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How Much Does Your College Major Affect Your Career?

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  • 0:03 Major Vs. Career
  • 1:19 Domain-Specific Knowledge
  • 2:59 Transferable Skills
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What happens when your chosen major doesn't line up with the career you want to pursue? In this lesson, we'll look at the two types of knowledge necessary for career success, and how your major aligns with each of them.

Major vs. Career

Guy and his friend Trent are almost finished with college. Guy is an English major, but he doesn't want to be an English teacher or writer. In fact, he's not sure exactly what he wants to do, but he's pretty sure it's something with computer science. That's far away from his English major!

Trent, meanwhile, is a psychology major. He wants to become a psychologist, so his major is aligned with what he wants to do.

A person's major is their course of study in college. It's what most of the classes that a person takes are about. For Guy, that's literature and writing. For Trent, that's psychology.

In contrast, a person's career is the occupational field that they work in. It's what they end up doing for a living. For Trent, that will be psychology, but for Guy, it's probably going to be computer science or something else.

As Guy and Trent illustrate, your career and your major can be aligned, but sometimes they aren't. So what happens when they aren't aligned? How much does a college major affect a person's career? Let's look closer at two types of skills, domain-specific and transferable, and how a person's major and career impact them.

Domain-Specific Knowledge

Trent is a psychology major who is planning on working in psychology. That's pretty straightforward! But Guy is an English major who wants to work with computers.

Every career requires domain-specific knowledge, which are skills and understanding that apply only to one specific area, or domain. For example, Trent's knowledge of psychological theories are important for a psychologist to know, but probably not so important for a web designer to understand. Guy's English major has given him the ability to analyze Shakespeare's works, a skill that's great for English teachers to have, but not really helpful to a computer guy!

So each of them has domain-specific knowledge that they have learned through their college major, and each of them has domain-specific knowledge that is important for their future careers. Trent's domain-specific knowledge learned through his major lines up with that required by his career, but Guy's doesn't.

So does that mean that Guy is just out of luck? Not at all! Domain-specific knowledge can be learned through experience or in a classroom. For people like Trent, the domain-specific knowledge learned in classes can help them get jobs in their chosen field.

But for people like Guy, whose major and career don't line up, domain-specific knowledge will need to be learned via experience. For example, Guy could do an internship at a computer company or volunteer for a charity that reprograms old computers for people in need. Both of these experiences (and many others) can give Guy the same domain-specific knowledge that he didn't learn in the classroom.

Transferable Skills

Domain-specific knowledge is important. After all, you can't be a psychologist if you don't understand what psychology is, and you can't be a computer science person if you don't know how to turn on a computer!

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