"I love History, but my parents want me to study Engineering so I can get a good job."
"I have a friend who majored in Political Science, and she's just working in retail."
"You can't do anything with Biology besides teach."
Advisers hear statements like these all the time. Many students seem to be unclear about the relationship between majors and jobs. This is understandable: everyone you know has been telling you to go to college so you can get a good job. Yet when you get here, you study many subjects — things like anthropology, art history, Norwegian — that seem unrelated to jobs in the real world. What's going on?
Major ≠ Career
It is important to keep in mind that choosing a major and preparing for a career are not the same process. It's true that a college education will help prepare you for the job market. It's untrue that most majors lead directly to particular jobs. Instead, any major can prepare you for numerous job possibilities. A college degree does help you in the workforce, but perhaps not for the reasons you think.
College is the one time in your life when your job, for four years, is to learn all you can about human history, culture, and behavior, as well as the information and theories involved in mathematics and the natural sciences. As you do this, you acquire specific skills — how to define a question, how to investigate possibilities, how to articulate your findings and theories, how to write, problem-solve, organize, research, and think critically. These are the transferable skills you will use in the workplace and in your life outside of work. And they can be learned within any major.
Given this, your choice of major usually does not determine your career options after college. There are exceptions, of course; if you want to be a nurse, you need a degree in nursing. But you might be surprised to learn how much flexibility exists even in technical fields. Some engineering positions are filled by graduates with degrees in math, biochemistry, geology, forestry, and physics, and well as engineering. Most history majors do not become historians. They become stockbrokers, advertising executives, and IRS agents; they manage convention centers, bank branches, and racetracks; they become the President's Chief of Staff, they sell sailboats, they advise UW undergraduates.
Further, simply majoring in an area which looks as though it might lead to a high paying job does not mean you will do well in that major or enjoy the work in that area. Most Arts and Sciences majors do not provide any real vocational training. Employers hire and promote people on the basis of the quality of their work, and the quality of their work usually depends on how much they enjoy it.
It is fine to ask, "What can I do with a major in ______?" But it is equally important to ask, "What do I want to do?"
What do I want to do?
MYTH: You should choose a major that will lead to a good job after you graduate.
FACT: Your career is likely to be completely unrelated to your college major.
While you are in college, you must answer two big questions. What do I want to major in? and What type of work would I most enjoy after graduation? They are not the same question. A major is a field of academic inquiry, and a subject you will study in depth. Your selection of a major should be based simply on your own curiosity. What most interests you? What subject is most fun to study?
In choosing a career, however, you must consider much more than just what kinds of courses you like to take. (Taking courses, after all, will not be your career.) For example, what kind of people do you like to be with? Do you prefer questions with answers, or questions that lead to more questions? Do you enjoy physical challenges? Do you like persuading people to change their minds? At the end of the day, is it important to you to see something physical, sitting on your desk, that you made that day?
To find a satisfying career, you must make a good match between your interests and the demands of a job, and between your personality and a work environment.
How can I investigate my future career?
Most students find choosing a career much harder than choosing a major. You probably haven't been exposed to very many fields before coming to college, and you'll need to do some research.
It is very important that you make career investigation one of your goals while you attend the UW. Students who prepare ahead may find more satisfying jobs after graduation. Career investigation is a process; there are no quick answers, and it takes some time. Fortunately, the UW has many resources to help you.
Visit The Career Center.The Career Center offers counseling and workshops for students at every stage of career exploration. They assist students in developing a job or internship search plan, managing progress toward career goals, and learning the skills to successfully find a job and/or make a career transition. You can research job fields, learn to write a resume targeted at your intended field, and practice interviewing, and much more. Their website also has links to lots of great Internet resources.
Get some experience.
At any stage of your thinking about careers, you should start looking into getting some related experience. In particular, you should consider participating in one or more internships. As a student intern, you can gain valuable work experience at any of a large number of businesses, government offices, and non-profit agencies.
The Center for Experiential Learning houses the Carlson Leadership and Public Service Center, the Undergraduate Research Program, and the Pipeline Project, all campus offices that can help you connect to internships and volunteer possibilities that will get you out into the real world. If you think you might be interested in international trade, you can actually work at the Port of Seattle. If you think you might want to be a lawyer, you can volunteer at the Public Defender's Office. If teaching or research looks interesting, you can tutor at a local school or work with UW faculty on a research team.
During any one of these activities, you will learn about further career resources and get some ideas about what to do next. If you will take these practical steps, you can enjoy any major you like at UW and be confident that you can make your way in the workplace.
Go to career fairs.The Career Center hosts several career fairs, and lots of other events, each quarter. Find out what employers are really looking for.
Enroll in GEN ST 350: Navigating Career Options.This 3-credit, Credit/No Credit-graded class is designed to assists students with self-exploration and provides a model to integrate academic and experiential skills into the process of career planning. Elements include: exploring academic and other Good Experiences to identify Dependable Strengths; individual self-assessment; group interaction/discussion; and experiential learning. Emphasis is placed on early planning and acquiring decision-making skills, so that students can make informed choices related to courses of study, internships, volunteer activities, community service and career direction while acquiring marketable skills.
Take the personality/preference tests offered at the Counseling Center.The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Strong Interest Inventory (SII) are widely used career assessment tools. The results of the MBTI can help guide choice of academic major, career direction, and help foster understanding and appreciation of individual differences in interpersonal relationships. The SII identifies interests and compares this information to the likes and dislikes of individuals in over 100 occupations. Where there is similarity in interest, there is likely to be job satisfaction. Results from the SII include a list of careers that may be of interest, as well as general “themes” to consider when choosing an academic major and/or career direction.
Talk with your department adviser.Department advisers are a wonderful resource for helping you explore the question of "What do I do after I graduate?"
Visit "What can I do with a major in...?" websites.Here's the one on The Career Center's website, and if you search the web you'll find lots of similar resources out there, as well as websites about career investigation and planning.
Visit WOIS, the Washington Occupational Information System.WOIS includes a great deal of information about careers and educational and training programs in Washington state.
Peruse the Occupational Outlook Handbook.The Occupational Outlook Handbook is published annually by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It has a listing for every career you can imagine, and each listing covers things like the training and education needed, earnings, expected job prospects, what workers do on the job, and working conditions.
Become a fan of the UW Career Center on Facebook.
The UW Career Center's Facebook page is an active forum with lots of current entries made by UW career counselors. Topics include career guidance, events, internships and jobs, news and trends, and student perspectives.