Imagine that you’re about to begin your sophomore year in college. You’ve gotten your prerequisite courses out of the way, and taken a few electives, but nothing is standing out at you as a potential major. If it’s coming time to choose a major, but you’re still not really sure what you ultimately want to do, don’t panic!
Research by Jaison Abel and Richard Dietz of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that only 27% of college graduates are working in a job that is directly related to their major. However, of college graduates with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), 52% are working a job related to their education. This makes sense: The more tailored your undergraduate coursework, the more skills related to that field you develop, and the more employable you are in that field. STEM degrees, education degrees, and professional degrees (medicine, law, etc.) typically prepare you very well for a career in that specific field, but your choices outside of that field will be limited.
This is great if you’ve grown up knowing that you want to be a dentist, doctor, chemical engineer, or data analyst, but what happens if you think about the future a little more ambiguously? If you’re not set on a specific career path, it may help to consider what your strongest subjects are and then choose a general major that focuses loosely on those subjects. Remember, the skills you’ll learn and develop in college (in any major), like writing, critical thinking, and the ability to work with a team, will be important no matter your future career. Liberal arts schools are especially good at developing a well-rounded set of skills in their students.
I am the quintessential example of the phenomenon of college graduates not working in a field directly related to their degree. Although I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis (a field related to both psychology and education), a series of events led me away from that field. Although I don’t have a degree in writing, my liberal arts undergraduate studies focused heavily on writing and helped strengthen my skills. I always enjoyed writing and felt that it was one of my stronger skills, so when the opportunity to work for Student Caffé came up, I took it!
Consider these five majors that will be useful no matter what you choose to do in the future:
1. Psychology: As a psychology major, you will study people, human behavior, and the brain. You’ll learn about how people learn and react. This knowledge of how and why humans do what they do is applicable to many career fields. In addition to learning about emotion and action, you’ll acquire both data analysis and research skills.
- Related fields: sociology, anthropology
- Skills also applicable to: management, human resources, sales, special education, counseling and therapy, psychiatry, social work
2. Business: The focus of this degree is on the basics of management, finances, marketing, and math and how they relate to businesses and business models. You’ll learn about consumers, communications, business strategy, and, in some cases, international relations. Working knowledge of data analysis, critical thinking, and problem solving are all but guaranteed as well.
- Related fields: finance, economics, marketing, management
- Skills also applicable to: human resources, sales, entrepreneurship, logistics, consulting
3. Communications or English: Classes within these majors focus on reading, writing and speaking, as well as broadcast methods (written journalism, radio, and television). Spending so much time immersed in language will help you develop analytical and critical thinking skills, as well as—you guessed it—better your ability to communicate both on paper and outloud.
- Related fields: journalism, broadcasting, marketing
- Skills also applicable to: politics, radio and television, print media, public relations, advertising, law, copywriting
4. Math or Economics: These degrees have a focus on math (surprise!) and, in the case of economics, production, cost, demand, budgeting, and market theory. Having the ability to solve complex problems is a skill that is universally in demand. Accounting, banking, and business careers are all a possibility with these degrees, but the options are limitless.
- Related fields: computer science, finance, accounting, engineering
- Skills also applicable to: information technology, data analysis, consulting, banking
5. General Studies: If you’re completely undecided about what you want to do and don’t want to specialize in anything specific, check to see if your school offers a general studies or liberal studies program. This major usually emphasizes English, basic science and math, and electives, and sets you up to pursue almost anything. Like in the animal kingdom, a specialist can only follow a certain career path and work within his or her educational limitations, while a generalist has the education and soft skills necessary to find work doing anything.
If you do choose to pursue a more general major, potential employers will primarily focus on your experience and skills, rather than your education. If you have taken courses relevant to the job for which you’re applying, consider adding a “Relevant Coursework” section to your résumé so that employers can see you’ve taken classes that qualify you for the position, despite not seeing a specific degree. You could also consider an internship, more specialized minor, or taking several electives within one subject area to highlight your knowledge and strengths.
Note that if you decide to attend a graduate program after earning your bachelor’s degree or spending some time in the workforce, it may only matter that you have a degree—not that you majored in a particular subject. However, certain graduate programs have prerequisites, so you may find that you’re required to take bachelor’s degree-level coursework before you can start the required classes for your master’s degree or PhD. Situations in which your undergraduate degree certainly matters are for extremely competitive or specific fields, like medicine or teaching.
Consider your future career, but don’t stress. We don’t always know where we’re going to end up in five or 10 years, and that’s okay!