When you first get into college you are forced to make a decision. This decision is one that seems like it will have an immense impact on your future, what you can do for work after graduation, how successful you will be.
The decision: What your degree will be.
For many of us, that choice is a challenge. At 17 or 18, it almost feels like there hasn’t been nearly enough time to explore what we might be interested in, much less to know for certain what we want to dedicate years of our lives to studying. It’s intense to make a decision that feels like it has the weight to change everything, to change where we end up after graduating. It’s a decision that fills so many people with confusion and dread. What if you make the wrong choice? What if what you think you want to do turns out to be the wrong thing? What are you supposed to do if you get all the way through your degree and then realize that your dream job has nothing to do with what you studied? Often, we just choose what we think we should choose or what we’re passionate about in the moment, completely unsure of how that decision will turn out.
Later on, we either come to love the choice we made or change our minds. We might have found a career we want to pursue and encountered the people who question how in the world we think that our majors are going to get us there. An actress with a degree in neuroscience? A Youtuber, CEO and educator with a degree in biochemistry? A photographer with a degree in history? There’s just no way. It’s difficult to see the correlation between these degrees and career paths. It doesn’t add up. The good news is, your degree doesn’t have to define what you can do post-grad and there are pretty clear relationships between these seemingly unrelated careers and degrees.
Like many people, I came into college with no idea what I wanted to do after graduation.
I chose to major in English, a subject I love, and figured I would find the right career path later on. When I made this decision, so many people looked at me sideways. Jokes about my pending unemployment after graduation started to add up real quick. People said my degree was easy and that it did not require any “real” work like the work of engineers or pre-med students. For a long time, I believed what people told me. I worried day in and day out that I made the wrong decision despite how passionately I felt about the subject.
I’m a senior now, and based on everything I’ve experienced as an undergraduate student, I don’t want to write books or teach English or follow any of the career paths that people expect of English majors and the best part is: I don’t have to. My degree has taught me to think critically, to listen without judgment, to write professionally and creatively. I have learned to give and receive constructive criticism without offense, to reimagine ideas that have already been said and to make them unique. I have learned so many English-specific things from my degree, but I have also learned so much that can be applied to any field I choose.
A degree gets your foot in the door, it teaches you skills and makes you work to refine them. Going to college allows you to develop skills and interests that you may not have found otherwise and that is a great thing, but earning a degree is not the end all be all. What you do with the knowledge that has been passed on to you is dependent upon where your interests lie, what your goal is for yourself, what impact you want to leave and so much more. A degree doesn’t automatically guarantee that you will be fit for a job. It doesn’t ensure that you will be happy there either.
There are so many people in this world who have earned degrees in one subject and found themselves working in others. For example, actress Mayim Bialik studied neuroscience. Editor-in-chief at Glamour, Samantha Berry, studied English and psychology. Director Ava DuVernay studied African American studies and English. Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York, earned a history degree. Comedian Daniel Tosh graduated with a degree in marketing. The list could go on for ages but the point remains the same.
Whatever degree you choose does not define you.
Your degree is not indicative of what you can and cannot do after graduation. Most importantly, if you are passionate about the field that you are studying in, a fear that you will be unable to find a job or that your degree is worthless should not stop you from studying what you love. Your determination to find a job, to make an impact, to work hard— those are the things that will matter the most.
The skills you have learned by studying within your field and the ways in which you apply them to your future workplaces will be the biggest determinants. If you end up within a field that relates to the degree you earned then that is fantastic, but if you find that you are driven to apply yourself in a different context or if you find that what you have studied doesn’t have the most straightforward connection to the career you find yourself dreaming about, that’s okay too. Your degree doesn’t have to stop you from pursuing the job you want.
As technology advances, the job market will rotate through many changes. Publications will shift away from paper to internet only publishing, social media will become an even greater form of marketing, new companies will come up with focuses that people have never taken on before and brilliantly unique ideas. The changes that we will see in the job market are beyond anything we can even think of at the current moment. This indicates that many of us just starting or going through college now will eventually end up working in jobs that don’t currently exist or that we can’t even dream of. For that reason, among others, it is crucial to realize that earning a degree is meant to teach you skills.
What you learn in your classes, through your projects, in your clubs, is usually transferable and can mold to fit the skill requirements that jobs may have for you. Working through the classes, assignments and other elements of earning a degree will give you experiences that can relate to tons of fields. Think about it, taking charge in a group project demonstrates leadership. Completing writing assignments for class builds a portfolio and researching effectively for those assignments gives you research skills. Don’t undermine anything you complete throughout your college experience. Any and everything can be useful later on and can qualify you for the new jobs you will see coming up.
As you navigate your way through college, one thing to keep in mind is what you are taking away from the experience.
What skills are you building in your classes? What activities do you enjoy and what elements of the experience are not for you? What contribution do you want to make your in community, the state and the greater world through your work? It’s important to remember that what you are studying does not lock you into one career path or one specific job. Even if you earn a specialized degree, you don’t have to work in that field. Don’t doubt that you are learning valuable things that are applicable to a variety of fields. Don’t doubt that even if there is no explicit correlation between your degree and the career field you aspire to work in, you will be able to find a job that fulfills you.
My advice for any student in college? Pick a major that you are most interested in or curious about even if you aren’t entirely sure what you will do with that major when you graduate. As you move through your college career, learn and explore as much as you can. When it comes time to apply for jobs, don’t immediately eliminate everything that isn’t directly related to your major. If you are interested in a career field, look at what skills, personal qualities and experiences they look for in qualified candidates. Chances are, you have some or all of the skills, passion and drive that it takes to fulfill this job and to be successful in it.
There is no one correct path to a specific career.
Even professionals who have the jobs you want got there in different ways. It is up to you to forge your own path, figure out where your talents and skills lie and get the job you want. The truth of the matter is that no one is employed as a “chemistry major” or a “history major” or a “business major.” Instead employment depends on your competencies if you aren’t going into a field that absolutely requires a specific degree.
A degree is not meant to be limiting. A degree is meant to equip you with a few of the tools to get where you want to go in life. Realize that you have more to offer than just the label on your diploma.