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Major Myths

Most college students think a corresponding academic major exists for each specific career field, and it's impossible to enter most career fields unless they choose that matching major for undergraduate study. This is not true!

  • The relationship of college majors to career fields varies. Obviously, some career choices dictate that you choose a specific undergraduate major. However, most career fields don't require a specific major, and people with specific majors don't have to use them in ways most commonly expected.
  • Choice of a major is only one factor in determining your future job prospects and career path. Your grades, the electives you choose, and the skills you acquire through your course work often tell employers more about what you have to offer them than does your major. Furthermore, other factors such as your personal traits, your goals, your experiences (jobs, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, internships, externships), and your knowledge of a demonstrated interest in a career field play a large part in determining an employer's response to you

There is only one right major/career for me.

  • Most students discover that they can be happy with a variety of majors or careers. Choose the one that you will enjoy most and get started.

I must choose my major/career very carefully or else I will be “stuck” in a job I don’t like for the rest of my life.

  • Most students will experience multiple career changes over their life time.
  • Sometimes it is better to concentrate on building a skill set that is transferrable, rather than worrying so much about the actual subject content of your major.

Employers are only interested in students with majors that tie directly to the jobs they are offering.

  • While it is true that some jobs require specific majors, most jobs require skills that can be developed in a variety of majors. FBI agent, airline pilot, and event planner are all jobs that can be obtained without a specific major.
  • Desired skills include: ability to problem solve and think analytically, communicate well with others, and lead and manage teams.

Multiple majors or minors make me more employable so I should complete as many as possible as an undergraduate student at BYU.

  • Your major and minor are only one part of what employers are looking for. Work experience and internships also add to your credentials. Rather than completing multiple majors or minors, your time may be better spent gaining additional work experience or going to graduate school.

THE MAJOR MYTH:

Most college students think a corresponding academic major exists for each specific career field, and it's impossible to enter most career fields unless they choose that matching major for undergraduate study. This is not true!

THE REALITIES:

The relationship of college majors to career fields varies. Obviously, some career choices dictate that you choose a specific undergraduate major. If you want to be a nurse, you must major in nursing. Engineers major in engineering. Architects major in architecture. There is no other way to be certified as a nurse, engineer, or architect. However, most career fields don't require a specific major, and people with specific majors don't have to use them in ways most commonly expected.

Most college majors don't offer specific preparation for a single type of work. Instead, they educate you and help (along with your activities, work, etc.) make up the personal package that can enable you to become anything you want to be. Majors don't limit you to one type of work. For example, if you major in nursing, history, engineering, English, or many other majors, you might nevertheless choose to become a bank manager, sales representative, career counselor, production manager, or pursue a number of other career fields. Your awareness of the relationship between career fields and college majors can play a vital part in your choice of academic major, minor, and elective courses.

Choice of a major is only one factor in determining your future job prospects and career path. Your grades, the electives you choose, and the skills you acquire through your course work often tell employers more about what you have to offer them than does your major. Furthermore, other factors such as your personal traits, your goals, your experiences (jobs, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, internships, EXTERNships), and your knowledge of a demonstrated interest in a career field play a large part in determining an employer's response to you.

GOING BEYOND YOUR MAJOR:

Liberal arts majors, in particular, need to offer employers more than their orientation as a generalist and their broadly based transferrable skills. They need to develop entry-level marketability and to demonstrate career field interest. Before they can become bank presidents, they must first get some job experience within the bank. In most cases a college major alone is not sufficient for getting a job. The increased number of college graduates has produced more competition in the job market.

Usually, the easiest way to land that first job is to have a skill that is immediately useful to the employer. There are many ways to develop such skills while you are becoming educated: summer or part time work, intern/EXTERNships, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, elective courses, and the like. Once in the field of your choice, you, as a well educated person, can build your own career and become a generalist, but careful planning to get your foot in the door is required. To become competitive in today's market, you need the experience and competencies related to your chosen fields.

Internships, EXTERNships, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities provide numerous opportunities for you to gain experience and develop the competencies required by your career choices. . . .[Y]ou are faced with the challenging task of discovering better ways to compete in the employment market, increasing your awareness of employment options and creating more links between your undergraduate experience and the world of work. Creating these links requires flexibility, imagination, and divergent thinking. This can further be accomplished by looking for a combination of courses and activities that will be rewarding - beginning the exploratory process early enough to test perceptions of yourself against realities, avoiding premature commitments or single-minded concentration on one area of knowledge to the exclusion of other areas. . .

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS:

Many students don't really know what they want out of life. College students always want to start a session with their advisor with the question, "What should I major in?" or "What can I do with a major in so-and-so?" But good advisors know that you can't really start with those questions. You have to put them aside until you first find out about "What do I want to be? What do I really want out of my life? What kind of person am I, so far? Where do I really want to go with myself?"

Perhaps the primary reason first-year students choose the wrong major is that so many concentrate exclusively on studying for a specific "job," as if each job required a certain major. This orientation is especially powerful among students during uncertain economic times and has been fostered by the attitudes of parents, employers, government officials, and educators. Additionally, students often see majors unwisely because they lack sufficient information about themselves, potential courses of study, jobs and the job market, and above all about how to combine their education with their career goals.

[Open Major Advisement] can help you focus on the broader career planning question of "What do I want to do?" This can lead you to explore yourself and career fields that provide opportunities for you to achieve what you want, not only from your college major, but from life as well. In attempting to answer what you want to do, you'll find that the choice of an academic major takes on new meaning. You are no longer concerned with the prescribed route of specific majors. The search becomes one of finding the best academic program for your chosen career goals.

We can compare this process to map-making. You actually begin to chart your college career, using your career goals as the basis for decisions about academic major, minor, elective courses, internships, vacation jobs, leadership commitments, and extracurricular activities. Instead of looking at an academic major as a map, view the choice of academic major as one part of the map you are making in order to reach your chosen career goal. Don't limit yourself by starting with the question "What can I do with my major?" and then after reading about what other people with the same major are doing to earn money, decide without further thought to look for the same kind of job when you graduate. How many times have you heard someone say, "I'm majoring in English so I guess I'll teach"? If questioned further, this person might not like anything about teaching except the subject matter. Obviously, this person chose to follow someone else's map. . . .

EVALUATING THE MAJORS/CAREERS YOU ARE CONSIDERING:

New first-year students need adequate information about all that a college has to offer, and they need to know the requirements of the different programs of study. Just reading the catalog isn't enough, and for the majority, exposure to a few subjects in high school simply won't serve to introduce or to interpret the college curriculum, which is a smorgasbord of specialization (and, often, of obscurity) by comparison. Before you can make a realistic decision about your major, you must take an informed look at all the possibilities. . . .

*Excerpts (for the use of Open Major Advising) from a handout titled "Choosing and Using Your Major" from the Career Planning and Placement Office at the University of Virginia.