Picking a major feels like the most important decision of your life. According to everyone including your parents and the nosy pastor at church, what you study in college will determine your career path, your life purpose and whether you will be happy and successful. It’s hard not to feel the pressure if you scroll through a “Top 10 Majors that Will Guarantee You Succeed in Life” article and not feel attached to any one of them – or freak out if something you’re interested in makes the “Least Employable Majors” list.
Emily Kennelly, an advisor at Florida State’s career center, said that you can relax a little on this front. “Employers hire people, not majors,” Kennelly said. It’s more about recognizing your strengths and skills and being able to market them to an employer.
You don’t have to major in business to do business – you just need to have the related skills for the job. “Depending on the industry you plan to pursue, your undergraduate major might not matter as much as your transferable skills, college experiences and how you convey or market this information to an employer. Now, if you want to be a nurse – you probably need to major in nursing,” Kennelly said.
But most majors – and careers – are flexible. “75 percent of careers don’t require a particular major. Most occupations are looking for a certain skill set,” said Linda Burns, an advisor for undecided students at Florida State.
She called such talents “soft skills;” they’re not the skills you learned in trigonometry; but instead, they’re perseverance you learned when your homework got hard, leadership skills from your Environmental Awareness club or what you learned when you volunteered at that children’s camp last summer. Learning the most effective way to corral a gaggle of screaming children into a dining hall can accidentally teach you things like “patience” and “people skills” that potential employers find appealing.
Burns said you’d be very lucky to be certain with your major at 18-years-old. She advised exploratory and questioning students to, “Live life. Collect experiences. You never know what experience you have is going to put you in the direction of a career.” Even if you think you’ve got it all figured out as soon as you step onto that college campus, you’ll never be able to predict how your college years will shape and challenge you.
Seeking out adventures and trying new activities will give you more and more chances to learn more about yourself. If you’ve never gone hiking, you might discover that you love looking at plants and annoying your friends by reciting their scientific names. This could lead to a great volunteer gig at a nature center which would give employers insight into your values. Or you’ll realize that if your job doesn’t involve air conditioning, you’ll have to cross it off the list.
Burns said that the biggest mistake students make is having a lack of knowledge before picking a major – both self-knowledge and knowledge of what the major involves. “That’s a lost piece sometimes, students don’t consider what major is right for them.” Kennelly said many students pick their major because their parents told them to instead of choosing it based on their own skills and values.
So when picking a major, think about who YOU are. Are you good at math? Are you a good listener? Are you a bad driver? All of these things will lead you to a major that suits YOU. “We need to do what we are,” Burns said.