Why Your College Major Choice Isn’t as Important as You Think

People sometimes ask me, “If you could go back, would you have picked a different college major?”

I used to have a really hard time answering this question.

You see, my college degree is completely unrelated to what I’m doing today. So sometimes I’d catch myself thinking, “maybe I should have picked a different major.”

The only problem is I’m not sure what I would’ve picked instead. But I don’t waste any time thinking about it anymore… Now whenever someone asks me this question, my answer is always no.

Here’s why:

  1. Because I LOVE what I’m doing now and I have no idea where I’d be today if I hadn’t taken the path that I took. All I know is that ultimately it led me to where I am today, and for that, I’m grateful. It’s only by learning what I didn’t want to do that eventually I figured out what I did want to do.
  2. It’s just a stupid question… Obviously we can’t go back in time anyway, so what’s the point of driving yourself crazy wondering ‘what if?’ about every decision you make in your life? Plus, I’ve already wasted more than enough time thinking about time travel, and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.

So for those of you who are still in college (or soon to be), instead of beating yourself up trying to pick the “perfect” major…

Or constantly wondering if you’ve picked the “right” major…

I encourage you to STOP WORRYING and CHILL OUT.

I know it may feel like you’re expected to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life while you’re in college, but I promise you, this is a stupid and unrealistic expectation.

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Your College Major Isn’t As Important As You Think

Let me just start with this: the idea that your college major MUST determine the rest of your career path is a big fat myth.

Of course, there is a very small subset of specialized jobs that require specialized degrees (e.g. engineering, architecture, medicine). But for the most part, the real world doesn’t care about your specific degree as much as you might think.

And while having a specialized degree may be required for certain specialized jobs, it’s important to realize that having a specialized degree does not restrict you solely to those specialized jobs.

In doing some research for this article, I came across a great analogy that puts it perfectly:

“You need to look at your major as your training wheels. It can get you going in a direction you might want, but once those wheels come off, you can go anywhere you like.” – Christopher Calogero

While four years may seem like a big portion of your life when you’re only 18 years old, you need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture here.

perspective

Given that the average life expectancy (in America) is 79 years, four years is only 5% of your life.

Do you really think you should only get 5% of your life to determine how you’re going to spend the next 75% of your life?

That seems pretty ridiculous if you ask me. And it turns out, most people don’t end up working in a field related to their college major…

A recent study shows that only 27% of college graduates are working in a job that relates to their major.

Of course, following a career that is related to your major is never a bad thing, if that’s what you want. But if that’s not what you want, or if you ever find yourself feeling compelled to try something new, don’t be afraid to go after it–no matter how unrelated it is to your degree.

The Story of an Engineer Turned Blogger

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my major has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m doing today.

I graduated from USC with a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering… and now I’m a full-time blogger and career coach.

How the hell did that happen? Well, it didn’t happen overnight…

I initially decided to create my blog, Collegetopia, in July 2013, during the summer after my sophomore year at USC. My goal was to document my steps toward self-improvement and share all the weird “challenges” I was doing (like taking freezing cold showers and talking to strangers every day).

cold-shower

Even though I was studying engineering and I knew that it had absolutely nothing to do with my major, I did it simply because I thought it sounded like fun. One thing led to another, and what started out as a small personal side project eventually snowballed into this thing that I’ve now become super passionate about. And so here we are.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but it’s been the most exciting and rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Through starting a blog I’ve been able to reach hundreds of thousands of people all across the world (I even had the opportunity to meet up with one of my readers in Germany last summer when I went on a backpacking trip across Europe… How awesome is that?!).

I’ve also been able to connect with tons of incredibly inspiring people that I never would have met otherwise–including powerhouses like Thomas Frank, who has been one of my biggest inspirations from the very beginning.

And of course, Thomas has also had anything but a linear career path. And this very blog that you’re reading right now wouldn’t exist if Thomas hadn’t been willing to try something completely unrelated to his college major.

Not to mention, many of the world’s greatest companies and organizations probably wouldn’t exist either if their founders hadn’t been willing to try something completely unrelated to their college majors.

Don’t Let Your College Major Hold You Back

There’s a brilliant author, entrepreneur, and public speaker named Seth Godin who once said that the two most valuable skills you can have are:

  1.  The ability to solve interesting problems, and
  2. The ability to lead.

The way I see it, practically every major helps you develop these two critical skills, in one way or another. And the thing is that these high-level skills can be applied to any field. Which means that rather than limiting your options, your college major should actually be expanding your options because it has helped you develop the two most valuable skills that enable you to do basically anything you want to do.

Knowing this, it’s heartbreaking to think about all the people out there who have the potential to do so many amazing things… but will never live up to that potential. Simply because they’re afraid to venture outside of their “scope of work.”

Please don’t let that happen to you. Please don’t let you major prevent you from living up to your fullest potential.

If you’re feeling trapped in a very narrow career trajectory that you don’t want to take, don’t settle just because you feel like you don’t have any other options…

Know that there are always more options. 

If you’re unhappy with your current career trajectory, you don’t need to drop everything you’ve done so far and start all over (please don’t do that). Instead, just start running little experiments on the side.

I’m a huge fan of side projects because starting something on the side gives you the freedom to try something new (or take a deeper dive into your current field of study) before fully committing to it. So even if you end up hating your new side project, at least you will have had the opportunity to learn some new skills and weed out one more option before committing to something that you really love.

At the end of the day, finding what you love comes down to a process of elimination… and you probably won’t get it right on the first try. This isn’t an overnight process

But that’s okay, because every time you try something new you’ll gather more data about what you like and what you don’t like, which will enable you to iterate.

what-success-looks-like-border

The most important thing is that you don’t give up until you find something that excites you, challenges you, and gives you an opportunity to continue developing new skills. The worst thing you can do is limit yourself by trying to force yourself into a career path that you don’t enjoy.

I know it may feel like once you’ve chosen your major, you’re locked in to only a handful of career paths related to that major. And I know it may feel like if you don’t apply yourself directly to the field that’s related to your major, you’ve somehow failed. Or at the very least, you’ve “wasted” your time.

But I’m here to tell you otherwise.

Now Is the Time to Try Something New

College is about so much more than “getting a degree.”

It’s about getting out of your comfort zone, trying new things, taking risks, and learning as much as possible–both inside and outside of the classroom.

If there’s ever a time in your life to take a risk and try something new, college is it.

messy-art

College is the only time in your life when you can try something new, fail miserably, and not have to deal with any legitimate consequences.

It’s the only period in your life when you have all the freedom and independence of being an adult, without all the responsibilities and pressures of “the real world.”

So take advantage of it.

Realize that what you want to do will probably continue to change and evolve for the rest of your life. So stop trying to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. All you need to figure out is what you want to do for now.

Why Your College Major Choice Isn't as Important as You Think

Here’s a Pinterest-worthy image for sharing this article 🙂

And once again, the way you do that, is by trying new things and figuring out what you don’t want to do.

So if there’s something that you’ve been wanting to do–whether it’s learning how to code, starting your own blog, or anything else–I implore you to go out and DO IT.

You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Image Credits: featured, time travel, perspective, cold shower, what success looks like, messy art

Stefano Ganddini is a University of Southern California graduate and the creator of Collegetopia. As a writer and coach, Stefano helps smart, ambitious introverts overcome their social anxiety, boost their productivity, and figure out what to do with their lives. If you’re ready to start building a deep, lasting and natural confidence, sign up for his free newsletter (or connect with him on Twitter)!

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4 Comments on "Why Your College Major Choice Isn’t as Important as You Think"

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Charlie Zheng

First of all, I really wanna say there are so many opinions or words I could not agree more.
As a senior postgraduate ,I am gonna graduate from university next year in April .The graduattion day is coming close ,but I dont think I am gonna take the job that has too much connection to my major ,that is communication and information engineering… cause I am not interested in coding stuff…but I am not regretting the choice I have made to go for my master degree two years ago…cause I did learn a lot of things during this period ,most importantly knowing how to find and solve the problem..
Now I am doing internship in a foreign company ,and gradually I like it …Learning by doing…
Just like what u wrote in the article,realize what u really wanna do and continue to change and Evolve for the rest of your life…

Angela Stone

Amen! People are always confused when I tell them I’m majoring in art, but I probably won’t be using this degree beyond college. Art might be my major, however I’ve been developing a lot of skills and opportunities on the side. Internships, and job shadowing are among the most useful thing you can do. I also contact people who are doing the kind of jobs I’d like to be doing and I ask them questions (this is a great way to network, I’ve been given internship opportunities simple because of this). Networking with people and developing skills goes way beyond an 4.0 in college.

Kay

This is a great article Stefano!

One thing that comforted me was looking at the most successful people I knew.

Most of them talked about having a solid methodical plan but once you start asking about the details their stories don’t seem so methodical. I remember a friend of my mum talking about how she methodically planned her career. Then she talked about how she spent decades in waiting tables, childcare, entrepreneurship, going back to college, becoming a nurse, and then moving into a management gig. At the start of this path, there is no way she could have predicted her final outcome.

If you have the right qualities and stay smart, multiple paths can get you where you want to go.

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