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Articles / Preparing for College / Dreams (And Realities) of Your Major

Dreams (And Realities) of Your Major

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Feb. 9, 2017

This post is for high school juniors and maybe even sophomores and freshmen. (Is it bad form these days to say freshmen anymore?) A few questions: How far ahead have you been thinking about your life?

When you think about your future, does it include college? If so, do you wonder about which academic direction you want to go? Have you thought about specific college majors?

Even more pointedly, have you thought about how a college major is connected to a life's work and wondered what circumstances must take place for there to be a direct path from that major to an occupation?

Many of you probably have thought of at least some version of these questions, when you're not exploiting social media, watching MTV, or playing Grand Theft Auto V. If you haven't been pondering the issues, maybe you should.

If you know that you will be going to college, even for a two-year degree, you should be feeling at least some degree of “gravity" in your interests or passions that is pulling you in a particular direction of interest. For a moment, let's just assume that you have been thinking about directions in your not-so-distant future. What are the consequences of committing to a particular major and does that necessarily lead to an associated job in the real world?

Lots of questions and considerations. Let's explore that for a bit.

My answer to at least some of these questions comes from my perspective of a professional college counselor. There seems to be a kind of consensus out there that makes a direct correlation between what you study in college and the likelihood of a “better" or “worse" life's work.

I'm probably an excellent example of putting the lie to “What you study determines your future" theory. I wanted to be a nuclear scientist when I was in high school and was all fired up about MIT. Then, as my scientific vigor waned, I became more and more confused about what to study when I went to college. So, more or less by default, I started out in Business Administration.

My first semester freshman year was extremely frustrating, as I had to deal with balance sheets and the problems sets of basic accounting. I found my heart much more into my English and music courses. (Hint: those two areas are in the Top 10 of “worst" college majors, by the way.)

I was so disenchanted by my “bean-counting" experience and what it promised for the remaining aspects of a business curriculum, that I decided to do a college timeout at the end of my freshman year and joined the Navy for some focus and sightseeing. I did that and tried to get into the Navy's journalism school due to my love of writing. Well, that didn't work out and I ended up on an aircraft carrier (the USS Intrepid (CVS-11), which is now a finely restored air museum in New York City's harbor) in Tonkin Gulf and other exotic places.

When I was discharged, I transferred from my original small liberal arts college to a large state university and changed my major to music history and literature (a fine arts major that (at least recently) ranked as #2 on the “Worst Majors" list). That's where my heart was and I had no idea it was such a “worst" major.

To make this boring story shorter, just let me recap the job trail my music degree has blazed for me. In order, after graduation up to now, I have worked jobs as an assistant manager of a retail stereo store (there was a music connection though), a production systems analyst for a major clothing manufacturer (military training link), a technical editor for a defense contractor (again, military and writing), an independent college admissions counselor (starting with coaching my children for the SAT), an education services director for a regional newspaper (college- and writing-related skills), a college planner for a financial services firm (college and writing again), and finally parlaying my admissions counseling into several increasingly successful online business ventures and college-related consulting work.

Yikes. What a long and winding road! Life can be a trip. Mine has been and it ain't over yet, not by a long shot.

I'm leaving out a lot of ancillary accomplishments, but my point is to answer the question: Can the major you select for your undergraduate college experience strongly affect your income or success in life?

My answer, from the perspective of a professional college counselor, would be, 'Probably not.' "

So, let the college major chooser beware. It cuts both ways. I love what I'm doing and feel as though my (generally) liberal arts education has enabled me to tackle a number of diverse jobs well. However, I would like to submit for your consideration an old article that may or may not have been written for its potential sensationalism. The title is Worst College Majors for Your Career. Here's an excerpt:

The list:

10. English

9. Sociology

8. Drama and Theater Arts

7. Liberal Arts

6. Studio Arts

5. Graphic Design

4. Philosophy and Religious Studies

3. Film and Photography

2. Fine Arts

1. Anthropology

There's also a lengthy, spirited discussion about this on College Confidential. Take a look at the opinions there and feel free to add your two cents. I think you know where I stand on this issue.

Finally, two books that have been a source of inspiration for me and many others is Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood by Marsha Sinetar and Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life by Roadtrip Nation authors Brian McAllister, Mike Marriner, and Nathan Gebhard. Those two titles are solid gold.

So, boys and girls, think about the road ahead and your road trip. What will happen and where you'll end up is the unknown part of the fun, but approaching the journey with some foresight can keep you on the road to success and happiness. Take it from a fellow traveler.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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