A major will not decide the fate of your career
By Ryan DeVito
You are not defined by your college major. High school students often struggle under the pressure of not only choosing a college but also pre-selecting a major that will lead to a certain career. Fortunately, there is no definite pathway to most jobs.
A college major is simply a medium for greater exploration of something. With few exceptions, college curricula are designed to expose students to a wide variety of coursework. The major itself can constitute as little as one quarter of a student’s credits over the course of their college career. Those credit hours are focused on one particular field of interest that may or may not have any bearing on a student’s future career goals.
I majored in political science in college. Instead of viewing my college experience as a means for securing a job after graduation, I approached college as an opportunity to learn widely. Political science was, and still is, interesting to me, so I chose to focus my studies in that field. However, I never had any intention of pursuing any of the assumed paths of a political science major: law school, political campaigning or lobbying.
Political science formed the foundation of my college education, but it in no way defines who I am or where I hope to take my career. My story isn’t uncommon, either. College graduates nationwide are increasingly departing from their college majors to pursue jobs that are sometimes completely unrelated. After all, the modern economy is constantly changing and the opportunity to discover new passions and interests is ever expanding.
High school students may be surprised to learn how little bearing a college major has on a lifetime trajectory. Medical doctors are often examples of how your college major can be unrelated to your endgame. An increasing number of medical students have undergraduate degrees that are outside of the sciences, and many medical schools look for candidates with nonscience backgrounds. Why? Because medical schools want to produce well-rounded doctors who can better connect with their patients.
This is an age when people need to be adaptable. Essentially gone are the days when you could graduate from college and assume that a lifetime job would be waiting for you. Instead, today’s college students need to be versatile and innovative.
Not only is the job landscape constantly changing, but so are your personal interests. In a widely referenced statistic, the average young person today changes careers more than three times in their lifetime. That’s careers, not jobs.
A college major should allow you to feed a passion. Selecting a major based on career prospects is a losing proposition. And what really matters is not your major but your drive. The research of economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger suggests that college major is much less important than the student’s inherent ability, motivation and ambition. Studying art history or horticulture are not death sentences for your future. Just the opposite is true if you are motivated to search out the opportunities you want. Also, every experience can be translated into a desirable job skill. From interpersonal communication to organization to management, any major can be effectively pitched to be a desirable package for potential employers.
High school and college students shouldn’t feel as though their future is at stake when they choose a major. Rather, they should think about how they can use their academic interests to reach their goals. There is no set path. With some inventiveness and innovation, today’s students can create opportunity regardless of what they study in college.
Ryan DeVito is a Miller Place native and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo. DeVito is a counselor at High Point University and also started his own college advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students and their families.