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How did your college major work for you?...and advice for students

I’m seeing a lot of questioning in the media on the value of a college degree. After all, these degrees are expensive and may entail substantial loans and credit card debt while the job market is highly competitive.

This leads many to a popular conclusion: A college degree is not worth the money unless it is in a practical, job-oriented major.

Sure, if you enjoy nursing just as much as you relish ancient Greek philosophy, there is plenty to be said for majoring in nursing. Or even for a nursing major with some Greek philosophy electives.

But what if you dread the practical choice you are being pushed into?

I recommend running like hell from majors that repel you, no matter how reasonable they seem.

It happened to me

I grew up in a different age when women were traditionally limited to a few low-paying majors. Due to parental pressure and a lack of self-confidence, I settled for a major in education.

As someone who read broadly and ached to explore the heady intellectualism of college, I would have preferred a liberal arts degree, preferably in the social sciences.

However, I learned my first day in Psych 101 that psychology is not about learning why people do and think what they do. It’s about measuring and reporting what they do, often in tests involving electroshock and mice. Yuck.

I also learned that jobs teaching history and such in high school are reserved for sports coaches. Definitely not me.

So I settled for English and French as my teaching fields.

I was a top-notch student. I kept up with assignments throughout the quarter. I attended all classes. Most important, I was a good memorizer and writer who could excel at any subject I studied, whether I was interested or not.

Still, I was a miserably bad teacher. Turns out that in student teaching, the most valuable trait you can exhibit is the ability to maintain classroom order and discipline problem students. To this day, disciplining children is not my strong suit. I was even worse when I was in college but could pass for an eighth grader, whom I taught as a student teacher.

I was not remarkable in my English and French studies either. I got good grades but neither was my preferred field of study. In particular I despised Moby Dick, which it appears lots of English-major types simply love.

On the other hand, I proved to be really good at developing lesson plans and selecting content for use in the classroom.

I have never taught full-time in grades 7-12. The mere idea makes me break out in a cold sweat. Instead I got a master’s in library science and spent most of my career in marketing and marketing communications. My undergrad degree didn’t matter and I could have majored in anything at all.

Now, many years later, I am writing lessons for literacy and ESL (English as a Second Language) students for sale on Amazon as Kindle ebooks. So somehow it all comes around.

Why major in what you love?

The answer is that it is easier to succeed in a subject you love. It is also much easier to adjust to college life.

Inside I was angry during college, and much of my anger was actually frustration with content that did not interest me as much as all the other courses that were available.

I’d look through the college catalog of courses (it was in print back then and two inches thick) and scan the bookshelves at the campus bookstore, longing for a different major. But I didn’t switch majors because of fear and because my scholarship was specifically for the study of education.

Studying what you love makes college much more enjoyable. It builds self-confidence and positions you for success.

Studying something that does not turn you on but pleases others doesn’t position you for success.

Even though a career path may appear to be lucrative, lots of prestige occupations have their ups and downs in the job market. There will be lots of competition for the better jobs, but without enthusiasm, you will have fewer faculty recommendations and fewer success stories for your resume. Plus you will be held back from getting the job you should want thanks to your hesitancy, if not actual dread, in going after it.


Originally posted 11-16-15

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