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Why College Success Doesn't Depend on your Major

January 30, 2020

By Simeon Howie, published by Colleges of Distinction

When you get to college, everyone you meet will want to know three things: your name, where you are from, and what your major is. Your subject of study is an important part of your identity. It defines the future of your career that you will be stuck in until you die, so you’d better choose correctly… Right? At least that’s the way some people tend to treat it. Deciding on a major seems scary and daunting because friends and family put so much pressure on the end goal. They will ask what it is you really want to do—but the truth is, many of us don’t know yet.

Part of the college experience is exploring possible future pathways, developing skills, and figuring out what you are passionate about. If you’re an undecided major, or just aren’t quite sure about what direction you’re headed in, try to see it from a different perspective. It’s not always a set-in-stone decision, and it’s really more than just a degree. College is about more than simple academic education. Here are three things I’ve come to value in my college experience that have nothing to do with a major.

College is about experience

From the very beginning of my freshman year, I told myself I would try new things—experience new things. I knew that if I stayed in my room and hid from society, only going to classes to do my homework and get a grade, I wouldn’t really be growing. I had already done that in high school. In college, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, so I joined a choir. Even though I never sang in high school, I joined and sang tenor in my school’s choir and orchestra group, which took me from Nampa, Idaho, to Vancouver, Washington, and all the way to Bangkok, Thailand! I never would have had that opportunity if I didn’t decide to try something new. Over time, I’ve joined our Speech and Debate team, acted in a school musical, helped mentor incoming freshmen, worked as a student ambassador, joined clubs, played intramural volleyball… anything and everything I could fit into my schedule.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to do everything, because that’s not possible. Not everyone has the time in their schedule to work, participate in clubs, do music, play sports, and succeed in class work. However, I highly encourage stepping out of your comfort zone here and there because, for me, it has proved to be extremely rewarding. I also realized that, by opening myself up for new challenges, I was practicing the skills of flexibility and adaptability, both of which can help with a successful future career.

College is about relationships

I’m sure you’ve been told that college is a place of learning and growth. Well, one of those areas of growth is social. I went to a very small high school, so even going to a private university felt big to me at first. It was exciting and felt like a fresh start, the perfect opportunity to get out there and make connections. Between classmates, roommates, professors, and coworkers, there are a ton of people to meet, and it can feel overwhelming at times. But the stress of socializing can also lead to healthy and close friendships that last for a long time. The helpful thing for me was to see relationships and social life as another area to improve on, just like physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health. It is all connected and all important. And good friends make it much easier to navigate the pressures of college life and beyond.

The thing is, relationships take practice. They also don’t go away; you will always have a need for relationships in your life. College has been a great place for me to “practice” forming and building relationships, and I know that it will help me be more successful in social situations later on.

College is about developing soft skills

Soft skills are interesting because they can be hard to define. They are the invisible attributes of the perfect candidate that employers look for in their employees. That’s why a college degree is good on a résumé… sure, your degree says that you have certain knowledge in a given field of expertise, but sometimes, even more importantly, it says that you are a hard worker, you can take notes and pay attention to detail, you can learn new information quickly, you are creative, you take initiative… the list goes on. These are the things that will help you in your job.

As an English major, I read lots of literature and write essays. Most likely, my future job won’t require me to write an essay about the character development of Odysseus in The Odyssey or explain the writing style of William Faulkner (unless I work as a librarian). What is more important is that it shows I have developed the skills to read well, write clearly, and think critically. These are things that apply to a plethora of jobs out there, giving me more marketability in the sense of general application. Soft skills don’t depend on a certain major or career path.

Looking back as a senior, it has been my experience of new things, the close friendships I have made, and the development of soft skills from diligent classwork that have been the most important and impactful in preparing me to succeed in my future. The beauty of these things—none of them only apply to one major! No matter what path you’re on in your career journey, you can make the most of your time in college by focusing on growth rather than just getting a degree that will let you make a living someday. Success, then, doesn’t depend on your major. Success is about moving forward with a growth-mindset. So don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, meet people, and learn new skills. And if you still haven’t decided on a major, don’t worry; you can still be successful!

• See more on the Colleges of Distinction website.