Choosing your major, defining a career path

Graphic by Natalie Rebisz / Information from article published 09/30/2015

Graphic by Natalie Rebisz / Information from article published 09/30/2015

Job offers do not come stapled to students’ diplomas upon graduation. For a lot of students with loans to pay off after four years, finding employment is their top concern.

Dr. Peter Shoemaker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is passionate about the topic of how to choose your major in college, and how to best market that major to future employers.

He recalls getting a job out of college and being awarded tenure during his career feeling like Indiana Jones running from the giant boulder to safety at the very last moment.

The process has grown more difficult since his time and the candidates more competitive.

“Students in college are 18 and 22-year-olds who may not know what they want to do,” Shoemaker said. “You can either choose something professional, something you may not enjoy, or you can choose something you’re passionate about.”

Being able to speak for your degree is also important.

“You can adapt your degree to help you get many jobs,” Shoemaker said. “There are few people who won’t end up having to use business skills in a job. That’s true of writing well, and speaking well.”

Students should treat their major as part of their portfolio, according to Shoemaker.

In that portfolio, a combination of skills and the student’s major should best represent that person to their future employers.

Shoemaker said that a liberal arts major has to become his or her own advocate. Students must be able to present themselves to an employer knowing their skills and bringing something new to the table.

A study done by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in 2013 showed that 93 percent of employers agree that potential candidates’ demonstrating the capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and problem solve effectively is more important than their undergraduate degree.

The AAC&U also reported that four out of five employers agree that all students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

Students feel less trepidation for job searching when they have experience they can market in job interviews.

“There’s definitely some apprehension about joining the workforce,” said senior English major Jake Newton. “I actually have an internship right now and I think it’s definitely helping me both with my resume and real world experience.”

Majoring in the liberal arts doesn’t usually offer a clear cut career path like other majors, so experience in a student’s field of study will make the difference when facing a future employer.

“Employers are looking for flexibility,” Shoemaker said. “They want to know if students are resilient and can deal with failure as well as if they can start a project and follow it through.”

Joining clubs that are related to your major can produce more opportunities and forge connections.

“I have worked in a child learning research lab for a while now and it has definitely helped me in feeling advantageous toward getting a job,” said senior psychology major Anglin Thevarajah.

Thevarajah is in the process of receiving her master’s degree through psychology dual degree program and said that earning both degrees has given her more confidence in finding a job.

“We’re entering a time where four years of higher education won’t be enough,” Shoemaker said.

Evelyn Peregrin can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

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