Rethinking “What Can I Do With This Major?”

“What can I do with this major?” is a question a lot of students have as they begin their college education. It is also one that has a more long, detailed, and constantly changing answer that you would think.

I tend to encourage students to rephrase this question to “What can’t I do with my major” instead, because, with the exception of just a handful of majors (Accounting, Engineering, and Nursing, for example), the major you select will not determine your career, and your career goals are achievable with almost any major.

A more fruitful question to ponder for yourself is: “To what extent do I want my major to directly relate to my profession?” In other words, you should evaluate how important is it to you that the specialized knowledge you gained from your major courses relates directly to your everyday work responsibilities.

It may be the case that your major and career of choice have no direct similarities. For example, an English major who ultimately pursues a career in Human Resource Management, or a Sociology major who becomes a marketing specialist at a start-up. What these two scenarios have in common is that they utilize an individual’s skills learned from their undergraduate studies, such as strong attention to detail, critical thinking, teamwork, and written communication, rather than calling upon the individual’s extensive knowledge of 20th century literature in order for them to do their job well.

It could also be the case that the extent to which your degree influences your day-to-day professional life is higher at some points in your career and lower at others. For example, a Statistics major who works professional as a data analyst for five years after graduation, and decides to take a detour and become a high school mathematics teacher instead. In any case, the skills needed for specific professions also evolve drastically over time, and the knowledge needed to work in certain industries is never stagnant. Thus, in any case, you will always need to develop new skills and knowledge any time you begin a new job, regardless of your educational history. This concept is often referred to as “lifelong learning.”

To get started with exploring different career opportunities, that may or may not incorporate your knowledge gained from your major courses, it is highly recommended that you pursue an internship at some point during your undergraduate studies. There are hundreds of internships available in a wide variety of fields that do not require students to be pursuing a specific degree. This is one reason that Handshake allows you to filter internship opportunities by industry, rather than by major.

Regardless of where your studies take you, success will take different forms throughout your career.

By Eli Heller (He/Him)
Eli Heller (He/Him) Career Coach Eli Heller (He/Him)