Myths About Majors

In a few weeks students will return to Penn State Berks.  The slow summer of preparation and prayer will become a crazy fall of spending time with students, leading Bible studies and all the other things that go with campus ministry.  Students will choose which clubs to be a part of and who to be friends with.  They will (hopefully) spend a lot of time studying.  As they meet new people they will be asked, over and over again, what they are majoring in.

In college your major is one of the things that defines you.  At times it may seem like the most important thing.  But its not.

I found this list of five myths about college majors, from Penn State’s Division of Undergraduate studies, to be very helpful.  If you are a college student, or preparing to go to college this year or in the future, or if you are an older person who works with or knows young people, this is a must-read.

Here are the myths:

  • Myth #1: The best way to find out about a major is to take courses in it.
  • Myth #2: I should get my Gen Eds out of the way first.
  • Myth #3: Picking a major and a career are the same thing.
  • Myth #4: Choosing one major means giving up all the others.
  • Myth #5: My major will determine what I do for the rest of my life.

They offer a bit of explanation for each myth.  I found that what they said about the fifth myth to be especially thought-provoking:

Did you know that studies have shown that within ten years after graduation, most people are working in careers that aren’t directly related to their undergraduate majors?

Just like students change their majors, graduates change their careers. There are doctors, for example, who decide to become lawyers, and lawyers who decide to become doctors. Although these are unusual examples, it’s not unusual for most people to change careers several times during their professional lives. A teacher, for example, might become a principal or a superintendent, or an engineer might move into a management position.

Most jobs also change over time, whether people want them to or not. Many jobs that exist today will be very different five years from now or may even be obsolete by then. New types of jobs are emerging every year, and most of us have no way of knowing what those jobs will be or what type of education will be needed in order to qualify for them.

The current emphasis in career planning at the undergraduate level is on the development of general, transferrable skills (e.g., writing, speaking, critical thinking, computer literacy, problem solving, team building) that employers want and that graduates will need in order to adjust to rapidly changing careers.

People change; careers change. The connection between the major that you choose now and the career that you’ll find yourself in ten years from now is likely to be very small.

In other words: while choosing a major is important, it is not the most important or only important thing you will do at college.  Take it seriously, but do not stress about it too much.

(Thanks to John Fea for posting the link to these myths.)

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