By Alex Venturini ’21
The process of choosing a major is fraught with difficult choices, all of which feel monumentally important: your major shapes not only the next two years of college life, but also, seemingly, your career prospects for the rest of your working life. Questions you may now be asking yourself include: Do I choose something practical, or something I love doing? Whose opinions should I take into consideration: my parents, my friends, my family, my dean, my professors..? Which department(s) do I prefer? What can I see myself doing in the future, and which major(s) will help me in doing that?
As the April 19th deadline for declaring a major approaches, it is important to think seriously about this significant decision. Read on to dispel some myths surrounding undergraduate majors and to find valuable resources available to Haverford students.
What is the most practical major?
In his New York Times article “Choosing a Practical Major”, Dean of Academic Affairs Phil Bean examines traditional advice to major in something ‘practical.’ He gives the following advice:
Any definition of the practical that fails to take into account an individual’s interests, demonstrable aptitude, or current state of personal development will tend to undermine the ability to get the most out of college.
Rather than choosing a major based on prestige or perceived financial pay-off, it is important to choose a major that aligns with your interests. Dean Bean highlights how doing well in your classes, which comes easier with interest, ultimately represents “the ability to identify, define, research and offer well-composed analyses for complex problems.” These are useful skills that apply to every career. In terms of potential earnings, while it is true that engineering and finance majors do have greater initial salaries than humanities graduates, the gap tends to close over time and levels of debt tend to be about the same between the two groups, according to a 2018 report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
How will my major help me find a job?
Katharine Brooks, author of “You Majored in What?: Designing Your Path From College to Career” describes the process of finding a career not as a linear path, but by what she calls Chaos Theory. She describes this notion in the following way: “The path to a career can be complex with all sorts of intervening variables, including family origin, level of education, individual skills and talents, the job market.” The point here is that life is complicated, and it’s nearly impossible to make long-term predictions. Things change, and new possibilities emerge that were previously unimaginable. Brooks’ advice is to experiment and be open-minded to all possibilities; in other words, to “embrace the chaos of your life.”
Your choice of major should reflect your interests and passions, but don’t get stuck thinking that a doctor must major in biology or chemistry, that a lawyer must major in political science, or that an entrepreneur must major in economics. Rather, one of the aims of a liberal arts degree is to develop one’s character. As Albert Einstein said, it is “the training of the mind to something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”
The value of this type of education is not lost on employers. A 2013 survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that nearly one third of employers preferred “a range of knowledge and skills that apply to a range of fields or positions” rather than specific knowledge of a field, and 95% agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” The skills that a liberal arts education develops—critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, ability to adapt to new technology, leadership, work ethic, and cultural fluency—mean that regardless of your chosen career path, or the number of times you change careers, you will be well-suited to handle the responsibilities of whatever you choose to do.
Where do I start?
The CCPA offers several resources for students looking to make connections between their majors and their future careers.
- What Can I Do With This Major?: Learn about the typical career areas and types of employers that hire people with each major.
- First Destinations: Get an idea of what alums do post-graduation, sorted by major.
- Beyond Haverford: Visualization of alumni paths after Haverford highlights our graduates’ jobs and post-graduate education at 1, 5, 10, and 25-year milestones and illustrate the potential of a Haverford education.
- Majors, Minors, and Concentrations: View the full list of Haverford’s academic programs. It’s a good idea to do research on the faculty and their fields of expertise, the courses offered, the major requirements, and the senior thesis expectations.
- Internship Network: A peer-to-peer network of Haverford students who have volunteered to talk with other students about their experiences.
- Fords on Friday: Speak to Haverford alumni over lunch to learn about their academic and professional experiences.
- LinkedIn Haverford Alumni: Search Haverford alumni by title, major, keyword or organization to see their career paths and network.
- Haverford Alumni Directory – Search alumni by major, field, location and more.