Career Tip of the Month

Connecting College Majors to Jobs and Careers

In today?s turbulent economic times, everyone who attends college is keenly focused on being able to make the best use of their investment by successfully securing employment after graduation. Students, and parents, often mistakenly assume that there should be a direct correlation between major and career. The reality is that not all majors lead to a particular job, and not all jobs require a particular major. It just depends on the requirement established for a particular profession or the set of skills, knowledge, and experience required for a particular job opening. Students in any major can greatly improve their chances of finding employment by knowing how to look for openings, and how to market themselves accordingly.

To understand the relationship between major/degree and career/occupation, you must first understand that college majors are organized in terms of broad academic disciplines of majors and minors, where as the workforce is organized in terms of industries and job functions. To get an idea of how the job market is organized, look at the classified section of your local newspaper. If you read the job descriptions of positions listed under each of these categories you?ll find each position requires a certain amount of training/education, certification or licensing, a set of required or preferred skills, and a specified number of years of experience.

College majors, on the other hand, are usually housed under broad academic disciplines like Communications, Healthcare, Education, or Business. A baccalaureate (4 year) degree in Business, for example, is not just made up of one job, but it is comprised of many different specialty areas including accounting, actuarial science, economics, finance, information systems, international business, logistics, management, human resources, sales, real estate, and marketing. All these areas, or majors, relate to specific job functions in the business world. Majoring in one area allows you to do study those specific areas in depth over a period of four years.

Associate (2 year) degrees are generally more career-oriented and are designed to place graduates directly into the workforce in a particular occupation, so there is usually a very clear path between major and job. Examples of these are plumbing & heating, electrical, registered nursing, culinary, veterinary technician, and computer information systems. Now to make matters even more confusing, some majors, like Business and Computer Information Systems, have two and four year degree options. Two year degrees offer a sampling of specialty areas (breadth) but not the depth of their four year counterparts.

Some professional fields such as counseling, social work, library science, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech pathology have designated the master?s degree as the entry level degree in those professions. Students typically earn a related bachelor?s degree, depending on their intended profession, and then continue on to graduate school to earn a master?s degree in order to practice. Physicians, chiropractors, veterinarians, lawyers, optometrist, pharmacists, and dentists attend three or four years of study in a professional program beyond the bachelor?s degree and then must pass a state licensing exam in order to practice in their respective professions.

Professionally oriented degrees such as Education, Accounting, or Engineering, lead directly to positions as teachers, Accountants, or Engineers. In contrast, Liberal Arts majors (think history, sociology, religious studies, communications, philosophy, etc.) are designed to prepare students for a variety of jobs in the workforce. These majors give students a set of skills, such as communication, critical thinking, the ability to conduct research, and an appreciation for other cultures. These skills can be used in the business world, at a non-profit agency, in government, in customer service, sales, or in the admission?s or registrar?s offices of a college or university.

The trick to connecting your major to a job or career is to be able to translate the knowledge, skills, and experiences obtained in your major into the language of the workforce. When you can identify openings in the job market that match your skills and knowledge base, even those outside of your academic major, then you will be more successful in landing a job.

Whatever your educational background, getting a foot on the employment ladder is difficult. Today?s college graduates need to be able to clearly articulate the value they can bring to an employer by illustrating their technical and soft skills, related work experience, and knowledge in whatever major they choose to pursue.

Adapted from Working in Your Major: How to Find a Job When You Graduate by Mary E. Ghilani