Founder and CEO
The short answer is that your major will likely have very little to do with most careers or career options. While there are certainly some professions that require particular degrees to be allowed to perform a specific job, many of these situations require a graduate degree or higher—lawyers, medical doctors, teaching positions, and so forth. Most employers seek individuals who have learned transferrable skills through their studies and part-time jobs. For example, engineering, computer science, math, physics, and other science-oriented degrees lend themselves well to many technology positions, but they can also lead someone to other areas such as capital markets (financial trading, analysis, etc.).
My best advice is to study what you love. You’ll not only have a wonderful time in school but also enjoy what you do for a living once you graduate. If you enjoy math and science, there is a host of majors to choose from including some of the ones cited above. If you love people and observing behaviors and interactions, focus on areas such as psychology or sociology. Speakers and writers have various communications-oriented degrees available. Lastly, realize that once you complete school, you can choose the route you take in your career. I’m living proof; I have a degree in electrical engineering, but I have never designed or built a circuit! When I entered college, I very much enjoyed math and science, so I chose an engineering field. When it was time to choose a career, I realized I liked helping people more than playing with numbers.
Author and Career Counselor
The key to choosing the “right” major is to understand that some majors prepare you for a specific career but most do not. Engineering, elementary education, nursing, interior design, and athletic training are all majors that prepare you for a particular job. When you graduate with a degree in one of these areas, you have the skills needed to qualify for an entry-level job as an engineer, teacher, nurse, interior designer, etc. Job openings will be determined by the demand for workers in those areas once you graduate.
Other majors develop broad-based transferable skills in writing, quantitative analysis, research, presentation, and problem-solving, but do not prepare you for a specific job title in a specific industry. Transferable skills majors include English, psychology, history, communication studies, biology, and other liberal arts majors, as well as general business and criminal justice. With these majors, in addition to choosing an area of study, you need to identify some jobs in the current economy that will use your best skills. You then need to get work experience while in college to make yourself marketable after graduation. For most careers, the choice of major will be less important than the work experience you get during college and the networking contacts you make along the way.
Career Counselor, Author, and Editor
Your major may or may not affect your career. Organizations hire for skills (acquired through school, work, extracurriculars, and volunteering), not just particular majors. However, your major can affect your career because it indicates an area of expertise you have developed and therefore may connect you more easily with certain areas of work that need this expertise/skill set. Because of this, within a particular field of work, you’ll often see people with similar or related majors. However, in many cases, it may not affect your career nearly as much as you expect it to because many organizations hire people regardless of their major as they are looking for the general skills and attributes (e.g., critical thinking, writing, etc.) demonstrated by people with any degree.
Donald K. Sherman
The answer to that question really depends on how you want your major to affect your career. Some students pursue a major not necessarily because they want to pursue a career in that particular field, but because it will enable them to build skills for another profession. For instance, a psychology major can be a great asset in the legal and many other professions. Picking a jury in a criminal trial or conducting negotiations for a multi-million dollar merger requires the ability to read people in addition to knowing the relevant law. Some students want to pursue their major in a professional capacity, but a college major is never going to be able to reveal all of the possibilities that your field has to offer. Some engineers are consultants, some build spacecraft for NASA, others test roller coasters, and everything in between. Likewise, English majors have been known to do everything from writing the next great novel to teaching English literature at a high school or marketing children’s toys. Your college major is a starting point for your career but is hardly determinative. It can be the foundation upon which you build your career, or provide nuance to a totally different profession. Regardless of what path you choose, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and ambition.
Get more answers to important questions about your future career in our Internships and Careers—Ask The Experts section.