these are skills that employers want.
- College graduates often cite the following four factors as being critical to their job and career choices: personal satisfaction, enjoyment, opportunity to use skills and abilities, and personal development.
- Within ten years of graduation, most people work in careers that aren’t directly related to their majors.
- Many or most jobs that exist today will be very different five years from now.
It’s also important to talk about financial considerations in choosing a major.
- Any major you choose will likely benefit you because college graduates earn roughly $1 million more than high school graduates, on average, over an entire career.
- STEM jobs, though—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—can lead to the thirty highest paying jobs. So if you major in any of these areas, you may be more likely to earn a higher salary.
- Even though humanities and social sciences students may earn less money right after college, they may earn more by the time they reach their peak salary than students who had STEM majors.
- Students who major in the humanities and social science are also more likely to get advanced degrees, which increases annual salary by nearly $20,000 at peak salary.
So where will you stand with regard to these statistics? Is it possible to have a good marriage between your major, your skills, job satisfaction, job security, and earnings?
Here to share a personal story about selecting your college major and finding the right career fit is Marc Luber, host of Careers Out There. Enjoy his insights, which he sums up with, “Focus on what makes you tick, and run with it.”
The best guidance on choosing a major and connecting it with a career may be to get good academic and career advice and select a major that reflects your greatest interests. If you don’t like law or medicine but you major in it because of a certain salary expectation, you may later find yourself in an unrelated job that brings you greater satisfaction—even if the salary is lower. If this is the case, will it make more sense, looking back, to spend your time and tuition dollars studying a subject you especially enjoy?
Every student who pursues a college degree and a subsequent career may tell a different story about the impact of their major on their professional directions. In the following excerpt from Foundations of College Success: Words of Wisdom, writer and former SUNY student Kristen Mruk reflects on the choices she made and how they turned out.
The Student Experience
What I Would Like To Do
I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I started college, but that changed three times by the time I graduated. Initially I started as an International Business major but ended up receiving a degree in Communication and continued on to graduate school. My greatest advice to you is to embrace feelings of uncertainty (if you have them) with regard to your academic, career, or life goals. Stop into the Career Services office on your campus to identify what it is that you really want to do when you graduate or to confirm your affinity to a career path. Make an appointment to see a counselor if you need to vent or get a new perspective. Do an internship in your field; this can give you a first-hand impression of what your life might look like in that role.
When I chose International Business, I did not do so as an informed student. I enjoyed and excelled in my business courses in high school and I had hopes of traveling the world, so International Business seemed to fit the bill. Little did I know, the major required a lot of accounting and economics which, as it turned out, were not my forte. Thinking this is what I wanted, I wasted time pursuing a major I didn’t enjoy and academic courses I struggled through.
So I took a different approach. I began speaking to the professionals around me that had jobs that appealed to me: Student Unions/Activities, Leadership, Orientation, Alumni, etc. I found out I could have a similar career, and I would enjoy the required studies along the way. Making that discovery provided direction and purpose in my major and extracurricular activities. I felt like everything was falling into place.
What I Actually Do
I would like to . . . ask you to consider why you are in college. Why did you choose your institution? Have you declared a major yet? Why or why not? What are your plans post-graduation? By frequently reflecting in this way, you can assess whether or not your behaviors, affiliations, and activities align with your goals.
What you actually do with your student experience is completely up to you. You are the only person who can dictate your collegiate fate. Remind yourself of the reasons why you are in college and make sure your time is spent on achieving your goals. There are resources and people on your campus available to help you. You have the control—use it wisely.
—Kristen Mruk, Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom