To many students, choosing a major is like choosing a path, an identity. Major is important, especially during college applications, and when some high school students decide on a major, they feel they are essentially deciding on a career. But this is exactly what a major cannot provide — a major is neither an all-encompassing professional identity nor a surefire key to success, and trying to present it at such detracts from a student’s development and exploration. Below, we will discuss five reasons why major is important but not as important as everyone thinks:
5. Major Doesn’t Equal Career
One of most common reasons students stress about majors is that they believe their major is the deciding factor on their career. This is a misconception on a few different levels. First, many employers care relatively little about an applicant’s major—there are more important things in an applicant that employers look for. Second, an estimated 75% of students change their major during their time in undergraduate (Gordon, 2000). And third, while a college degree is often a prerequisite (a flexible one at that), specific majors are often not. Only around 27.3% of graduates end up working in the same field as their college major. What these statements tell us is that college major is a flexible factor and that employers are not looking at your major much when hiring; they are looking for a certain subsets of skills. In essence, they are asking, “Can you complete what we need you to complete?” and a college major is not a sufficient answer.
4. Major Doesn’t Equal Skill
Students may ask, what exactly does determine someone’s future career? What kind of answers do employers want to hear when hiring? Well, the good and bad thing about these two questions is that there is no strict answer: every employer and company is different. However, there is one thing that helps in all scenarios — being good at what employers want you to do and having the skills, assets, and initiative to go above and beyond. A major typically guarantees a basic level of knowledge and experience in a specific field, but education is not a substitute for other important factors like internships, creative ventures, languages, programming knowledge, artistic talent, and more. Skills involving these are gained through effort and experience. Having a major in a specific field does not at all determine the presence or absence of any talent or skill.
3. If You’re Good Enough, You Will Have a Job
Talent, contrary to popular belief, is not something set from birth — it’s a process and a choice made over time, over and over again, to improve. For a great, great majority of people, mastery can be achieved for any subject they desire if they have the will to do it. Consider this: no kid is born able to create polished oil paintings; being ‘good’ involves many failures before anything worthy is achieved. While art school or a visual arts major may spur on this process and provide networking advantages, what ultimately matters is a student’s portfolio — in other words, talent and skill. Likewise, for students interested in STEM subjects like computer science, a formal education is not a necessary ingredient to expertise, much less a structured major (though having one certainly provides the credentials for potential expertise). So rather than thinking that a specific major or a specific combination of majors will lead to a job, we can instead embrace the cliché: you can do anything if you put your mind to it. And if you’re good enough, you will have a job.
2. You Don’t Have to Study the Same Thing In Graduate School
Many college students enter college thinking that they’ll have to decide on a single track for the next 6-12 years of their lives, beginning with major. For certain fields like health and engineering, this idea might be more relevant, as there are specific prerequisite classes that undergraduates have to take, and if you have taken a lot of classes in a certain field, you might as well choose a major in that field. However, it would be wise to keep in mind that usually, specific majors are never required, and that you can pursue something completely different in graduate school if you choose to. Knowing this can relieve a lot of pressure in your early college days and allow for greater exploration, which is what college is all about. So, before you restrict your entire schedule to a singular domain, remember that whether it’s from Art History to an MBA, or English to Engineering, you can always change your mind. In fact, the options are endless; you just have to have a solid preparation and explanation for your switch.
1. The Idea of Majors Can Be Limiting
While some may find it suitable to major in three different subjects, it is also completely fine to take a large variety of classes without pursuing a major in them (of course, depending on which college you go to and their policies, this idea may suffer from financial limits). Often, if you have too many majors or minors, the structured course load required closes students off to exploring and developing new interests. Additionally, this idea of major being a limiting factor applies psychologically to the reverse scenario of having only one major and basing your identity around it. In fact, there are so many more ways students can combine their talents than many are aware of in undergraduate. For example, combing artistic knowledge and marketing talents at an auction house usually isn’t an option an undergraduate has considered, but many jobs like these, ones that exist beyond the typical undergraduate’s career radar, often times ends up being the best fit for certain students. To choose a major and classify yourself as strictly a student of that major can be an unwise mindset.
Finally, after stating all these reasons for why major doesn’t matter as much as people think, it would be apt to mention a reason for why major should matter: a major or a combination of majors should always be in line with (not encompass) a student’s personal goals. It shouldn’t be treated like a required ticket to a job, but rather, a footstool, amongst many different footstools, to a student’s dreams and ambitions.
Gordon, V. N., Habley, W.R. & Associates (2000). Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
by Christine Zhu – B.A. English, Psychology – Emory University