If you’ve decided the field you’re studying isn’t necessarily the field you want to work in, you aren’t alone. An estimated 75 percent of students change their college major at least once before graduation, and only 27 percent of college graduates actually have a job related to their major.
While this sounds like many individual’s degrees weren’t useful, the principles learned in any degree can be applied to a broad range of fields. Plus, many jobs require that you work among disciplines, making your degree in business still apply to your work with in computer engineering, as you may still perform business-related tasks within your company.
Jason Varcoe, Product Manager at Peterson’s, began his first year of university at the Ara Institute of Canterbury as a finance major, as his favorite classes in high school were accounting and economics. However, he realized that the classes were much more rigid than he had hoped.
“I wanted a career with more room to use intuition and interpret the rules, rather than being restrained by them. I switched to majoring in marketing, while also picking up a post-graduate diploma in human resources. I only worked in a marketing capacity for about six months after graduation, before switching to a career in software, which was definitely the right decision. But, I still apply the principles I learned in those marketing classes in my current role,” said Varcoe.
Although it’s incredibly common to change your mind about your college major or go in a different direction, it’s not always easy to know what your next steps are. Start by talking with your academic advisor, career center, or even a professor about your interests to determine a major that would suit your academic and career goals. Once you know what major you’d like to switch to, each college has their own protocol for major changes, but it usually includes filling out a form with your updated major and submitting it to your university’s administration department. This form may require departmental or college approval for the department or college in which you’re enrolling. For example, at the University of San Diego, specific college approval is required if 150 or more total units that you have already completed and passed.
Of course, there are many instances where it is too late to change your major without extending your time at a university. If you are financially able to remain in college for another year, this may not be a problem. However, there are alternatives.
According to Temple University’s Career Center, “your major is a starting point and not a prescription for a narrow list of employment opportunities. By taking a variety of courses and gaining experience outside of the classroom, you have the opportunity to develop transferable skill sets, highly desired by employers.”
Many students enjoy their college major because they find the topic interesting in an academic setting, but don’t know how to implement the skills they learned into the workplace, or don’t enjoy the practical use of these skills.
Eric Strong, Senior Partner Lead of Sales at Peterson’s, was a student who studied a subject he was interested in, earning his Philosophy degree from Gettysburg College, but did not know how he wanted to use the degree after graduating from college.
“After college, I spent the next six years traveling and working enough to save money for my next trip. Then, I decided it was time to figure some things out and I started as a Financial Advisor. I then entered digital advertising sales at the height of the dot-com era. From there, I have been in sales ever since. My philosophy degree still plays a role in my career though, as it has helped me with communication and closing sales,” said Strong.
With the knowledge that many people work in jobs completely unrelated to their major, or at least will be required to perform tasks in the workplace that they were not taught in school, widening your span of knowledge while in college is a good idea. It helps to take a few courses or even minor in areas different from your field to gain a breadth of experience.
Katarina Lincoln, Staff Accountant at Peterson’s, realized that her side job was actually what she wanted to do in her career.
“I always thought I wanted to do social work. I earned my undergraduate degree in business administration at Colorado State University, just to have a good back-up, then started a Master’s of Social Work program, only to discover after three months that I really didn’t like the social work field. I actually loved accounting, which I had been doing as a side-job while I was in the master’s program. Now, that’s what I do full-time!” said Lincoln.
There are hundreds of stories about how people studied a specific field, then decided to pursue a career in a completely different area. In fact, one of our podcast guests on Peterson’s You Have a Cool Job, talks about his career and educational switch from working in software to running an acupuncture clinic. The bottom line is, your education is important, and you should take your degree decisions seriously, but changing your mind on what field you want to study or work in doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start over in school or in your career. There are plenty of opportunities to change your major and still graduate within four years, or change directions in your career despite your major. Talk to your academic advisor and your campus career center to work through your individual options.