If you’ve ever had a conversation with me about what major to choose in college, chances are you’ve triggered my soapbox about useless majors that universities allow students to earn that no one has ever heard of and no employer would ever hire. For 20 years I have reviewed resume’s of potential employees with random, fun-sounding but impractical college majors. While I truly believe no education is a waste, with today’s tuition prices, I also think if you’re going to spend that much time and money, you should also be asking, “Can I get a job with that major?”
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should choose a career purely based on money (Lord knows I didn’t, I got in it to help people!), but young adults can be naive about the real world and they put a lot of faith in the university to give them an education they can use. When they spend 4-6 years in classes they enjoy and they debate gender topics and philosophy and ethics and morality, that’s awesome! Intellectual debate is stimulating and inspires change and growth and sometimes those deep college conversations are some of our best memories and the last time we pondered the Meaning of Life. But if they think there are hundreds of local high paying jobs in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, they are going to be disappointed…and then live in their parents’ basement for a while.
How many of you or your friends work in the field you majored in? Some do, and a lot don’t. I have close friends who finished undergraduate degrees and immediately went back for more practical training. This is totally fine of course, whatever it takes! What 18-year-old knows what they want to do for the rest of their life? Not many. Heck I know some 45-year-olds who are still figuring it out. But wouldn’t it be nice if someone guided these kids early on? Said hey, I know you like that topic, but what do you want to do with it? Do you want to read about it for a while, or do you want to work with that topic every day for 20 years? You want to major in International Studies? In what industry, with what population?
I finally heard some practical advice the other day while on a college tour at Washington University with my son. I was so excited I almost jumped out of my chair, and I had to search out the Dean of Arts and Sciences who had given the presentation to thank her for sharing this. Her talk was about how a Liberal Arts degree is not a waste of time (had she heard my soapbox before? Had the business majors and engineers finally gotten to her?). She explained that employers are looking for critical thinkers and people who can communicate. Excellent! Then she said if we still aren’t convinced, check out the study done by Burning Glass Technologies (and the article by Goldie Blumenstyk) about how to diversify yourself to make yourself marketable.
Matthew Sigelman, the CEO of Burning Glass shared the slide posted below and explained that by adding as few as two college classes or up to a minor in any of 8 fields, a liberal arts major can increase their job prospects by hundreds of thousands! This is the information we have been waiting for! How can you major in the field you are interested in and have a passion for, and still get a great job that pays you mortgage? Add some classes in IT Networking and Support, Sales, General Business, Marketing, Graphic Design, Computer Programming, Social Media or Data Analysis and Management. Diversify your career portfolio. Set yourself apart from the crowd. Give yourself some unique skills that other employees in your field won’t have, and you have just set gotten your resume’ out of File 13.
With this great nugget of advice, please make sure to ask the college you are interested in if students are allowed to take classes across departments. And while you’re at it, ask about their student and alumni career center and their job placement percentage. Let them know that you are interested in making yourself as marketable as possible, and if they can’t assist you in this process, it might be time to look elsewhere.