Thursday, March 3, 2011

What was your major in college? And do you work in that field now?

I've been focused on college lately. My husband just left the world of journalism for the communications side of academics, my oldest stepdaughter heads to college next year -- the same month my youngest child goes off to kindergarten -- and the fact that top-tier schools cost double what they did when I was a student is very much on my mind.

Twenty or so years ago, when I was in the thick of SATs and essays and applications, I already knew what I wanted my major to be -- or, at least, I thought I did. I was certain that I wanted to be a pediatrician, so I signed up for my high school's AP bio class in preparation for four years of pre-med.

My lab partner witnessed several gruesome dissections and miserable lab reports before pointing out that the only part of bio I seemed to like was botany. And that, while I struggled with scalpels and paled at the sight of blood, I happily and easily spent hours, if not days, working on the school paper.

"Why don't you go into journalism?" he asked kindly, while trying to salvage his biology grade. "You can study that stuff in college, too, you know."

I didn't know. But I changed my mind about major then and there, a full year before I even applied to a single college. I decided on print journalism -- newspaper, to be precise. I was too self conscious to be on TV, I wasn't really interested in magazines, and "new media" (which I work in now) didn't really exist yet. College was expensive, and I didn't want to end up with a degree I didn't use.

Now, 20 some-odd years later, I know that college really is what you make of it. You can major in underwater basketweaving, and what it says on that diploma doesn't matter anywhere near as much as the skills you gained from your experiences. What I do now mostly involves things I wasn't explicitly taught in class. There was no course in metrics, or blogging, or search engine optimization, or social media, or how writing for the internet is different from writing for newsprint. Journalism is a trade, so I was lucky -- my hands-on work translated neatly into real-world abilities, even though I didn't know that at the time.

I wrote a post at Yahoo!'s Shine earlier this week, about which courses every college student should take, regardless of their major, and there are a few on that list definitely could have come in handy for me. Marketing, for example. And public speaking. But for the most part, I'm happy with what I learned, and how I apply it to what I do now.

I know plenty of people who majored in one thing during college but ended up doing something completely different in real life. Which made me wonder: Did you go to college? Are you currently working in the same field in which you earned your degree? Or did you take those skills you learned there, or picked up along the way elsewhere, and apply them to another kind of career?


fibrowitch said...

I'm one of the lucky ones I guess. I got a degree in Industrial Technology with a minor in Occupational Safety. Got my first job while I was still in college. Work in the field until my health made it impossible for me to work.

One of my brothers has a degree in Computer Science he works in a book store. My other brother has a degree in English, he works at at network help desk.

Andy Hammond said...

I was a double-major in Philosophy and English. I did well at it, too. But, I've spent the last ten years of my career teaching people to fly airplanes. And, no, none of that stuff has applied at all.

The most important skills you can pick up in college are (1) exposing yourself to new ideas and possibilities, and (2) learning how to learn. You have no idea what the world will be like in your adult life. Learn to adapt.

And Lylah, you knew me in college, so I have to flatter myself with the idea that my situation helped inspire this post!