Ben Krimmel: When picking a major, you don’t need to be a fortune teller

A recent study shows that nearly a third of incoming college students choose a major that they describe as a “poor” fit. What should students know about how to decide what to study?

Three and a half years into my college experience, I’ve seen lucrative job offers trickle in for my friends who study engineering and business.

Me? I took the less practical route. The 18-year-old version of me wanted to major in international affairs because of my passion for reaching outside the United States’ borders. So I narrowed my college search to city schools that offered that major and landed in Foggy Bottom with dreams of global adventures.

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Ben Krimmel

Looking back on that decision, I made the right call because I’ve jumped into my studies with gusto. And as GW begins to send out its latest letters of admission, it’s important that high school seniors focus on subjects they really enjoy. Unfortunately, many will not.

Nearly one-third of this year’s freshman class across the country is likely to major in a subject that does not match their academic interests, according to data from nearly 1.2 million of last year’s high school graduates who provided data to the ACT. Only 36 percent of students plan to spend their college career majoring in subjects that they actually like.

Planning a career arc in an ever-evolving job market is the work of fortune tellers – not high school seniors. If it is any indication of the futility in planning out a profession years in advance, 65 percent of students today will find employment in professions that don’t yet exist, Cathy N. Davidson, a professor at Duke University, found.

For example, jobs in big data did not exist several years ago, but they employ thousands today, and there’s an entire master’s program in the GW School of Business devoted to the field.

Increasingly, students major in subjects that are a poor fit for them because they think it will improve their job prospects.

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But it is naïve for student to believe that we will get our dream jobs right out of college. It’s equally naïve to think that the only path to employment is through a specific major. There is a false equivalency among some in higher education that there needs to be jobs immediately available after graduation in students’ academic field for their degrees to hold value.

That type of rigid career-oriented thinking discounts the value of attaining broad skills in the fields of interests that will help us find employment after graduation. If we focus our four years solely on getting skills for specific jobs, we close the door to possible dream careers.

In an era of innovation and entrepreneurship, your major has little bearing on the job you could end up working. The bottom line is that the job market five days after you leave GW is not going to be the same job market five years later. We’re better off doing what we love instead of pretending we know what skills we will need down the road.

So to those future Colonials who are hearing from their friends and family that their liberal arts degree won’t mean much, here’s some advice: Don’t hold your nose and hold out for what you think will help you land a job.

The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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