During college, I changed my major three times. According to Penn State’s Division of Undergraduate Studies, this is quite normal.
An estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as “undecided” and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation.
It should be no surprise that students change their majors so frequently. High schools generally don’t focus on career exploration with students. Additionally, it is a huge responsibility for an 18 year old (who is potentially still a bit immature) to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. And they need to decide something that they are good at and/or have an interest in if they want to have success in school. It is quite a big decision to make.
Nonetheless, I finally landed on a major–marketing. I was lucky enough to stay in the same school throughout all of my changes (I stayed in the University of South Carolina’s School of Business), which allowed me to graduate in just four years.
I chose marketing, honestly, because of that fact. I still was unclear on what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to extend my undergraduate career beyond four years. I had already tried international business and accounting, so I was running out of options in the business school that felt like a good fit for me.
I didn’t immediately use my marketing degree because I pursued a career with Teach for America. After teaching, I decided to transition into nonprofit working with young people–still not in marketing.
To be fair, I managed our websites, social media, and marketing efforts–but that was only about 15 percent of my workload. After being in that job for three years, I transitioned to a new job. And you guessed it, still not in marketing.
Instead I found myself in the field of healthcare. I do even less marketing now than I did in my last position.
I honestly don’t ever expect to work in traditional marketing in my career. For me, I needed to work some in order to figure out what I wanted to do. If I had to choose a major and do it all over again now, it wouldn’t be marketing.
So, what have I learned from working in a field that I wasn’t academically trained in?
On the job training may be better.
I didn’t go to school to learn about working with young people or about working in healthcare or diversity. I learned how to do my job by learning on the job and through experience.
I asked questions of my supervisors and colleagues. I tried, sometimes failed, and tried again. I don’t think I would have been better at my job if I had gone to school for it.
Exploration isn’t a bad thing.
Because I didn’t immediately jump into marketing, I tried different things and wasn’t nervous about switching career fields (from nonprofit to healthcare). I didn’t feel stuck in one field.
I’ve enjoyed working in both of the fields that I have so far, and feel like I am a better employee because of my varied experience.
Also, because I had to learn a job and field once, I was up for the challenge the second time. I wonder if I worked in marketing and tried to leave it, would I have had a positive experience?
It’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out.
I know it can be stressful to change majors or not jump into the field you thought you would be in. Growing up, I expected to choose a major, stick with it then go into a career doing what I had spent the last four years learning about. It was really an adjustment for me to change and do something different.
It is okay if you change paths or don’t really know what you want to do. Just keep moving, keep learning about yourself and what you want to do.
Keep going. It will work itself out, but try not to get discouraged if you can’t figure it out.
Use that as a great opportunity to learn what you are good at and what you want to do next.
I graduated college five years ago this May and I have never used my marketing degree. And that is a-okay! I have a wonderful career and am happy about my current job, I like what I do everyday and I feel like I am constantly learning and growing.
In my book, those things are more important than doing what I thought I was ‘supposed’ to be doing. Embrace your life and your path and don’t worry if it isn’t exactly what you thought it would be. And if you decide you want it to be different, I challenge and encourage you to take steps to change it.
The GenTwenty family would love to know–what was your first major? What did you get a degree in? Are you using it now?
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