Are you struggling over your choice of major, and not sure how the choice might affect your future career? Here’s the bottom line from someone who spent 15 years recruiting college students to various companies: Hot job candidates come from almost every major. History majors end up on Wall Street. Economics majors work at Teen Vogue. Your work experience during college, GPA, personal talents, and plate of extracurricular activities are all the factors that go into the success of your first job search. So don’t stress too much about how your major might affect your future career. Although there are professions in which it’s better to commit early — doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and engineers, for example — most students have a broader range of options and more time to come to a conclusion than they think. So if you’re finishing another semester in college, and you still haven’t decided on which college major to marry, here are a few questions to ask as you make this decision:
What area of study genuinely captures your interest?
When have you felt the greatest tugs of curiosity? How do you spend your free time? Choosing a major that excites you has practical benefits: You’re more likely to graduate with a higher GPA and create more engaged relationships with your professors and department. “The tough idea for students today to grasp is that they can choose to study something they are passionate about, an academic area they love, without knowing what vocational path that might lead to,” says Carmen Varejcka-McGee, an academic adviser at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Many students get stuck on the idea that they have to have a clear vocational goal in order to choose a major.”
What is your return on investment?
Will your major affect how much money you earn down the line? Studies suggest that there’s less correlation than you might assume. A study from Payscale, Inc. found that history majors who pursued careers in business ended up earning, on average, just as much as business majors. Similarly, University of Texas at Austin professor, Daniel Hamermesh, researched career earnings data sorted by choice of major and concluded that “perceptions of the variations in economic success among graduates in different majors are exaggerated.”
Can you separate your goals from the goals other people have for you?
Chances are, your parents and other guiding forces have an opinion about what you should major in. They mean well — but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily heed their advice. Take a look at the letter one Brown University student received after deciding to major in Classics:
*My dear son,
I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today… I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek? In my opinion, it won’t do much to help you learn to get along with people in this world. I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass, and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me.*
Yikes. Thankfully, the recipient of the letter — Ted Turner, billionaire and founder of CNN — didn’t seem to let the criticism take him down too much. Listen to what others have to say. They may have advice that really helps you, but at the end of the day you have to own your own vision for your life.
Are you rushing into a decision?
Students often feel pressure to come to a quick conclusion about their major — before even giving themselves a chance to sample some range of classes. At Penn State, 80% of freshmen — even those who have declared a major — say they are uncertain about their choice, and half will change their minds after they declare, sometimes more than once. Some schools are allowing students to declare “exploratory” as their major, thus giving them time to play the field before settling down. Focus your early semesters on testing out a few areas of interest, rather than committing earlier than you need to and wishing you could reverse later.
Andra Newman is a co-founder of QuadJobs, former head of college recruitment for Abercrombie & Fitch + J.Crew, and a regular contributor to Teen Vogue. This article was originally published on TeenVogue.com.