Myth #4: What you major in defines your success and how much money you can make.
Reality: What you major in doesn’t determine your success. It’s how good you are at what you do that does.
For many college students, choosing a major seems like the end-all-be-all. Many believe it sets the stage for the rest of their lives and determines what career paths will be available after graduation. It is often assumed that students who pursue a degree in STEM will secure a high paying job, while those who earn a liberal arts diploma will struggle to find employment.
However, this is simply a misconception. The major you choose doesn’t determine your career or define how much money you can make. Employers hiring recent college graduates look for skills and experiences relevant to the position over what they majored in.
An Association of American Colleges and Universities survey of 400 employers found that 91% agree that “to achieve success at their companies, a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex programs is more important than his or her undergraduate major.”
To best prepare yourself for the workforce focus on skills you can showcase and think about how they may apply to a future career. Although few companies pay employees to analyze historic documents or solve basic trigonometric equations, employers value the skills gained through these exercises.
The top skills employers look for are critical thinking and problem-solving; teamwork and collaboration; professionalism and work ethic; communication; leadership; digital technology; career management; and multicultural fluency, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
These soft skills can be learned through virtually any major and further shows that hard work and a drive for success matters more than the major you choose.
However, certain majors may be more appropriate than others depending on your career goals. If you strive to make money, fields of study like STEM tend to lead to larger paychecks. However, experts warn students against choosing their majors solely off of expected income. The top quarter earners of people who majored in humanities or the liberal arts make more money than the bottom quarter of engineering majors, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Even if you don’t make it to the top of the pay scale, students who major in the liberal arts make a comparable amount of money when looking at the median lifetime earnings compared to typical graduates in the fields of business or STEM. A typical business major earns around $2.86 million over a lifetime, while an English major makes around $2.76 million, while students who study psychology earn around $2.57 million. Although a student who majors in business makes more money over a lifetime, their earnings compare to those who received a liberal arts degree.
Most of the top paying jobs require a master's or advanced degree. Students who major in business or an area related to STEM attend graduate programs at the highest rates. An undergraduate education simply doesn't provide students with the skills or information necessary to contribute to the workforce. This requires additional years of schooling and hefty tuition bills that may result in a job that pays similar to other majors.
However, if instead of making money your goal is career advancement, some majors provide more opportunities than others. Students who major in math, science, engineering, and the traditional liberal arts are more likely to learn the eight skills employers consider essential than those who major in business, social work, or education. This allows students to enter the job force more prepared and can lead to advancing more quickly through the company.
Picking a major seems like the pinnacle of your adult life, but many successful individuals never go onto apply their major to the workforce. The cofounder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, majored in philosophy while the recipient of a Nobel Laureate in medicine and former director of the National Institute of Health, Dr. Harold Varmus, studied English and the CEO of Bank of America, Brian Moynihan, majored in history.
Instead of focusing on what major and career path will lead to the highest paying jobs or the most fame and recognition, use college as a time to build the right skills and experience employers look for through the right internships.
A major simply reflects your interests. Fewer than one third of college graduates pursue a major relating to their career. However, if you haven’t found your dream career path, choose a major with a broad focus. This provides you with a range of information that can be applied to a wider array of career paths.
After all, no one can predict what the job market will look like in the upcoming years and it’s possible that your dream job hasn’t even been developed yet. In fact, 70% of competitive jobs for college students didn’t exist 10 years ago. The job market and demand for certain positions constantly changes.
Ultimately, find a major and career path that excites you and challenges you to work hard. Although some classes may teach you the language of the industry, students can learn these skills through real-world experience in an internship or independent study. Become a PathMatch client to learn which internships and companies to target, prep for interviews, optimize your resume and LinkedIn profile, and more.
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