Advice from a Career Counselor: Majors Don’t Matter

I work as a career counselor at a liberal arts college. I meet individually with students, and help them navigate various aspects of the career search and planning process. This includes everything from identifying jobs that appeal to them, to writing resumes and cover letters, to preparing for interviews. (More details on my job are here.)

If I had a nickel for every time a student told me they were meeting with me because their parent(s) insisted they come to the career center, I’d be a retired career counselor. And while I strongly applaud parents for encouraging their children to engage with our office, there are several things I wish I could tell the parents of my students. This post, focuses on one of them.

Majors Don’t Matter

A common refrain that I hear from students goes something like this: “I’m a history/English/philosophy/sociology/American studies major, but I don’t want to be a teacher. Is there anything else I can do??” Often, this is voiced by students who are seeking advice selecting their major, and they complain that their parent(s) have told them that they won’t be able to get a job with their major of choice.

As a career counselor, this is one of my favorite student dilemmas to assist with, because the answer is simple and freeing: majors don’t matter (for the most part). Sure, if you want to be an engineer, you need to major in engineering. Ditto for computer science and a handful of other fields. But if you want to go to medical or law school, be a teacher, work in business or at a nonprofit, it really doesn’t matter what you major in. For most careers, employers simply don’t care about what you majored in. Yes, your major goes on your resume and employers will probably ask you how you chose it, but it’s not likely to be a factor in their hiring decisions – at all.

Skills and Experience Matter

If employers don’t care about students’ majors, what do they care about? Their skills and experience. Have they effectively collaborated with others before? Can they work under time constraints and pressure? Are they able to write a clear, concise, and compelling email/press release/project plan? Do they have the analytical skills necessary to solve a complex problem? These are the types of things employers really care about. How do we know this? Because in countless surveys, this is what they tell us. In fact, in one recent survey, verbal communication skills were the most desired trait by employers, while technical knowledge about the job was only the seventh most desired.

How do students acquire these skills? Just like anything else, these skills are acquired through experience and practice. In college, this can mean internships, extracurricular activities, part-time work, and class projects (among other things). What this means is that parents who question their children’s choice of major, should instead focus on helping them maximize their opportunities to develop the skills required for the types of job(s) they’re interested in.

Go ahead, get on your kid’s case to come into the career center!! But encourage them to work on sharpening their skills and experience while they’re there, not choosing the “right” major.

What was your college major?