Major Myths and Realities: What Does Your College Major Mean Today?

Though practicality is generally a good trait to have, it can sometimes prove awfully limiting to one's options. Such is the case when it comes to choosing a college major. Parents and grizzled workforce veterans may insist that you study something 'useful' so you can secure a job right out of college, but it turns out that employers may not care much about your major at all.

By Eric Garneau

money hat

College Major: Fun or Function?

On the surface, it makes a lot of sense. You want to find a career that will make you money. Therefore, you pick a college major designed to find you employment in that career. The bottom line prevails.

But that model really only works if we choose to look at college as a factory whose sole goal is to supply the world with an endless array of suited 9-to-5ers. As readers of this website should know, that's not really the case. While a solid professional education is, of course, incredibly important in a collegiate setting, it's also important to explore the breadth of options available at most schools, including some that just aren't very 'practical.'

There are lots of reasons to do so. For instance, some of the supposedly 'softer' majors - English, philosophy, classics - place a heavy emphasis on communication and critical thinking skills that are useful to everybody. Think about it: business practices change all the time, but critical thinking really doesn't. Additionally, you'll probably enjoy your time in college a lot more if you major in something you don't hate, or, dare we hope, even like.

businesspeople working

Of course, naysayers can easily write off factors like fun as totally impractical. But are they really? It turns out that lots of employers don't actually care what you studied in college. According to a New York Times article from 2010, the thing employers most look for in job applicants is communications skills. If that's the case, one might wonder how accounting is a more practical major than, say, communications.

That same Times article mentions that, although there's no significant correlation between choice of college major and career salary, there is a strong correlation between GPA and eventual salary. Doesn't it make sense, then, to study something you know you'll enjoy? That makes you more likely to go to class, do your homework, engage with the material and perform well in school.

That said, experience in the field in which you wish to work is still important, but there are plenty of ways to get it. One popular option is pursuing a summer internship, which offers plenty of options regardless of your major. In fact, in 2010 The Washington Post reported that Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs was actively seeking interns with a liberal arts background.

In reality, all college majors have value. If you feel that studying something 'practical' is your calling, there's no reason you shouldn't. But you also shouldn't feel pressured to not study something you love because you think it will hurt your career. It won't. If you put in the work and look for the right opportunities, chances are you'll end up with a fine career regardless of whether you studied finance or folklore.

Picking a major is pretty hard, right? How about picking a college?

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