Why Your Major Doesn't Matter

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It's a profoundly simple, yet difficult, truth that college is about college.  Not about a job.

Most undergraduates come into school as the product of our vocationally-minded culture.  They've been taught to think about education in a way that emphasizes the end result more than the journey.

College is suddenly about studying the "right" major.  College is about a degree.  A career.  Studying things that would be applicable to getting a job that would make money.

I believe that this mindset comes from a distorted view of education in our heavily individualistic, consumerist culture.  How little can I do and still get the best end result?  What will give me the most in the long run?  While it is definitely a good idea to be futuristically minded and to start making steps for life after college, I fear that this perspective can easily cause young people to lose sight of the true benefit of attending college.

As an undergraduate at Wheaton, a well respected Christian liberal arts schools, I have a few thoughts on college from my own personal observations and inquiries into the culture behind education.

Your major doesn't matter.

I'm sorry to break it to you, but what you major in really won't impact your job pursuits later in life as much as we are often taught.  (This varies, of course, if you are pursuing a masters in specific fields such as physics or biochemistry.)  But in general, the classes you study are there to challenge you as an individual.  To make you a more interesting person.  Not to get you a job.

Only 27% of graduates have a job related to their major. (The Washington Post)

David Muir, an anchor and correspondent for ABC World News, says about those he works with in the industry, "We all majored in what we were interested in.  The curiosity and the willingness to adapt are more important than what the degree is in." (The New York Times)

So study what intrigues you, what excites you, what motivates and challenges you.  I came into Wheaton as an English major.  Now, I am pursuing an interdisciplinary studies degree, combining Anthropology (the study of culture) with literature.  I will be specifically studying the way that popular and classical literature has an influence on cultural values and ideals.

Anthropology is difficult in that it forces me to think differently about life and to expand my worldview.  So challenge yourself to be challenged.

College is not about a job.

College may help you get the kind of job that you want.  But if your sole purpose in attending school is to get a single piece of paper and check it off your list, then you're missing out on the greater picture!

College is about being educated, which is not the same thing as taking upper level classes.  It's about humility, listening to those wiser than you, recognizing their wisdom and learning from their experiences so that you can grow in yours.

Education is about so much more than systematic instruction, memorizing and regurgitating information, taking tests and getting grades.  It's about gaining insight and learning to see the world through a different perspective that will prompt you to seek out the why behind what you believe and the truth behind what you've always assumed.  So be a truth seeker.

College is about discovering yourself.

I think it's pretty safe to say that I've learned just as much (if not more) outside of the classroom.  At first, I thought that college was just about expanding my knowledge and growing deeper in my academic pursuits.  But it is so much more.  College is a unique opportunity to live in community with peers, to live life together.

Everything from relationships, drama, emotional stress, time management, late night conversations and social events have shaped the way I view college and the way I fit into the mosaic of Wheaton life.  These four years truly are an opportunity to discover who you are and what you care about.  Being away from home changes the dynamic in that now you really do have the freedom to make your own decisions.  What path will you choose?  The decisions you make are all part of shaping the kind of man or woman you will come to be.

So experience life. :)

Meet and get to know faculty.  Learn from their sagacity and expertise in the field.  Network with them — they may have connections that can help you.

Make friends from diverse backgrounds to expand your cultural awareness and breadth of understanding.

Study what you like.  Don't stress over your major because it's far from the most important aspect of college.

Travel abroad if you have the opportunity.  Traveling can be transformative in helping you get a sense of the global community and your place in it.

Use your time wisely, but take the time to live and experience.

College is about college.  Don't wish it away, hoping to get to the next step.


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  1. Cool post! I'm not in college yet, but I always thought the major was the most important thing. I like how you put a different spin on that. :)

    Alexa Skrywer

    1. Thanks for commenting, Alexa! I've noticed that this is a common misconception, so it was interesting to write about and research.

  2. I heartily agree. What a luxury that we live in a society where we can attend a school like Wheaton. Where we can spend four years doing what we love, without having to sacrifice future economic viability. I'm not sure where the feeling came from, maybe Passage, but after all the verbal spitballs I throw at Wheaton, it's a great place.

    I'm in Mexico right now, and coming here for the semester has shown me some sharp distinctions between Americans and our southern neighbors. I think an individualistic culture like America, where freedom of choice is vigorously defended, is the only place where one can study without sacrificing future job prospects. Sure, the system can also support those who study specifically for a job, but in a culture which values personal choice, there will exist the two sides of the same coin. Here in Mexico, life isn't that way.

    Dormitories are scarcer in Mexico than dates at Wheaton. Students live with their families, and usually study in the same city they grew up. Social mobility and a rising middle class have made strides, but a high school graduate in Mexico has fewer opportunities than her individualistic northern counterpart. Because the society emphasizes family and community over individualism, personal choice is limited. Because individualism is seen as egoism, students aren't free to study what they love. The whole idea is strange to them. Everyone knows that you study for a job. In a society seemingly full of culture, I have yet to meet a humanities major. Liberal arts? Forget it.

    This is a travesty to me. Mexicans and Americans do more than speak different languages, they speak different thoughts. Now, I don't pretend to believe that North American cultural values can simply be transplanted. Nor should they. Each country has to deal with its own governing narratives.

    I thought I knew the value of a Wheaton education when I looked at the tuition bill. I thought I knew the value after Passage. I suppose the ability to study what I love without a catch can't be calculated. As Warren Buffet once said, "Price is what you pay, but value is what you get."

    1. Wow! Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Patrick! So often, I am not living with a posture of gratitude for the opportunity to live at Wheaton.

      As an anthropology student, I'm fascinated by how you've witnessed this clash in culture through the way we approach education. Do you think that our culture's pursuit of individualism can lead to negative results, too? And should we learn something from Mexico's emphasis on community?

  3. Good post, very relevant to me :)

    1. So glad to hear it! Thanks for reading!