During my senior year of high school and all through college, it seemed as if adults always asked me the same question:
“What’s your major?”
After I said I was an English major, I could usually count on them following up with:
“What can you do with THAT?”
If you’re majoring in liberal arts, humanities, fine arts, or just something unconventional, you’re probably intimately familiar with (and possibly exhausted by) these questions. Students go into these fields for all kinds of reasons, whether they have a specific career in mind or if they just enjoy that major without having a particular plan. Personally, I always wanted to write, but didn’t have a clear idea of how I wanted to turn that into a career. This uncertainty about my future made the “What can you do with THAT” question sound to me like people were saying “Please explain to me how you plan to MAKE MONEY with an English degree.”
The bad news is that this question won’t go away at least until you graduate from college. The good news is that your major doesn’t have to lead from Point A (college education) to Point B (a common job that people understand). Here are some ways to make yourself into a well-rounded job candidate whether you end up in a career directly related to your major or whether you enter a completely different field after college.
- Find your major’s ‘transferrable skills’-I majored in English and minored in history, which are two fields without an easily defined career trajectory. It’s true that I don’t use my Shakespeare class in everyday life, but my major helped me to communicate effectively in writing, taught me how to work well in small groups toward a common goal, and taught me how to think critically. These are skills that I use every day, both inside and outside of work. What are some transferrable skills that you can learn from your major? Public speaking? Research skills? Organizational skills? Every major can provide you with a skillset that would be helpful both inside and outside of your chosen field.
- Focus on soft skills- ‘Soft skills’ is a misleading term, because they are essential to succeed in every career field (yes, even STEM fields). Examples of soft skills include cooperation, work ethic, the ability to accept and learn from criticism, time management, self-confidence, and more. Most arts and humanities majors require group work, performances, producing high quality work on a deadline, and improving your work based on constructive criticism from peers and professors. Find ways to develop your soft skills within your chosen field!
- Find a mentor/role model-Try to find someone to look up to in your field. If this person can serve in a mentoring capacity, that’s great! But finding a role model in your field can also be beneficial, even if you don’t know them personally. Find out how they got into their field, what connections they made and experiences they had, and see how it can apply to your own life and future career.
Most majors are not a guaranteed straight shot to a specific type of career. By focusing on becoming a well-rounded individual, you are setting yourself up to succeed, even if you don’t wind up where you expected. So while you still might not have an easy answer for the “What can you do with THAT” question, you can feel more confident when planning your future career path.