Welcome back, college students.
Before you have even memorized old glory’s fight song, you are greeted with a question more dreadful than any Business Calculus exam.
“What do you want to do with your life?” family, friends, and career counselors prod. The implication: Your major determines your career prospects. And if you select the incorrect field, you are doomed to an unsatisfying career and life.
Society mandates that you decide your career path in college. You are a business major earmarked for a corporate executive position. You are a political science major fast-tracking to DC power broker status. Or you are a liberal arts major consigned to a nannying career.
Reread the previous paragraph and let the absurdity sink in. At 18, are you really sophisticated/worldly enough to pick a professional career? Speaking from personal experience, my most important decision at 18 was whether to attend a yawn-inducing 9:00 AM Friday class.
And that is how it how it should be.
While family and friends besiege you with career advice (“Computer science is a hot major” or “You should pursue pre-law”), here is Professor Loeb’s revised collegiate syllabus: explore everything.
Your college degree is a credential; it is not determinative of your career path for the next 40 years. In college, I gravitated toward political science and public policy. But, in truth, my interests ranged from history to psychology to English. Since undergrad and law school, I have dabbled in non-profit leadership, journalism, and law. The connecting thread: critical thinking skills.
College is meant for exploration, not rigid adherence to a predetermined path. And critical thinking skills, more than a specific major, correlate with professional and personal success. According to a Forbes survey, 93% of employers believe critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills are more important than a job candidate’s undergraduate field of study. Silicon Valley, for one, is seeking well-rounded applicants with diffuse skillsets.
More importantly, life comes with white out — or at least an eraser. You can be a lawyer at 25, a counselor at 35, a political commentator at 45, and a judge at 55. Look at society’s greatest contributors; they all strayed from well-worn career paths. Bill Gates entered Harvard as a pre-law major; he would become a tech revolutionary and global philanthropist. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were trained in law; both would reinvent themselves as global icons for the marginalized.
So as you — Joe College — glumly sit in your introductory psychology class mulling over career possibilities, mull over this piece of advice first: Just like Gates and Gandhi, you can switch career paths too.
“So, Matt, what do you want to do with your life?” a well-intentioned family member prods.
The question pinballs in my head. Just like it did at 20. And 25. And 30. The most reasonable answer: I am figuring it out. As are you.
Stahl, Ashley (2017). Six Reasons Why Your College Major Doesn’t Matter. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2015/08/12/six-reasons-why-your-college-major-doesnt-matter/#628d3e1d7977.