Major Decisions: How to Pick a College Major

Career Blog

It was inevitable. The initial onslaught of pre-career questions from the Gen Z crowd has arrived. That’s no typo, people. For once we’re not talking Millennials. The “elder statesman” of the population born between 1996 and 2010 are heading to college and are already thinking about how the academic investment will affect their future earning potential.

I’m actually encouraged by the group’s foresight. Packing a sense of strategic planning along with a coffee table sized smartphone is a sign of savvy seldom seen in an age group that has been historically focused solely on beer-pong and dorm room shenanigans. The later aren’t going anywhere of course, but the wider perspective is refreshing.

Recently, during a freshman-focused career panel discussion, a collection of these new school players posed a series of questions which to me boiled down to the old standard: What should I major in to get the best return on my tuition investment?

There was the obligatory discussion of dreams, “the man”, selling out, and following your heart prompted by a duo of recent grads and well-intentioned student advisor, but I was surprised how quickly this was pushed aside and hopes of obtaining a more straightforward answer. In an attempt to accommodate the request, I offered the following response:

There is only one question to ask when deciding on a major: How do people who picked it live when they are 50?

College is a business proposition, nothing more. Sure it used to be a place to expand your horizons, “find yourself,” and romanticize about becoming a poet. The problem with that is many of today’s professors have a fixed social outlook and political perspective so perceptions are rarely challenged and thus horizons seldom expanded. What’s worse, the price of this self-indulgent echo chamber is ever increasing making the cost of self-location and occupational romance too high to bear.

Ask any decent musician and they’ll tell say, you have to learn the rules before you can break them. The same applies to life. Your best bet is to major in something that gives you the vocabulary of success: business, law, technology, engineering, etc.

It’s okay to be drawn to deep philosophical discussions and crave rainy nights alone with a book that bends your mind. If you’re lucky that yearning never fades. But that doesn’t mean you should pay retail for the privilege.

Want those experiences? Join a Meet Up group. Hit the library. Heck, buy an out of work philosophy major a cup of coffee. When it comes to your future however, focus on the tangible. Let’s face it. Lawyers can quit the law and become novelists. The reverse isn’t so easily accomplished.

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Be sure to check out my latest book The Introvert’s Guide to Job Hunting and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi

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