Tori Fisher / Gavel Media

Turns out, What You Study Isn't a Major Deal

In college, students are forced to decide what they think they’d like to do for the rest of their life—a series of choices and trial-and-error which culminates in declaring a major. At graduation time, four years of study on a guided path, internships, entry-level jobs, and other related experiences come together in the receiving of a diploma with one major—or two for the double-majoring type—announcing to all what the student is prepared for in the career world.

However, more often than one would expect, a post-grad’s college major does not directly relate, or even correlate at all, to the field of work that the individual ends up pursuing.

This phenomenon raises an important question—what comes of a major anyways? According to a study by CareerBuilder, an online job search website, 47% of college graduates reported that their first post-grad job was not related to their major, and 32% of college-educated workers reported never working a job that related to their college major. While not necessarily a bad thing, as 64% of subjects said they were happy with their degree and their current position, it can deviate from a student’s plan.

Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, says that “college graduates must be flexible and open to taking positions outside their area of study” because “taking the knowledge gained in college and branching out with it in unexpected directions is common after graduating.”

Additionally, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that two-thirds of college graduates in the workforce have a job that requires a college degree, but barely more than one-fourth of graduates have a career that is directly related to their major.

These findings are discussed in terms of “college degree matching,” which measures whether one’s job requires at least a bachelor’s degree, and “college major matching,” which evaluates the relationship between a graduate’s job and their major. In the study, which was based on 2010 census data, the organization recorded a 62.1% college degree match and a 27.3% college major match.

Information from the Boston College Career Center shows that similar trends are taking place among recent BC graduates. Although some majors, such as finance or biology, show large degrees of college major matching, others show students going on to pursue a wide array of careers; in the last three graduating classes, many international studies majors have gone into investment banking and retail, history majors turned into financial analysts, and theology majors went into real estate.

As has been argued time and time again, part of the reason for this seeming lack of relation between many majors and subsequent careers is the lack of job opportunities in certain fields. Kevin Kenny, history professor and chair of the history department, argues instead that the education these students receive provides them with transferable skills that prepare them to tackle the challenges of any job.

“The point is that studying history, rather than training you in one particular skill, trains you to always see the big picture and understand events in context, to explain what you know rather than just knowing it, which is important but not enough, and to support your case with evidence,” Kenny says. “These are skills that, in the long run, allow history majors to manage things rather than to be managed—big business, government agencies, law firms, research, and policy institutes, for example.”

Such skills have prepared some of the most successful individuals in today’s world to reach the top of the business ladder—Mark Parker, President and CEO of Nike, was a political science major and Howard Shultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, has a bachelor’s degree in communications.

The Career Center found that “genuine interest in the field” was the most influential factor in deciding on which path to take after BC. In teaching skills that prepare students for anything, a cornerstone of liberal arts education, less career-specific areas of study allow students to explore—and succeed in—careers in any line of work.

“When my son, who is a junior, declared as a history major (under no pressure from me), I asked him why,” Kenny says. “He responded, only half tongue-in-cheek: ‘Because it allows me to win an argument with anyone on campus.’”

Making it clear that students from any BC major can find, and enjoy, work in any field, the Career Center provides statistics on what types of work Eagle alums have gone on to succeed in, as well as a variety of resources to put students on the right path for success. Visit the Career Center website for more information.