Why Your College Major Does Not Define Your Career

Whenever I’m asked about my college major, I subconsciously grit my teeth and blurt out, “Anthropology and Creative Writing,” bracing myself for the look of skepticism and confusion that will be quickly followed up with a depreciating or vague statement along the lines of, “So what do you plan on doing with that?”

Before graduating college, when I had no clue as to what I’d be able to do with any of the education that had been both gracefully and ungracefully shoved into my brain, this question would make my heart flutter in a nervous, oh-what-have-I-put-myself-into sort of way. People felt that there was nothing I could possibly do in the real world with such a major, so how would I ever find anything?

Now I know better. Now, whenever anyone asks me what I “plan on doing with my major” or “what options are available to me,” I tell them, quite simply, “Whatever I want.”

One of the most conflicting messages that our school system and society at large feeds to us is this idea that our college major completely determines our career path and the choices set in front of us. That, somehow, if we don’t apply ourselves directly in the field we spent four years or less studying in, our lives are somehow a failure.

I have a message to that mentality: you’re wrong.

Woman walking away with bag full of papers

Others in the World Wide Web agree with me, but the truth of this position is drowned out by both other internet pressures and the more pervasive and persuasive opinions of the people around impressionable youths and young adults.

I get it: it’s hard to overcome the idea that the subject you dedicated or will dedicate your college career to won’t actually be the center of your career. If you really want it to be however, it can. Nothing’s stopping you, except you. But instead of seeing this flexibility and freedom as a bad thing, this can be a wonderful opportunity. By not confining yourself to the idealizations and constraints of your chosen field, you can experience the wide range of job and career opportunities around you.

Though I studied anthropology and creative writing, I have worked as a hostess, a server, an office assistant, a camp counselor, a travel magazine intern, an assistant cook, a marketing writer, and now a group counselor for a full-time school. Some of these may more directly relate to one of my majors, but for the most part, these jobs leave friends and families grasping at straws for how they are at all related to my studies.

Let me make a point clear: following in the subject and the steps of your major is never a bad thing. If there is an opportunity that is in front of you and makes you truly happy, then I extend my fullest congratulations. Not many people get to know that joy. But for those of you out there who are struggling to find employment and happiness in your intended field, then just remember: you’re a complex person that can, will, and should pursue job happiness in any capacity that presents itself to you, whether or not it’s in the packaging you anticipated. Much more important than following your major or following expectations is finding a drive that makes you want to get up and go to work every morning.

Maybe one day I’ll go to graduate school and become a professional anthropologist and really “put that anthropology degree to work”. Or perhaps I’ll become a published novelist and show off the skills I learned from my writing undergraduate degree. Or perhaps I’ll find yet another job outside of either of my majors that makes me happy and combines my interests that, within the narrow scope of my university experience, I didn’t even know I  had. But what’s important is that all of these options are perfectly appropriate, no matter what my judgmental neighbor or unresponsive family member thinks.

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Brittany Spear

Brittany Spear is a recent college graduate on a continuous search for meaning, fun, and adventure in her jobs and her life. In her spare time, she enjoys writing fiction and planning her next travel adventure. You can follow Brittany’s latest adventure on her blog.

  • mcl28

    Oh my.. Ms. Spear, your article describes me a lot! I’m in this position right now, and I want you to know that your words are very powerful. I graduated with a degree in Biology, but I’m currently working in the Artistic dept. of a certain company here in the Philippines. I’m also getting those side comments from my friends and acquaintances and they’re asking me about my job and how is it related to my major. Of course, its really hard to explain how because they’ll never understand it at first. Even my relatives are also asking me about it. That’s why it’s really hard to just be myself in the work because I know that there’s something that’s holding me back. But I’m happy with my job right now because I get to discover a lot of stuff that’s out of my field such as acting and dancing.

    Thanks for your wonderful article. 🙂