Whether you’re a career-minded undergraduate ready to take on the professional world or someone with a bit more experience, at some point you’ve probably wondered whether or not your college major has impacted your career. Has your liberal arts major closed the door on certain opportunities? Would a business degree help you stand out in your job search? Do hiring managers even care what your major in college is?
Okay, that is probably simplifying it too much. A more nuanced answer is that hiring managers care about your skills, and your major is sometimes a handy shortcut for discerning what your skill set might be.
But it’s not the major itself that the hiring manager wants. For example, if a company wants to hire several software engineers from your university, their recruiters will likely target your computer science department. However, that doesn’t mean you (a business major) can’t be a software engineer if you have the right skill set. It just means you’ll need to do a little extra work to catch the recruiter’s eye.
That said, there are fields in which you are expected to major in something specific—like architecture. And if you already know you’re interested in something, do the homework to see if it’s one of those rare fields that requires a specific major. Usually though, even these fields with specific education requirements allow for a wide range of majors during your undergraduate years as long as you take certain core classes. In the field of medicine, for instance, you can major in history, and as long as you take the required prerequisites for medical school, you can still enter this field.
In short, my advice is to study what interests you most. In many cases, this will align with the career you’ll eventually want to pursue anyway. And if not, the impact will be minor.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be thinking about your future career path. Understanding that your major isn’t going to dictate what you end up doing for the rest of your life, a more important question for you to grapple with would be, “What might I want to do after college, and what can I do now to prepare?”
Aside from studying, there are so many other activities for you to take advantage of in college. Study what you want to study, then take advantage of all the opportunities available to you: extracurriculars, internships, research projects, work-study arrangements, a personal side project, you get the picture. Keep busy, and use the experiences to not only build your professional skill set, but also help you narrow down what you might want to do post-graduation. Internships in particular are great for learning about an industry, growing your network, polishing your skills, and getting relevant work experience under your belt.
If you look at it from the perspective of putting together your resume, your major will be one line, while everything else you do will make up the bulk of your one-pager. So, really, from this perspective, your major is not nearly as important as everything else you spend your time on during these next few years. Picking a major can seem like a huge decision—and it will certainly define your college years in terms of the classes you take and the people you surround yourself with—but it won’t define the path that your life and career end up taking.
Photo of person working on computer courtesy of PeopleImages/Getty Images.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author