Improving Academic Performance

How to Extract Maximum Value from Your College Major

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Dec 21, 2018 @ 09:33 AM

degree1Despite the sneers of those around you, you went to college to study film history. Or, maybe you got a degree in literature or Urdu. While it’s good that you followed your passion, after graduation, it might seem that your parents and friends had a point. You’re having a tough time getting a job (or perhaps you are still choosing a college major, and this is a fear you have). In fact, there is too much worry and generalizing when it comes to choosing a major.  If you think strategically, you can follow your passions and launch a successful career.

The reason you chose a “useless” degree over something more practical, like pre-law or engineering, is because you feel passionate about that subject. So, to put that degree to work, you need to think critically about why you feel so inspired and motivated by that subject and how you can apply those same feelings to your career.


Path #1: Pursue a direct link

In many cases, students feel drawn to certain degree fields for the type of activity entailed in their study. For instance, student athletes enjoy watching and engaging with athletics. You should think about what you most enjoyed doing during your degree and draft a list of career options that concern those activities. Student athletes might study sport management in a master’s program to continue watching and engaging with athletics. This can lead to business careers with athletic programs in variety of capacities.

Finally, if you chose your degree program for the information you gained as you completed it, you might choose to pursue a career that either enhances your knowledge and skill or else allows you to apply it. Those who study sociology might continue in academia to gain a Ph.D., which allows them to research sociological concepts and contribute to understanding within the field. Alternatively, they might become social workers, helping at-risk populations gain stability and success. Regardless of what you studied in school, there are career tracks that suit your interests - you just need to look for them.

Path #2: Identify your technical skills

Even if your degree program wasn’t inherently technical, you learned technical skills. For example, literature majors understand better than many degree-holders the technical side of composition, and writing is a hard skill that is in demand in nearly every industry. Your English major IS in demand in marketing departments across the world, IF you are passionate about applying your technical skills in writing to the brands and products of companies for which you might work.

You could make a list of the technical skills you gained in your studies. These might include:

  • Familiarity with certain computer programs
  • Ability to analyze complex data
  • Experience on social media or other marketing platforms
  • Understanding of project management processes

If you are having trouble listing out any hard skills you may have acquired during your degree program, you might speak with a career counselor at your school, a trusted professor or your friends and family to generate ideas.

Path #3: Leverage your soft skills

“Useless” fields are where soft skills thrive. Though not as overtly sought-after as hard skills - i.e., they are not often listed directly in job descriptions - soft skills are essential in every position, which means you could be more qualified for some jobs than candidates with more practical degrees. As you did with your technical abilities, you should create a list of your soft skills. These might include:

  • Adaptability
  • Work ethic
  • Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity

It is good to write down a concrete example of each soft skill in use, like a difficult group project or a semester when you juggled 24 credit-hours. Then, you can more easily incorporate explanations of these skills in your job application materials and interviews.  You may have studied something “odd,” but if you can articulate clearly how your studies helped you to become a better problem solver, team player, independent worker and productive person who managers his or her time and hits deadlines, companies will respond.

Path #4: Consider graduate school

If at the end of the day, you are having trouble identifying a career that would make you happy and/or you think your college major is holding you back, you can always pursue graduate school. And in fact, this IS a use for your college major. Law school, graduate programs, and MBA programs all require undergraduate degrees. And you have that box checked.

Summary: Have confidence

You may have been teased for your choice in degree - but people who deride certain degree programs may simply not understand what they involved. There are almost certainly a substantial number of hard and soft skills you acquired during your degree program, and if you effectively market those skills, you’ll be well positioned to launch a successful career.