When you show up for a college tour at one of the many institutions in the United States, you inevitably will hear about choosing what major to pursue. You might tour the business school, the engineering school, and the liberal arts school all in one day. There are so many paths to choose from, and you think, “I’m only 18! Why do I have to make this decision now? I have no idea what I want to do for the rest of my life!”
Well, I’m here to tell you three things.
- The Major You Choose Doesn’t Really Matter
A 2010 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that only 27.3% of college undergraduates were working jobs that were directly related to the major on their degree. This means that no matter what major you choose, there’s a very good chance you will work a few jobs in your lifetime that have nothing to do with that History or Marketing degree.
A lot of degrees are so broad that many companies that hire people with your degree are giving you jobs that don’t quite match up, but are close enough that they can teach you what you need to know. At the end of the day, most of what you learn in class you will either relearn at your job or won’t be applicable for what you are doing.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to class and pay attention, though. GPA matters to get internships and other opportunities that will help build your resume and get you connected with people that could give you a job down the road. Good grades show accountability and responsibility more than they show any actual skill. But those attributes, along with other soft skills, are what companies are looking for more and more these days. Many interviewers and CEOs will ask themselves when hiring, “Is this the kind of person who I could have started this company with?” If the answer is yes, then you’re in. But you have to show that through building a relationship and showing your value during the hiring process.
- If You Don’t Pick One Now, It Could Set You Back
“So now that you’ve told me my major doesn’t really matter, why shouldn’t I go in undecided?” Be patient, young padawan.
While the major you pick in itself doesn’t matter, the act of picking a major matters immensely. If you go in undecided, you could be wasting valuable time and money that you could be using to build a network and build wealth. Going in freshman year with a major, and being mindful of the credits and classes needed to graduate, could save you a semester of tuition and and extra six months of full time income to pay off those pesky student loans.
Going in to college undecided tailors in to our recent post about following your passion, and how it’s the best worst advice. Following your passion is fine to an extent, but you have to remember that much of the value in a college degree comes with that little slip of paper you receive when you finish. The people you meet and the life skills you develop are second in value. And after all that comes the skills you learn from the classes in your specific major.
Think of college as a business decision. If you know what you want to major in coming in, then figure out how to get those classes done in the least amount of time so you can stop paying tuition and graduate. (This doesn’t mean you have to stop “living the college life”, if that appeals to you. It just means you can do it for a lot cheaper.) If you really can’t decide on a major that you know you can be interested in and finish, then perhaps you should take a year off, get a job, earn some money and try and figure out what you want to do (or NOT do) through self-learning and experience. Then, once you figure it out, not only are you better equipped to pay for college, but you also know what you want out of your experience there. It’s a win-win.
- Your Passion Will Reveal Itself Through Self-Learning, Not In Class
I am going into my sophomore year at Ohio State, and I can safely say I haven’t taken a class yet that has anything to do with my specialization. Sure, I’ve taken some classes that might help me in an office (Microsoft Excel and Access classes come to mind) but I’ve learned nothing about being a financial adviser and the skills that those avenues entail.
However, I’ve learned more about personal finance and investing in the past 3 months than I have in my entire life. Why is that? Self-education.
I have made it my mission to begin building a foundation on which I can later improve through reading as much as I can about the things that I am interested in. I began reading to personal finance blogs, listening to Listen Money Matters podcast, and reading The Intelligent Investor, by Ben Graham. I have taken extensive notes on Graham’s book, known as the “Bible” of investing, and I believe I’ve learned a lot about valuing companies and the philosophy behind investing for the long term. By taking notes, I can easily look back at what I’ve learned for reference, since the book goes so in-depth on many subjects.
This is what self-learning is all about. If you find subjects that you’re truly interested in, it won’t feel like work when you’re learning about it. But you can’t find what you’re interested in without doing your own research and reading about different subjects. If you can strive to read a little bit about something every day, it won’t take long before you can analyze your life and narrow down what really interests you. Once you find that, focus on it and dive into it. Learn skills that will help you in that field, even if you have to do it outside of class. Self-learners are the people who constantly succeed in life.
photo credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives Western University, London, Ontario / Université Western, London, Ontario via photopin (license)