Choose a Career, Not a Major By Kirk Whisler

When anyone starts college they are often asked ‘What is your major?’ by friends, family and people at the college. While you ultimately need a major that you will graduate in, it’s important to realize that many people never work in the field of their major. A more appropriate question might be: ‘What field would you like to have a career in?’ or ‘What occupation do you like?’

When I was a senior at Pacific High School in San Bernardino, and preparing to head off for my freshman year at U.C. Santa Barbara, my cousin Donna, who was all of a year older than me, gave me some very profound advice. She shared, “College is 25% what you learn in a classroom and 75% what you’ll learn outside that classroom. You’re finally making all, or most, decisions on your own. Financial decisions, foods, hobbies, movies, etc., will often be different than before.”

When you head off to college you are learning to live independent of your family – and most likely evolving with new sets of friends. Often your likes and dislikes will change more in a few years than they did in the previous decade. I entered college as a chemistry major and within four months knew that wasn’t the career field for me.

Certain Professions Are Tied to Majors – But Most Are Not

If you want to be a lawyer, you have to go to law school; a teacher must have earned a teaching credential, a doctor goes to med school, and so on. This comparison is especially true for graduate degrees. Probably 40% of all college trained professionals MUST be trained in their profession and have obtained a degree that entitles them to be treated as a professional in that field.

In reality it means that roughly 60% of all college trained professionals may or MAY NOT end up working in the field they got their degree in. Look at all the professions that have no real major in college. Around 10% of all the people in the USA work in sales, and yet only a few colleges in the USA offer a Bachelors or Masters in some type of sales. An English major in college may well end up as a salesperson. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, described later in this section, includes 10 major sales categories, some paying amongst the highest salaries of any career.

I graduated with a major in History and a minor in Political Science. Even though I love reading history, especially Latin American history, I’ve never really worked in the field. But the thought process I learned about analyzing historical issues I’ve used in a variety of other ways.

Don’t Believe Everything That You Hear About A Major

Over the years I’ve taught media, journalism and history classes at several different colleges. At one college the professors in the Journalism School were giving brief presentations to all the journalism students. I was appalled when the Dean of the J School described how this was a GREAT time to be going into the journalism field and about all the job opportunities. In reality a study had just come out that found only 12% of journalism students ended up with a full time job in the journalism field within two years of graduating. Pretty tough odds. When I confronted the Department Chair on this after the session he shared that he told students whatever was necessary to keep them with a major in his department so his department would keep getting funded. I’m not going to say that your professors will lie to you – just please do the appropriate research.

Think Back to When You Were Young

No little kid ever says ‘I want to be an Agriculture Major’, they say, ‘I want to be a farmer’. A more important comparison is that once you graduate that you get a job that you find enjoyable to do and financially rewarding. Think of the classes that you take in college as steps towards this long term goals – and your major as a major step, or group of steps. Remember that often the learning processes that you experience are often more important than the facts.

We have more information within this section on how to tie this thought process together – and how to get experience in different fields so you can see if you like that profession.