Why your major matters

Follow what you’re passionate about and the money will follow


Justin Surgent/ Collegian

By Julie Harrison, Collegian Columnist

One of the most difficult decisions we face as undergraduate students is the major we choose to pursue. By the time we graduate high school, we are expected to know exactly what we want for our future. Many of us have no idea which path to take. Many of us have changed our major several times with the hopes that we will finally land on the right career. Others give up a major they are drawn to because it is not seen as “definite” or “lucrative.”

Today, I am challenging the common outlook that money is the best way to pick a major. I am challenging the idea that some majors should be looked down upon because of a lack of job opportunities. It is important for us as young adults to explore our passions without the fear of disappointing those around us.

As an English major, I have been asked the same question countless times: “What can you even do with an English degree?” I sigh, knowing that no matter what I say, they won’t believe I’m making the right choice. I typically say I plan to teach and possibly write one day. They nod their head and smile, while internally judging one of the biggest decisions of my life. I know I am not the only one who has been through this series of questioning. I know I am not the only one who has thought of changing their major just to make other people happy.

This semester I decided to enroll in a career course that is dedicated solely to English majors. I wanted to know if everyone around me was right. I wanted to know if my major was “a waste of time and money.” After one class I quickly learned I had absolutely made the best decision for me. I was given a pamphlet of University of Massachusetts alumni who had graduated with a degree in English. Next to their name was their contact information and their job title, each a clear testament to the possibilities my major offered.

I could teach, edit, publish, work in marketing and practically do whatever I put my mind to. Two weeks before this course, I was looking at all of the majors the school offered. Although none of them caught my eye as much as English did, I was afraid I would graduate with few job opportunities and be forced to choose another career path. If I hadn’t enrolled in this class, I would have made a huge mistake.

The most common question facing English students is how much money they’ll make when they graduate. In a Forbes article, Doug Webber wrote, “Let me be clear, the financial returns to graduating from a four-year college far outweigh any costs for the average student.” He continues, “the typical college graduate will earn roughly $900,000 more than the typical high school graduate over their working life.”

The time and money we have all put into our degrees is an investment. Every major has a chance to be successful and it is important students acknowledge this. Instead of constantly asking, “What can you even do with that major?” begin asking, “What career are you looking in to?” This subtle change makes a world of a difference to the person you are speaking to.

I’m writing to help a student who may be struggling with the major they have chosen. I am here to remind you that your path is valid, and if you are truly passionate about the material you are studying, stick with it. It is important to have a plan, but it is more important to stay true to yourself. Don’t allow the background noise of others sway such a big decision in your life.

Julie Harrison can be reached at [email protected].