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Dude, What’s Your Major?

March 11, 2009 By: Category: Best College Tips, College Major Info

…and Does it Matter?

It’s probably the most frequent question asked across college campuses or by anyone you know when you’re starting college. It’s also a topic that’s been debated over and over — does your major really matter?

Why Go to College?

First, let’s talk about why you’re going to college. Of course learning and life experience is part of it, but mostly it’s to gain access to employment that will bring enjoyment, financial rewards, and a desired lifestyle. So, your major must be very important, right? The truth is…yes and no.

What a Degree Means to Employers

One thing you can be sure of is that going to college and graduating with a degree is the most important thing you can do for entering the job market. Employers look for candidates with a college degree because it tells them:

  • You take initiative and can focus on long-term goals. Your decision to go to college and your successful completion of it increases the chance that you’re a candidate with a strong work ethic. It makes you a good bet for employers.
  • You have the ability to learn, research, and produce results, which translates to the ability to solve and analyze problems on the job.
  • You’ve been exposed to a variety of people, professors, and tasks which required the use of communication skills which are also necessary in most work environments.
  • You can work within a set schedule and meet deadlines. Employers want people who effectively manage their time and produce valuable results.

How You Can Make the Wrong Choice

Now that you know what employers are looking for, you know college will serve you well. But can you make a bad choice with your major? Yes. Here are three ways NOT to choose your major: 1) base it solely on the high salary of the profession; 2) choose it because your parents want you to 3) pick it because your friends picked it. These choices result in wasted time, money, starting over, dropping out, or, even worse, being miserable in your career. Who wants to be the patient of a doctor who hates being a doctor?

Life Is Unpredictable

Don’t forget, more often than not one’s major doesn’t lead to their intended path. Let’s face it, life is unpredictable and you probably have abilities that can be utilized in more than one arena. Once you’ve had work experience, future employers look more at what you’ve accomplished in your career than what your major was in college. There are occupations, however, where your major will play an important role in opening the door to your career. For example, if you desire to become a brain surgeon, biochemical engineer, or airline pilot, there’s a very specific educational path you’ll need to follow. Yet, a History major may find himself working in sales and an English major could find herself doing graphic design. It depends on your ability to demonstrate skills and talents in these areas. In such cases, the college degree was just a springboard to getting hired. Their degrees exemplified their ability to succeed.

Does Changing Fields Affect Potential Wages?

Cal Newport, author, success expert, and award-winning blogger, delves into this very issue on his Studyhacks blog. With consideration to job search web sites, employment blogs, and a published study using data from the National Survey of College Graduates, his ultimate conclusion is “major in what you like.” The study shows that only technical, engineering, and health-related graduates experience a significant drop in wage when they take on jobs not related to their major (by more than 20%). This is not surprising since such fields offer higher salaries than other fields to begin with.

It’s Personal, Dude!

If you’re wondering whether your major is important, chances are you’re not dreaming of becoming a nuclear physicist. Does your major matter? On a personal level, yes. College is a serious commitment. Consider “what you like” and research where it can lead you. If you can narrow it down to a “dream career,” find out what degree is preferred by employers in that industry. Attempt to tailor your classes to boost your employment chances immediately after graduation. Take a related part-time job, internship, or volunteer opportunity to give your resume that competitive edge. Then go for it! Enjoy life’s journey and congratulate yourself on completing one of it’s many milestones!

And of course, if you’re looking for a college that has the college major you’re considering, find your college match at