does your college major really matter when you’re looking for a job?

A reader writes:

I’m a few years out of college, but I’m still looking for that full-time “career” job. One career path that I have a tiny bit of experience in, and am interested in pursuing, is working in social media.

One thing I noticed when looking at the job postings is that they all require a bachelors in communications, marketing, or journalism. I majored in English, but I never see that as an alternative option for any of the job postings I see.

So my question to you and to your readers is how important is it that your degree matches with what’s required in the job description?

I realize it depends with some very specific jobs or what their job experience is, but for people right out of college, how much does it matter what you majored in?

Eh. For an awful lot of fields, it’s not a huge deal. Even when you see a job description with specific degree requirements, there’s often more wiggle room there than it sounds like from the ad. It’s worth applying for those jobs regardless of that requirement. (And even most jobs that really mean it when they ask for degrees in communications are going to consider English close enough. Those are very close.)

Of course, there are some fields where it really does matter what your degree is in, like engineering or nursing.

But especially for people with degrees in some aspect of liberal arts, the prerequisite is much more likely to be that you simply have a degree, not what it’s in. There are plenty of history majors who work in business and a fair number of business majors who end up, say, editing.

And the further away from graduation you get, the less it matters. In most fields (again, with some exceptions), very few employers will care what you majored in 15 years ago.

{ 247 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. (another) b

    I’m an editor (was a journalism major 10 years ago). English and Journalism/Communications are so similar, it’s fine. Feel free to apply.

    Reply
    1. CC

      Yep! Been an editor at major consumer mags and websites for 20 years. Was a psych major (had initial delusions of med school) but got experience at school pubs and took journalism classes, did an internship, learned a ton at my entry-level job, etc.

      Reply
    2. Ramona Flowers

      I worked in journalism for a decade. It was generally seen as preferable to have a degree in something else like business or science or etc so you also knew stuff.

      Reply
      1. AdAgencyChick

        Zing!

        Agree. I’ve only ever worked with one advertising major, but plenty of people with degrees in English or biology (the latter because of the type of advertising I do).

        Reply
    3. Bend & Snap

      Yep, I’m in Communications and we have a lot of journalism majors/former journalists here.

      Reply
    4. LizzE

      Yup. I work in marketing and most of my colleagues have English degrees. Our content director in particular, who oversees our social media and website content, is a proud English/Lit geek. On top of that, our CMO has a degree in economics.

      For marketing, publicity and communications work, the work experience matters more than your major. If OP has the work experience in the form of internships or did marketing-related functions in previous jobs – and has the portfolio to show for it – lots of employers are going to see him/her as a more attractive candidate than someone with a specified degree, but less work-related experience.

      Reply
    5. Annabelle

      Came here to say the same thing. I write and sometimes edit ad copy for a living. I’m pretty sure the original job posting called out marketing/advertising majors, but I majored in English and it’s never been a problem.

      Reply
    6. Aeryn Sun

      Yeah, I feel like even if you have a slightly different degree it should be fine. I have a film/media studies degree and haven’t had any issues applying for jobs with it.

      Reply
    7. Anon for This

      I’m an actual hiring manager for marketing positions, and any job description I write states “bachelor’s degree in marketing, journalism, communications or related field

      Reply
      1. AnotherHRPro

        For many job postings you will see the “related field” language. I think for entry level jobs the general type of degree is more important than once you have real work experience. Generally speaking, if you have most of the qualifications you should go ahead a apply.

        Reply
    8. Kyoki

      I graduated 7 years go with a linguistics degree but never got a job in that particular field. Did quite a bit of editing and teaching while in college, and picked up some marketing experience along the way. Right now I’m a marketing analyst for a Fortune 100 company. So yes – go ahead and apply! Also, my manager is an English major. The lib arts degrees are very transferable, and that’s part of the reason why so many students choose them.

      Reply
    9. Catty Hack

      +1 to this

      I think about one, maybe two, people on our team have a journalism degree (and FYI I’m not one of them). To be honest, experience counts for so much more that I’ve never really bothered to tot it up.

      I have come across some editors who are weirdly snobby about where you went to school and what you studied. I would say they are the exception rather than the rule and are either a) the eccentric genius types who everybody is clambering to work with so can afford to be oddly particular about what’s on their new hire’s CV or b) people who, quite frankly, make utterly pants hiring decisions and then wonder their team isn’t working out.

      Reply
    10. ML

      Just adding my two cents: I’m a French major with a post-grad certificate in Translation, and I’ve been in the (English-speaking) editorial field since I graduated (about 7 years).

      As extra anecdata, keep an open mind about the field — you may be pleasantly surprised. I was hell-bent on getting into the magazine/lifestyle editorial world, which never panned out, but my current (and most fulfilling role) is at a STEM nonprofit. Good luck, OP!

      Reply
    11. ThatGirl

      I’m also an editor and was a Comm major. My school didn’t have a journalism specific degree. I agree, and even marketing is pretty close sometimes. Depends as much on your experience as your degree major.

      Reply
  2. St. Kate's Fire

    Just as a reassurance: I’m an English major who graduated within the last ten years, and I applied for one of those jobs that didn’t list English as a recommended major. I got it, and I’m now working in a field I really enjoy. English majors have a lot to offer, despite how many times I was asked, “So…are you going to teach? Or like…what?”

    Reply
    1. Rincat

      I’m an English major and I work in IT, and have been for the last 10+ years…in fact none of my positions were actually anything typically related to “English.” My employers have cited my English degree as a benefit – they see the degree as a representation that I have good communication and critical thinking skills, and that’s helped a lot in my career.

      Oh yes, I got “so…are you going to teach?…” ALL THE TIME. I still get it! Some people even ask me if I’m going to leave IT and start teaching at some point.

      Reply
      1. Chinook

        “Oh yes, I got “so…are you going to teach?…” ALL THE TIME. ”

        The irony is that, at least in Canada, you aren’t allowed to teach unless you have an Education degree, and even then it sometimes it has to be from the province you want to teach in (because my B.Ed. from the University of Alberta would still require a two year B.Ed. after degree to teach in Ontario, which is why I got into admin work).

        I honestly don’t know what type of profession someone with a Canadian English degree would go into? Journalism maybe?

        Reply
        1. FisharenotFriends

          Private schools and many post-secondary schools don’t require (by law) a teaching degree in Canada. The same goes with trades schools, all of which require only a relevant bachelors and potentially some work experience. k-12 typically does require a teaching degree. This varies province to province because of how Canada regulates education, but is 100% true in BC. Schools are also welcomed to hire above the criteria, and I can imagine they might with something like an English degree, but I have had instructors for engineering that only have a bachelors at the large public institute I attend, and I’ve seen people with just a bachelors hired at the private school I work at.

          Reply
      2. Hell is empty and all the devils are here

        B.A. in English. First job out of college was in sales and marketing for a couple of years, then banking for a couple of years, then career counseling for a couple of years, then IT for 25 years. All my employers have told me that my degree told them I was capable of learning and communicating, and they could (and did) teach me the rest.

        Reply
    2. Katie

      I was also an English major and I HATE it when people act like liberal arts majors are useless. Not only have I been continuously employed for the eleven years I’ve been out of college(and I never went to grad school), it only took me about two months to find a full time job after graduation.

      Reply
    3. aebhel

      Same. Took me a bit longer to find full-time work that I enjoyed, but that was for reasons… largely unrelated to my degree. English is a degree that’s applicable to a lot of fields.

      Reply
  3. Anonymous Poster

    I’m an engineer, and it can really matter for us. Even the kind of engineering, such as aerospace or mechanical, can have a large impact for a company if they’re involved in government contracting, because the contract may specify the degree and kind of engineering. Meanwhile, mechanical and aerospace engineers, in the rest of the world, can be somewhat interchangeable (many mechanical engineers will do fine in the aeronautical or space fields).

    I can see it mattering in government work because the contracts or requisition are somewhat rigid, but otherwise I’m not so sure. For example, the person that was basically the business operations point of contact at my last job had a degree in English, I believe, even though she did a lot of accounting and invoice work.

    Alison’s got it right in that it can really depend. It seems like it may also matter in government contracting or other kinds of work, but other feds here may have a lot more insight into that side of things. I have seen it constrain to the kind of engineering though, instead of just an engineering degree in general in some government contracts.

    Reply
    1. Lora

      This. Weirdly, it doesn’t matter as much for medical school entry, as long as you do the pre-med requirements they don’t care as much as you’d think if you majored in liberal arts. But for most STEM jobs it matters a lot. You really don’t get to be a chemist if you’ve not taken three solid years of undergrad chemistry; you don’t get to be a biologist if you’ve never done cell/molec, genetics, evolution, anatomy of some sort of critter, and some kind of survey class covering general taxonomy.

      I’ve met a few folks from startups who hired non-STEM majors to be a pair of hands running established protocols because they couldn’t afford the real deal – it never went well. There’s just too much background knowledge that is missing and cannot be conveyed in on the job training. It’s a whole different epistemology from other fields.

      I’ve seen a lot of “soft science” majors who were trying to keep their options open too. Psych/soc seem to be applicable to lots of office jobs.

      Ugh, memories of advising pre-med and nursing students who were flunking their undergrad science classes…

      Reply
      1. Optimistic Prime

        Depends on the STEM job, too. Many of the technical program managers and software developers around here don’t have degrees in CS or engineering.

        Also, I think “social sciences” was the term you’re looking for. I was a psychology major, and I do spend a lot of time explaining to college students how useful the social sciences can be across many applications.

        Reply
      2. LabTech

        You really don’t get to be a chemist if you’ve not taken three solid years of undergrad chemistry

        What’s interesting is most jobs I’ve seen for chemistry have either strictly required an advanced degree or had a slew of people from other fields (namely biology), with the latter roles being in analytical chemistry. Analytical chem doesn’t always require the same degree of specialization as, say, drug synthesis, because scientific instruments are designed more and more to be user friendly, and to be able to be operated by people who don’t necessarily understand its principle of analysis.

        Reply
      3. Student

        don’t get to be a chemist if you’ve not taken three solid years of undergrad chemistry

        Wrong!

        The handy thing about a STEM degree is that you can usually BS people into letting you do exactly this no matter what your degree is in specifically, but it has to be after you’ve gotten your foot in the job door. You probably can’t get past a job interview for it, but as soon as you’re in the door, if you proposal a plausible and value-added thing that crosses into a completely different discipline, and you BS well, you can probably swing it.

        I’ve known software engineers who meddle in radiation physics, electrical engineers who play in chemistry, chemists who tread boldly into biology, and biologists who think they are geologists.

        -A physicist, who’s bluffed through chemistry, geology, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science, programming, and varied other disciplines

        Reply
    2. Archie Goodwin

      It does depend on the type of government contract, though. I’ve been a contractor most of my working life, and the fact that my degree was in art history never came into it. Just the fact of having a degree is enough, in a lot of the stuff I do…but then, it’s a bit less rigid than engineering stuff.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Poster

        Yeah you’re right, even contract to contract it can vary. I knew a guy that was an engineering technology major and worked a contract for decades. The contract changed, and he was disqualified because he didn’t have an engineering degree, but was later grandfathered in because of his past experience. Thank goodness too, because he was really important to the project!

        There is a major difference between an engineering technology and engineering degree. In many engineering technology programs, they do not spend as much time on derivations and theory than engineering majors, but spend much more time hands-on with different technology. Unfortunately, I’ve seen very capable people passed over because of having an engineering technology degree instead of an engineering one, and it can really limit their options. I’d advise anyone looking into engineering to only get the engineering degree because it keeps many more doors open to you, even though the technology degree is much more hands on. You can always bolt on the hands-on stuff via clubs and other activities, but you can’t bolt on theory to your degree and remove the limitations you’ll face.

        Reply
    3. Aeryn Sun

      Yeah, it matters a lot more for the sciences than anything else. It doesn’t seem to matter for tech jobs, from what I’ve seen (my Dad works as a web developer and was a chemistry major). But if you want any sort of sciences job you likely need the educational background – one of my best friends works in a lab doing very basic things (drawing blood ,that sort of thing) and needed to get a special certificate / program for that, even though she majored in biology in school.

      Reply
      1. cheeky

        Not just sciences. Basically any professional degree. I can’t be an architect with an English degree. I can’t be a designer without an art or design degree.

        Reply
        1. bookartist

          “I can’t be a designer without an art or design degree.”

          But oh you should see the applications and portfolios from those who try!

          Reply
          1. Amadeo

            Ha! Right? My supervisor likes to tell me stories of my hiring, where I was the only one out of several who had *any* of the HTML/CSS experience (plus my design background) applying for their open web specialist position. I suppose most of the ‘good’ ones went on to St Louis and I’m just one of the bumpkins who doesn’t like living around other people so I stay around here, but learns stuff that isn’t agriculture.

            Reply
        2. Alton

          I would say that it’s possible to become a proficient artist/designer without a degree. But it takes a lot of work both to develop the skills you would learn in a degree program and build a portfolio.

          Reply
          1. cheeky

            It depends. An artist can do whatever. But you can’t just become, say, an interior designer without a degree.

            Reply
    4. KG, Ph.D.

      The aerospace/mechanical split it such a funny one. Pratt & Whitney, for example, hires mostly mechanical engineers, because none of the nearby universities has an aerospace engineering program. My Ph.D. research can be categorized under either aero or mechanical, depending on who you ask.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Poster

        I’m an aerospace/astronautics engineer. I’ll tell anyone that I’m just a more flashy and glittery mechanical engineer, since I spend a lot more time than a mechanical engineer on explosions (i.e. rocketry and thermodynamics). I agree it can be a pretty silly distinction because they are so closely related, especially since a mechanical engineer getting their bachelors can change their electives to be, in all practicality, an aerospace engineer.

        My masters was a lot more focused, with space environments and orbital mechanics classes. But at that level it’s not too surprising.

        Reply
        1. KG, Ph.D.

          My Ph.D. work was in combustion, so I’m right there with you on the explosions. ;) But yeah, a Mech.E. who takes gas dynamics and some other aero-ish electives is, for all intents and purposes, an aerospace engineer.

          Reply
    5. Sal

      Funny, I’m an engineer on a government contract (have also been civil service) and the actual type of engineering matters zero for us. Just need an engineering degree (same for the military). We do mostly aero stuff, and I’ve worked with people with civil engineering degrees. A few years ago we did have some issues were the Project Engineers/Project Managers all of a sudden needed engineering degrees, and most who had been working that role for years and years didn’t have them. I believe they were allowed to stay but could only go up to a certain level and some got demotions as a result. It was pointless, that role is one an engineer can move into but in NO WAY should an engineering degree be required for it.

      In a lot of other roles, engineering can be interchanged for math, statistics, etc.

      Reply
      1. writelhd

        This makes me a little encouraged to hear that not everyone is this strict about type of engineering, because my husband is getting pretty demoralized after job searching for three years with still no success to get a job in EITHER civil or mechanical, after getting a mechanical degree but ending up in a first job that did mostly civil, despite there being plenty of job postings for either. It feels like a really painful cautionary tale about siloing.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous Poster

          Good luck! Alison’s advice helped me a lot when I’ve job searched in the past, and I can’t recommend it enough.

          I’ve been in the space industry and had to move to where the jobs are, since there just isn’t that much anywhere you are in the country. Perhaps there are geographical limits to the type of engineering he wants to do?

          Don’t give up! Smaller firms are hiring more, at least around me, on linkedin lately and they’re hard to find an online presence for. But I’ve found them better places to work once I was able to find them. I’m sure you’ve driven around and written down names on buildings to look up later for an engineering firm, but there are a whole lot out there that are good possibilities for you.

          Is there anything specifically I can do to help?

          Reply
        2. Student

          That’s pretty extreme for an engineer, so it sounds like something is going very wrong for him.

          Is it possible his resume is crappy? Does he interview very poorly? Maybe he’s not really looking in the right places or his focus is too narrow? He should certainly re-evaluate his whole approach. It’s not unusual to take six months, but three years is right out, and it’s not the industry’s fault.

          Reply
    6. Mike C.

      Yeah, in the STEM fields (and science and mathematics are liberal arts, incidentally!), it really can make a difference.

      If you’re an engineer, having that ABET certification is a pretty big deal as well.

      Reply
    7. KelsBells

      Eh, I think even then it sort of depends. I have several advanced degrees in astronomy and just got a job offer for a software engineering position with the government. The skills overlap enough that it was fine (and the position has ties to the astronomy community), even though the job ad wanted someone with a computer science/information science background.

      Reply
    8. Leona

      In my experience, there’s a number of niche engineering disciplines that people don’t know about. I’m a process engineer, for example, and it’s astounding how few people know about process engineering. There have been jobs that hired me when they advertised for a mechanical engineer (in OOG production) and then later admitted that my degree was a better fit for the job than a mechanical.

      So it does matter, but there is on occasion an overlap between the different types of engineering.

      Reply
    9. Antilles

      As a related item, if you’re in a discipline or job where the Professional Engineer license is important, having your degree in the right branch of engineering can really matter. If your degree isn’t in the right discipline (or at least a close relative like Environmental Engineering when you’re trying for a Civil PE), you’ll need to show more than the usual work experience to justify your knowledge in the discipline.
      YMMV here though – since each state creates their own criteria and reviews it differently, how much they care about the title on your degree can vary drastically.

      Reply
    10. STEM expat living in Finance

      On the flip side, my having a STEM degree mightily impresses hiring managers in non-STEM fields. I am very open about not having followed the same educational path that others in my career would usually travel. Interviewers find it so intriguing that just listing my major on my resume has opened doors for me that would otherwise be very difficult to budge.

      Reply
      1. LabTech

        I was always worried about being pigeonholed into my technical field if I wanted out, so this is nice to hear.

        Reply
  4. LS

    Most of the positions I’ve been hired in have stipulated a degree in a specific discipline. I don’t have a degree at all but my work experience offsets that. So it really does depend on your field and your experience.

    Reply
    1. Jesca

      Meh. I have an associates in humanities and I am a Quality Analyst! But I have had a manager or two really learn some hard lessons surrounding degree biase. I’m proud to say I taught them a lesson or two. And they thanked me for it! Fact is, I learned a lot of technical stuff over the years and they learned that you don’t just a book by its degree!

      Reply
    2. Katelyn

      +1, my job description requires not only a degree, but an MBA, and I have neither. But I do have the exact mix of skills they need gathered over my 20 years of experience. The farther you go in your career, the less important your bachelor’s degree becomes (and the more likely your company will pay at least part of your graduate degree if they feel that it really is necessary for you to have).

      Reply
    3. Red Reader

      The first job I held in my career field stated in the description that it required a degree in industrial engineering.

      I had been working it as a temp for six months with no degree at all, the previous guy had no degree at all, and the job was in medical finance administration.

      Nobody had the foggiest idea where industrial engineering came into play. I got the job and stayed there for eight years. :-P

      Reply
  5. CC

    Most (many?) liberal arts colleges don’t even offer career-oriented programs like marketing, journalism, or communications. That doesn’t mean you’re not qualified. Experience counts for a lot (more, I’d say, than a degree) in these fields.

    Reply
    1. Tamz

      This is very true. And for a job in social media or communications, a bit of experience with a promotional campaign or community leadership will get you the job regardless your major.

      It’s not enough to be capable of writing 1000 about Jane Austen – a social media job is about structured, strategic competition g. That’s the edge that a comms or journalism grad will have over an English major.

      Go volunteer somewhere to get that little bit of experience and you’ll find your major almost irrelevant. I’ve hired science majors for comms roles and they have thrived. I would hire a non college educated bartender who instagrams their cocktails over an English major with no experience.

      Reply
      1. Teapot PR consultant

        Yes, the best communications officer I ever hired had a degree in chemistry (with peer reviewed publication credits and all) and a year long science communication diploma.

        Reply
  6. Koko

    I majored in sociology and went into a marketing career. Most of the jobs I’ve held asked for a comms/marketing degree. Didn’t matter. I was able to show my comms skills in other ways, such as my cover letter.

    Reply
  7. Sales Geek

    Was in software sales for 32 years. BA in History then MBA (IT major, finance minor). By the time I got into grad school and the real working world the undergrad degree was never a factor. In more than one interview it was a plus since I learned to do actual research and write to get that BA. I knew plenty of folks with undergrad degrees in Philosophy, Psychology etc. that did just fine.

    Reply
  8. phedre

    Your college major really doesn’t matter as long as you can make your case why you’re a good fit. Experience counts much more. I just ignore the required major thing as long as I’m otherwise qualified.

    As an aside, I’ve been encouraging the nonprofit I work for to really think about required qualifications because it can be an equity issue. Like, does this job really require a BA? Does it really require a Master’s? Does this person really need to have reliable transportation when they sit at a desk all day? Do we really need someone with a degree in business to answer phones? There are definitely some positions where the answer is yes, they absolutely require these degrees/skills/whatever. But for others you’re limiting your applicant pool and possibly overlooking some very talented people who maybe took a different path.

    Reply
    1. Jadelyn

      We do the same – we have a number of hiring managers who reflexively include high-level degree requirements, and we make them justify that decision to us before we’ll post with those requirements attached.

      Reply
    2. myswtghst

      This is a great thing to point out to hiring managers. I’ve worked several places where, over the years, they moved from requiring a college degree (any college degree!) for call center positions, to requiring a high school degree / GED -or- X years of relevant customer service experience, and as the person training the new employees, I can tell you it did not reduce the quality of our hires one bit, and probably even improved it with the option of focusing on relevant experience instead of an irrelevant degree. (I also say this as someone with a 10+ year career in corporate / call center training, who was hired into a degree-required customer service call center with a BS in Zoology. )

      Reply
    3. morrissey

      I really like that you are taking/encouraging this approach! So many jobs have required qualifications totally out of whack with the actual requirements of the job. And as you said, that’s an equality/diversity issue. So bravo! :)

      Reply
  9. beccalecca

    My boss of nearly one year asked “oh what was your major?” the other day. (I’m less than 5 years out of college). It really doesn’t matter.

    BTW- I majored in History and work in HR. After working in my field for a little I discovered it just wasn’t for me. You live and you learn!

    Reply
      1. CMart

        I now have my master’s in accounting which doesn’t surprise people at my job as an accountant. But my BA was in broadcast communications and German.

        That said, my impression trying to break into this field is that in accounting you better damn well have been an accounting or finance major. Thus the master’s.

        Reply
        1. NJ Anon

          Bachelors in marketing, masters in accounting. Most higher level accounting jobs want to see an accounting or finance degree.

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        2. Blue Anne

          Yeah. That’s definitely way more true here in the USA. (I was working in the UK before.) Now that I’m planning to stay in the USA permanently I am looking at doing a master’s.

          I’ve still been able to get a lot of offers because I have Big4 experience on my resume. I’m at a good little firm, hired as a bookkeeper and really working as a staff accountant.

          Reply
    1. Sparkly Librarian

      I got my BA in Theatre Arts (minor in Vocal Performance) and worked in tech support and financial compliance before I got my MLIS. Now I’m a children’s librarian – I say the undergrad work helps with storytime!

      Reply
      1. Librarian of the North

        The amount of times I’ve heard “Librarians have masters degrees? Why do you need a masters in reading books?” is something else. And tech is huge in libraries so I bet your undergrad/experience is an amazing combo!

        Reply
        1. Another Librarian

          Another librarian here, with a BA in psychology before I got my MLS. I work in a public librarian, and deal with all kinds of people, so I definitely feel like my undergraduate degree is an asset.

          Reply
  10. Optimistic Prime

    Yesssss thank you for this post. I advise college-bound high school students and I get asked this question all the time – or, more frequently, I get asked “What can I do with a major in X” (where X is anything that’s not engineering or computer science” or get told “I really want to major in X, but I’m afraid I won’t get a job/make any money after college, so I should really major in Y instead, right?” (where Y is engineering, computer science, economics, or business.

    I have lots of saved pages of data that I can send them to, and I have tons of AAM blog posts saved that I point them to as well :) Here’s another one!

    Reply
    1. Frozen Ginger

      When people ask “So should I major in STEM?” I always respond with: “Only if you actually enjoy it.”

      I went to a predominantly engineering school, and everyone knew at least one person who didn’t like math/science but majored in engineering for the money. Most of these ended up dropping out because they were miserable or being kicked out because they couldn’t pass their fundamental engineering courses.

      There were plenty of things I wanted to study, but I also had the money question in my mind. I chose to major in math (instead of journalism or theater) but I also really love math! So for me, it made sense.

      Reply
      1. Alton

        I studied engineering for a while because I loved math and people encouraged me to major in engineering because it was so marketable!

        Not only did I hate it, but I sucked at it. You’d think being good at math would allow me to apply that knowledge, but it didn’t.

        And everyone has to make this call for themselves. I decided ultimately that English might be a more marketable degree for me than math because while I love math, I really just wanted to play around with calculus and didn’t want to have to get a PhD so that I could find a job where I could just do theory and nothing else.

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      2. Sam

        This is good advice! I work with college students, and it is painful watching some of them stubbornly cling to a major that they’re terrible at and is making them miserable simply because they think it’s the only way to get a job.

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      3. myswtghst

        I got my degree in Zoology, and was initially pursuing veterinary school but decided it was too much school for me. I have now been working 10+ years in training for call centers, and a big factor in my getting my first training job was my theater and independent film experience, because it helped me be comfortable presenting.

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      4. Student

        Correlation is not causation. Sometimes people are good at things because they like them, but much more often people like things because they are good at them.

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    2. LAI

      Optimistic Prime, I work with college students doing similar work. Any chance you would be willing to share some of the data you refer your students to??

      Reply
      1. Optimistic Prime

        How much of it do you want? LOL.

        Probably the most common page I share is the Georgetown University’s “Hard Times” report from 2015, which has unemployment rates and average starting salaries across majors. I share it mostly to show high school students that differences in unemployment actually aren’t that different across majors. (https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/HardTimes2015-Report.pdf) (Goes straight to the PDF of the report, but the CEW at Georgetown has lots of interesting reports on employment among recent graduates.

        Another one I use is the Wall Street Journal’s “Degrees that Pay You Back” report, which shows salary growth in a selection of majors from early to mid-career and also shows ranges. (http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-Degrees_that_Pay_you_Back-sort.html).

        And this one is another favorite – a report done by the Federal Reserve looking at underemployment in recent college grads. There are several charts by major down bottom. I use this to explain to students (and their parents, who are just as bad if not worse) that no, the majority of English and philosophy grads are not flipping burgers or serving up coffee. (https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/staff_reports/sr749.pdf?la=en).

        Reply
        1. Student

          I appreciate what you’re doing for your students, but I really don’t think you’re considering the full picture with this kind of advice.

          A key demographic that your advice and research is deliberately leaving out – people who go to college but don’t complete it. In your place, I’d try to track how many of the students you advise actually graduate. According to the US Census, among the younger people closest to your demographic, about 65% of people attend some college, but only 46% get an associate’s degree or better and only 36% get an actual 4-year degree – meaning that about half of the kids going to college never get a degree one would associate with a specific major.

          I know you wouldn’t want to tell a kid heading off to college that they have a ~50% chance of never getting a degree. But your advice should probably that factor in to best serve your students, unless you’re at a well-to-do school with unusually high college attendance/graduation rates. I’d much rather see people in your position emphasize building up useful skills (broad definition of “useful”) than debunking the utility of majors.

          Most schools will give students a lot of flexibility in year 1 and 2, where they can try on some different hats to figure out what fits. All schools want kids to come out the other end with more skills. That can mean an improved ability to communicate ideas – which can fall under a whole bunch of the traditional liberal arts spectrum. A better understanding of mathematics and enough fluency in it to succeed in daily finances (not fall for payday loans, renting furniture, gambling, or similar bad financial habits that hold back the people who don’t know the math behind it) – maybe a student that struggles with math in high school shouldn’t major in it, but should prioritize learning enough math to handle a mortgage (or those student loans!) reasonably well one day. Most students probably shouldn’t focus on being professional programmers, but in this day and age many more people ought to learn just a little programming, to understand its capabilities and its limitations better. Trying to get some specific skills and test out different major ideas in their first years of college would serve those 50% college drop-outs better, too – rather than lamenting the uselessness of an incomplete engineering degree, they could reap the benefits of knowing how interest rates work even if they can’t manage a geometry problem.

          I’d love to see students approach college with some practical balance of pragmatism toward skills-building, optimism, and flexibility. That’s close to what you’re trying to convey already, in some different words: you collect skills and experience from college. Many of these skills are broadly applicable, though some are more specific; a specific major is not so much a business credential as one specific path of many to acquiring a widely-recognized collection of skills.

          Reply
  11. Mike-O

    I have a theatre degree and I work successfully in business. It was a hard sell because our culture here covets business degrees even though, time after time, the ones with the shiny new business degrees (BAs and MBA) seem to underperform.

    I’m lucky that I have a boss who recognizes the value of liberal arts.

    That said, business doesn’t interest me (it was something I did to get out of theatre). I’m back in school for computer science because it’s very difficult to jump into IT with a theatre degree and business experience.

    That said there are lots of self-taught programmers so you don’t even really need a degree for that. Just time and the willingness to learn. Personally I wanted a ‘do-over’ for my degree (which the company happily pays for half of).

    So yeah, it all depends. The more technical your job is (social media is not technical unless you are working on the algorithms to display ads on your feed or something like that), the more education may help with getting a job.

    I could say lots of things about the social media career but I’m sure others might chime in . . . .

    Reply
    1. LBK

      Heh, I originally got passed over for my current job in favor of someone who was straight out of business school, I think partially because she had an MBA and I just have my artsy fartsy film degree. She ended up quitting a couple months later and I’m now a senior analyst. Go figure.

      Reply
    2. Optimistic Prime

      There’s some evidence showing that business majors don’t really teach critical thinking skills the way that liberal arts and sciences majors do. Not that business majors can’t have critical thinking skills, but simply that the degree on average doesn’t teach it the way you’d learn in a liberal arts major.

      Reply
  12. TeacherNerd

    Importante for some careers, not for others. Some careers have a tiny bit of wiggle room, if any, and some there are lots. If you want to be an English teacher (like I am), you probably should have a degree in English or something extremely related – not, for example, physics (unless you also have a degree in English, journalism, communications, creative writing, etc. – hence the “wiggle room” but I’ll note that “wiggle room” can be career/company dependent).

    My husband wanted to be a pilot, so he got a degree in aviation science, but with pilots, many (perhaps most) don’t have that particular degree. In aviation, it’s not so much what your major is (although you definitely need a four-year degree of some variety); what matters more, aside from having a degree, is how many hours you’ve flown.

    Reply
    1. TeacherNerd

      Just as a side note for “wiggle room”: Even in teaching, that amount of wiggle depends on the level in which you want to teach. If you want to teach college-level creative writing, having an MFA could help; a degree in journalism will get you a job teaching journalism or other types of writing, not necessarily creative writing. It’s learning to read and understand the field and what’s appropriate.

      Reply
      1. Rincat

        This is a good point – a lot of the degrees required for higher ed teaching are governed by the accreditation bodies, so you may need anywhere from a certain number of hours in that area, to a terminal degree in that specific area of study to teach at a specific level.

        Reply
      2. Frozen Ginger

        If you want to teach high school, there can be a lot of wiggle-room depending on the geographic area and the subject. There are a lot of school districts that need math teachers.

        Reply
        1. TeacherNerd

          @Rincat: Aye. I was most of the way done – all but the thesis was completed – with a master’s in English (rhetoric and composition) when I got multiple jobs adjunction at local colleges/universities. I was told to git ‘er done, and I might have been overlooked had someone not been needed to teach a particular subset of classes.

          @Frozen Ginger: Indeed – hence my comment on the relativity when wiggling (as it were). A degree in the sciences won’t help you if you want to teach middle school English, but it might help you, depending on geography and the particular needs of the school, if you want to teach math. Even the timing of one’s application can affect things.

          Reply
          1. Meryl

            I agree, depending on your certification (or eligibility for certification), there can be some wiggle room. I was hired for my ESL teaching job (in a traditional public elementary school in the US) with a general elementary certificate plus two years of experience teaching mostly with ELLs (I was a reading interventionist). I didn’t have the ESL cert in hand, but I had relevant experience and an existing teaching certificate.

            Reply
    2. Dan

      I wanted to be a pilot, so I majored in Computer Science… and learned to fly at the local airport after classes and on weekends.

      I’m glad I went that route, because I couldn’t pass my medical, and ended up needing to find different employment. These days, I work for a company working on air traffic systems development. I thought about getting an aviation science degree, but worried about what would happen if there was a recession and the airlines started laying people off.

      Where I work now is interesting, because they want people with different backgrounds. Some of us are pilots, some are air traffic controllers, some are software engineers, and others PhDs in math and what not, who don’t know anything about actually flying. It’s also why I really knock “group work” in college, because student groups in a class are nothing like the real world groups that I work in.

      Reply
      1. TeacherNerd

        Dan: My husband lost his medical as well, but (fortunately) had minored in computer science, and now works for the same airline that hired him as a pilot, but in a different, techy capacity. His degree in aviation science and comp science, and experience as a pilot, has been extremely helpful.

        Group work is another argument altogether, and one I’d rather not get into, because my opinions are unpopular and “wrong.” :)

        Reply
    3. Jadelyn

      The requirement of a 4-year degree for pilots has never made sense to me. It’s a vocation-type profession that should function more akin to skilled professions that have formal apprenticeships, like machining or various skilled blue-collar trades – if someone has the training and licenses, and sufficient flight hours in their logbook, what extra skills does having a college degree bring, especially if they don’t care if it’s an aviation-related major? Honest question. I would love to hear a justification for why they want someone to have spent 4 years in a classroom studying who knows what, *in addition* to thousands of hours of flight experience.

      My father is a pilot and he never went to college, but he started flying with gliders in Civil Air Patrol back in the 70s and has a ridiculous number of hours in all types of craft under his belt. So I’ve never understood why having a 4-year degree would matter for someone with that level of experience.

      /rant. Sorry, I grew up around aviation and almost became a pilot myself, so this has always bothered me a little.

      Reply
      1. Dan

        You’re almost asking, “why does any body in any field need a college degree, if the college education isn’t teaching them skills directly applicable to the job?” For example, why does one need a college degree to run a company’s twitter and facebook account?

        The reality is, by and large, a significant number of jobs that “require” a degree use it to limit the number of applicants. The same is true with programming jobs, I don’t *need* a four-year degree in computer science to program a computer.

        BTW, you don’t need “thousands” of hours to fly for the regional airlines. The airline I used to work for would hire pilots from certain universities with only 600 hours of flight time. No university degree is a substitute for experience, that’s for sure.

        With the way college tuition keeps going up, at some point we as a society are going to have to have a conversation about the role a college education really plays in our job market. When new grads are demanding salaries that employers are unwilling to pay, employers will start looking to see if there are cheaper sources of labor.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          To be honest, I think that is a great question to ask – if the college education isn’t teaching applicable skills, why require it? Using an *unrelated* college degree as a weeding-out tool to limit the number of applicants is frankly an awful strategy, as it functions as a de facto class barrier to keep people from low-income backgrounds out. Frankly, we’re way overdue for that conversation about the role college should be playing, especially considering our national student loan debt problem.

          Reply
      2. TeacherNerd

        My understanding is, as stated previously, is that it’s partly a weeding-out tool, but the necessary qualifications for many jobs change over time. One didn’t used to need to go to college to become a teacher, and now you do. When I went through my teacher prep program as an undergrad, I would talk to my parents (career teachers who had been trained 30 years previously) about the current requirements for teacher training, and my father especially was agog, it had changed so much.

        It’s absolutely true that there was a time when a college degree wasn’t needed for a lot of jobs, and your father’s case helps make that argument. If your dad were trying to become a pilot NOW, though, that might not hold true. My husband got a degree in aviation science, then became a commercial pilot. His degree was directly related to his career, but I realize that this isn’t applicable to every case.

        Reply
        1. TeacherNerd

          I would argue, though, too, that in many cases one’s degree isn’t going to be 100% directly applicable to one’s career, or to every job/career one has, and it can be difficult to tell, looking forward, what will help specific people and at what point. A degree in underwater basketweaving may not help you with an aviation career…if that’s the only career you have, and if you’re lucky enough to find a job/career directly applicable to your degree right away.

          Reply
        2. Jadelyn

          But I’m specifically talking about the fact that a 4-year-degree in *any* subject, not aviation-related subjects, is required to get most pilot jobs these days. What I’m asking is, what changed between 30 years ago and now, that piloting requires a 4-year degree in potentially completely unrelated subjects? What benefit does a non-aviation-related 4-year degree bring to a pilot’s skills? That’s what nobody has ever satisfactorily answered, in my experience anyway.

          Reply
  13. Jaguar

    It’s also worth noting that employment postings are often done by spec by an HR person and rarely fit the role properly, so the list of stuff required is nonsense to put it politely. You ever notice how every job posting always looks the same, with a brief explanation of what the job is, what the company is, a bullet-point list of requirements, a bullet-point list of benefits, and so forth? It’s not because that’s the one correct way of presenting a job posting.

    You apply and either you get an interview or you don’t. You don’t apply and you won’t get an interview for sure. Send one in and see what happens.

    Reply
    1. Fictional Butt

      Yes. I’m leaving my job, so my job was posted recently. My employer used a years-old job description that barely resembled what I actually do (and what qualifications I have). Luckily I was able to get them to change it, but it really made me reconsider how relevant some job postings are!

      Reply
    2. Jubilance

      Absolutely this. I got my first job out of grad school all because the onsite HR team didn’t realize that chemistry is not the same as chemical engineering. They kept posting reqs for a chemical engineering position, but candidates would turn it down when they interviewed onsite and learned it was really a chemist position. By the time I was graduating they had finally figured out how to add the word “chemist” to the job req…and my official title ended up being Chemical Engineer even though I did 0 engineering work :-P

      Reply
    3. Mike C.

      Yeah, I can’t believe how many postings I saw for lab tech that required a degrees in microbiology specifically, when any sort of biology or chemistry degree (with lab experience) would be just fine.

      Reply
  14. LBK

    I think one thing to consider is that many jobs don’t even really have a corresponding major. I mean sure, you might be able to have general background knowledge about the industry, but speaking personally I don’t know that there’s a major that directly correlates to what I do now (business intelligence, so kind of a mix of computer science, statistics and business, I guess? although per Google there are a handful of colleges that offer BI degrees).

    Being able to write competently, think analytically and work collaboratively are the main skills you need t0 succeed in most office jobs, and I think more or less any college major can teach you how to do those things.

    Reply
  15. Anon16

    This is a really timely question! I’m an English major from a liberal arts college searching for positions in marketing/communications. If it’s listed first and uses the language “must have a degree in…” or is specified under “Job Requirements” section, does it really not matter? Would it look out of sync to apply even if I’m concerned they’re specifically looking for someone with the degree?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Apply. English is so close to communications that it’s highly unlikely to be a deal breaker for them. And even if it is, you won’t look presumptuous for having tried.

      Reply
    2. EnglishLitLover

      I’m an English Literature major and have a marketing position. I would apply for jobs that would require specific degrees and I always got called for interviews. It did help that I have prior marketing experience, English degree and also free-lance write. All in all I am creative based so it wasn’t difficult to find a “creative” job.

      Reply
    3. (another) b

      Plus they usually say “Must have degree in journalism, communications, marketing or related field.” You would be “related.”

      Reply
    4. Jenna

      For marketing and communications, it really doesn’t matter that you’re an English major. As long as you can demonstrate sound knowledge of marketing and communications principles (and not just focus on editing/grammar), then you’d be fine to apply, even if it says “must have a degree in marketing, communications, etc.” I have business degrees and I often mentally add the words “or a related field,” when appropriate. I’d say that’s true for lots of business roles, except those that really do require technical knowledge, like finance and accounting. As an English major applying for marketing jobs, definitely do not rule yourself out by not applying, but do understand that there may be some applicants with marketing degrees who may be a better fit for the role.

      Reply
    5. Teapot PR consultant

      I always put — to take a comms job for example — ‘relevant tertiary qualifications, such as journalism, communications or public relations.’

      Because universities in Australia package up their qualifications in so many different ways I would hate to lose out on an outstanding applicant because they thought their arts degree with a major in journalism was not the same as a degree in journalism, or whatever.

      Reply
    6. Student

      The secret to job postings is that you should apply when you meet about 50% -70% of the job posting. If you’re missing something vital, it’s their job to filter you out further.

      In some studies on gender in job applications, it was found that women tended to only apply to jobs where they met nearly 100% of the requirements, whereas men applied when they met a much lower percentage of the job ad requirements. Don’t hold yourself back by assuming people in authority making job posts are perfectly competent and know exactly what they need. We aren’t paying anywhere near that much attention to it, I assure you, and many jobs are flexible to some degree.

      Reply
  16. Bend & Snap

    It can be a huge help to have a recognizable college from a networking perspective. My sister went to Texas A&M and the alum network is so strong and vibrant that it’s amazingly helpful when a job search rolls around. Even the ring is super recognizable.

    I went to a very small liberal arts college and my professional network from school is nonexistent.

    Reply
    1. EnglishLitLover

      I went to Texas A&M as well and it honestly helps so much. Even if I didn’t receive the interview because I knew someone who worked there, just the name of Texas A&M helped so much!

      Reply
    2. Blue

      All my siblings and I went to A&M (howdy!), and I know my brothers will favor an Aggie in hiring, given the opportunity. They take note when an Aggie interviewee does not comment on their (prominently displayed) ring. So yeah, a big regional network is a very valuable thing to take advantage of.

      The Aggie network is not so useful for me since I’m in a different part of the country, but my office just made an offer to someone who did their grad work at A&M, and that connection was definitely part of our interview chat.

      Reply
      1. A fly on the wall

        Us Aggies are in the darnedest places. (Just graduated with a master’s, but my parents were both true believers, I started leaning my campusology at about 2), I’ve run into Aggies randomly everywhere from Sacramento to D.C. I don’t know if I’d give extra weight in hiring to somebody, but if they came with references I could check, knowing the quality there would help.

        Reply
        1. A fly on the wall

          And I could check, through my own associates and professors or the extended Aggie network, most everyone who’s gone to school there, that’s the power of the network.

          “Hey did you know such’n’so? He’s in Spider D while you were.” “No, but I know some other guys in that outfit, lemme get you in touch.”

          Reply
  17. Ellie

    I was a theater major, then did additional course work to get enough credits to take the CPA exam; luckily, a standard practice for accounting student resumes is to put your CPA exam eligibility (or progress through the exam) above your education, which was a strong signal to employers that I had substantial course work in accounting, even if I didn’t get a second degree. I applied for quite a few jobs that “required” an accounting degree. Rather then it being a detriment, some employers were drawn to the diversity in my educational background.

    Reply
    1. Bear Rambles On

      Yep. My degree is in archaeology. I have been working in the accounting field for over 15 years. I am currently studying for the CPA exam after taking all of the required coursework. No one has asked about my degree (or grades).

      Reply
  18. Jessesgirl72

    Even in STEM, it can be pretty fluid. Obviously if you’re going into hard engineering, you need the engineering degree in whatever discipline it is, but if you’re going into Programming, you might have a degree in any of the Engineering disciplines (most often EE, but not always!), or Comp Sci, or I know a couple programmers whose degrees are in astrophysics… And I know someone with a PhD in Comp Sci who 1) couldn’t even install Windows on her own computer (had to pay Geek Squad) and 2) got a full professorship slot at a UC system school, but now teaches courses that are completely unrelated to computers.

    If a job requires a specific accreditation (AMA, ABA, CPA…) that is one thing, but what your college major was? Not so much.

    Reply
    1. blackcat

      Astrophysics majors can end up being awesome programmers. Big data & machine learning have been BIG THINGS in certain areas of astrophysics for some time. So someone who did astrophysics research as an undergrad is almost certainly highly marketable as a programmer. Same goes for high energy physicist research.

      Reply
      1. anon? anon.

        I actually work for a company that specialises in recruiting non-computer science STEM graduates who want to change to programming and training them up. I think we’re about 70% maths graduates, 30% pretty evenly split across various sciences and engineering. I’m in the maths contingent, and although nothing I did is directly relevant to the work I do now I’ve found the fundamental skills really do transfer.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous Poster

      So much this. There are some job types that really don’t care too much within engineering about what kind of engineering you have. So many engineers nowadays program or script things all the time, and those skills are very transferable!

      Reply
    3. Risha

      I have a minor in Comp Sci, but my major was Business Administration. As far as I can tell, it’s never made an iota of difference when it came to my getting a programming job. After your initial hire, employers are way more interested in what kinds of experience you have than anything you might have learned in school; 85% of what I do on a daily basis didn’t even exist when I was graduating, nearly 20 years ago, and who has the time to be constantly taking formal classes to keep up with the latest and greatest languages. You learn on the job, when your employer needs it.

      Reply
    4. the gold digger

      At a recent alumni event, I met many people working for Epic (a software company). They were linguistics, German, physics, and anthropology majors. And they were becoming programmers. Not so much the code, I don’t think, but the algorithms. Apparently, Epic’s (excellent) hiring strategy is to find smart people who can solve problems and then teach them the specific business applications.

      Reply
      1. Jessesgirl72

        What kept me out of Comp Sci in college was the advanced math classes.

        But I’m a language person, and to me, computer languages have just been another language. :) And the skills that have made me a good editor make me a pretty good debugger too.

        Reply
      2. Risha

        My sister-in-law makes way better money than I do developing Epic for a huge hospital. She has a Master’s in Education and I think her bachelor’s was in History. She’s not even all that into technology.

        Reply
    5. Not Karen

      On the other hand, some STEM fields can be nonsensically nitpicky. I have an Epidemiology MSc, and I’ve had professors and employers try to convince me that it’s completely different from either Public Health or Biostatistics. Like my last employer told me that in order to get promoted I had to go back and get another MS in Biostatistics – Epi wasn’t close enough.

      Reply
      1. Jessesgirl72

        Yeah, it’s the M part that gets super strict!

        Although there are companies that get that nitpicky over programming languages too. As Risha points out, some of which didn’t even exist yet when people were getting their degrees, but if you’ve demonstrated skill in others, you can actually pick it up the new ones as you go. It’s not always the hiring manager – or even his department!- who gets to decide what the requirements are for a given job, and that’s doubly so for the job listing.

        So when in doubt, apply!

        Reply
          1. Jessesgirl72

            Depends on who is defining it! I’ve seen both. (and now they want to add an A, for Arts…)

            I think you’re right though, and Math is the more usual. I wasn’t thinking. :)

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Oh, it’s ok! I was just confused and wanted to be sure I wasn’t misusing the acronym :)

              (Is there a difference between STEAM and Arts & Sciences?)

              Reply
    6. Dan

      One of the amusing things is that “computer science” isn’t synonymous with “software engineering”. Don’t get me wrong, lots of computer science majors move on to programming jobs, but I found “on the job” software engineering to be very different than doing your homework.

      … and I’d like to dispel the notion that being a CS major makes one qualified to be Level I help desk support. Very different skill sets :)

      Reply
      1. Frozen Ginger

        Depends on the school. Some “computer science” degrees are software engineering focused.

        Reply
      2. Risha

        Oh yeah. I’ve been a developer of one sort or another since 1998, and the list of computer related things I can’t do is waaaaay longer than the list that I can. Level I help desk support, for one.

        Reply
    7. Science!

      Programming and coding skills are really key in many areas of genetics and genomics, such that a lot of PIs would rather hire someone with great programming skills and teach them the biology needed for the project.

      In a similar vein, when my genetics research group was hiring for an entry level research assistant we ended up hiring someone with a geology major over others with biology majors, because we got the sense that she could handle the work, had certain skills that translated really well for the project, and we could teach her the necessary biology. And she’s worked out great! She took a free genetics class to get caught up but she also learned fast, took on extra tasks and responsibilities and made impressive changes to some of our workflows that made them more efficient. After two years she’s moving on to grad school and I know we are all going to miss her.

      Reply
  19. hbc

    I think of a lot of job postings are describing their ideal candidate, not a list of absolute requirements. The longer the list is, the more you can flex from it. An English major is so close in this case that I’d almost consider it something they forgot to list, and the only reason I’d worry about it is if you have other points that are a stretch or miss. For example, if they want 1-3 years experience, a marketing major might be in the running with no experience, but you might need that year minimum, or 6 months with a very good spin in your cover letter.

    Reply
  20. Fenchurch

    Joining the League of Employed English Majors reporting in: I graduated as an English major in 2011 and am working in Finance now. It’s truly amazing how many different skills you develop as an English major that apply to a wide range and variety of jobs.

    Keep your chin up! Keep applying!

    Reply
    1. Your Weird Uncle

      I’m exactly the same! Plus, my fellow financial colleagues have other degrees: masters in library science, another masters in biochem, a PhD in language, etc. I echo what Fenchurch says.

      Reply
      1. ReadItWithSpanishAccent

        I have a BA and 2 masters in History. I work in a tech company managing their offices in several different countries. As I said in the interview: if I can analitically read a crappy broken parchment in a long dead language, I can manage your office with my eyes closed.

        Reply
  21. LesleyC

    I was an English major and, in the 10+ years since graduating, have built a successful career in social media management. When I’m hiring new grads for social media roles, I am so much more interested in their experience than their major fields of study. Did you manage social media for any campus clubs or events? Are you currently involved in any volunteer or professional organizations, and have you contributed any social media efforts for those? Make sure that’s on your resume or called out in your cover letter. It makes you an attractive candidate.

    And if you don’t have any of that experience yet but want to find a career in social media, those would be great activities for you to take on. Volunteering could be a great avenue, because lots of small, local nonprofits don’t have the time or bandwidth to develop a real social media marketing plan and would welcome an offer of help.

    Reply
  22. Poison Ivy

    I hired a social media manager straight out of university about 2 months ago. His degree is in finance. We made the decision based on the website and events he’s working on in his spare time, which are closely related to our industry. He has a passion for our subject.

    Reply
  23. Eric

    Also, having a couple of courses in the target area can make a big difference. For example, I hire people where we ideally are looking for someone with a degree in economics. If they have a degree in a related field (e.g. statistics), we will look on them a lot more favorably if they took an econ class or two.

    Reply
  24. Dovahkiin

    I’m a social media and content marketing manager. I was an English major (and philosophy minor oof).

    You’d be surprised at how many people in a professional setting don’t know how to write well. For social media and digital content, writing is an essential skill. Make sure your cover letter and resume show off your writing (but don’t get weird about it – see AskAManager’s archives of odd cover letters).

    If you haven’t already, start a non-personal social media account to show off your skills. I created a booknerd fashion blog that I monetized and it was geeky, but I was able to show that I had proven skills in optimizing content for social media and growing an audience and increasing web traffic w/social posts.

    If you’d like to get in touch for a 30 minute convo or email on how I got here, what worked/what didn’t, and what I look for in entry level social media hires, I’d be happy to get in touch.

    Reply
    1. kab

      Off-topic, but you have a Skyrim username and a booknerd fashion blog. I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be BFFs.

      Reply
  25. Crystal

    I did have one job applicant for a non-professional accounting position (no CPA license) spend the entire cover letter defending a degree in Classical Studies. It’s just not relevant – my best employees have a degree in nutrition and no degree in anything, respectively – but the cover letter was really off-putting. It was just defensive and weird. Tell me about your work experience or your attention to detail, but save the defense of a liberal arts education for another venue.

    Reply
  26. Jadelyn

    I went back to school and just graduated last month with my B.S. in HR Management.

    I am now the *only* member of a 5-person local team and a 14-person total national team who has a degree *in HR* specifically. The HR Manager I work under has a B.A. in film and a master’s certification (not degree) in nonprofit management. Our VP has a B.A. in public administration and an MBA. Several members of both teams have no degree at all.

    Honestly, your skills and experience are going to be way more important in most fields, aside from the types of STEM fields Alison mentioned in the post.

    Reply
  27. Nervous Accountant

    English major inwriting.

    I’m working as an accountant now.

    All my work experience after graduation was related to taxes and I have a professional license–the license was what got my foot in the door rather than my experience and education.

    Reply
    1. Andi

      I’m almost the opposite. My degree was in mathematics, and I work in marketing/communications. It’s never been an issue.

      Reply
  28. Stellaaaaa

    I have my MA in English and I work in social media. My personal observation is that it’s not really about your major – it’s about the fact that every single person under the age of 35 is somewhat qualified for social media jobs so employers have the luxury of hiring people who fit easily within their exact desired qualification rubric.

    I’d be curious as to why OP wants to work in social media without having majored in communications, marketing, or PR. Again, I have observed that a lot of people who want to be in social media think it’s just about posting to facebook. There’s more to it than that, and the jobs usually involve more skills specific to marketing and even web design than one might expect. I gained experience working for small businesses and at this point I could slide into a management role based on my resume, but in the beginning my English degree really wouldn’t have prepared me for a job at an online marketing firm that wasn’t willing to train me up. My advice would be to try to get more experience at small businesses that maybe aren’t cool or aren’t solely marketing firms. Your small bit of experience might not be enough if you don’t have a well-rounded skillset that includes google adwords, SEO, PPC, back-end meta keyword analysis, graphic design, and promo item sourcing.

    Reply
    1. KC

      Yes, exactly this. I see so many people who think “I use social media every day so I would be an excellent social media manager” and then are completely lost when they have to report on analytics, strategy and content. If someone had a non-related degree and an excellent portfolio, I would consider them. However, the industry is so completely saturated right now that employers have their pick of candidates.

      Reply
    2. morrissey

      Yes, working in social media is lot more involved and tricky than most people realise. I see it as a totally different skillset than what one learns as a English/literature student.

      Reply
    3. OP

      I’ve been out of college for a few years and never considered majoring in marketing when I was in college, but now that I’m doing some social media work for the non-profit I volunteer at, I discovered that I actually kind of like it! (I’m aware of basic things, like certain times to schedule posts, using Hootsuite, how many times to post a day, actually paying attention to the FB Page analytics, etc. My weakness is that I need to learn more about SEO, Google Analytics, etc).

      I’m very well aware that social media is basically marketing & I don’t really have any knowledge of marketing/PR, so that’s one of the reasons why I wondered if it really mattered if having a major in Marketing was integral for those kinds of jobs.

      Reply
  29. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    Religion major here, working in investments. The first finance job I landed was customer service, so it made for a very nice transition step. Plenty of my coworkers here have non-investment or even non-financial backgrounds.

    Reply
    1. NW Mossy

      Financial services is very open-ended, and a great place for jack-of-all-trades types who are about equal between verbal/analytical. I incidentally happen to be an econ major, but I work with people with degrees as varied as French and criminal justice. In this industry, your major matters a lot less than your ability to work well with others (especially customers who don’t know much about your product!) and the ability to follow basic addition/subtraction in an account.

      Reply
  30. Anon Anon

    I find that experience in many areas trumps what you majored in when you were in college. Where I work we would definitely hire someone who is an english major for this type of role if they had direct experience. We would not without the experience.

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!

      +1

      I always think that the advice that it doesn’t matter what you major in needs to be paired with advice to get internship and work experience in the field you want to pursue. It matters a lot more in liberal arts disciplines to have that experience than the major. Having an engineering or architecture degree (and professional licensure) matters in those fields.

      I hire an average of 6 new graduates per year, and I do have one or two positions for which major matters (STEM components to the job). The rest have a very wide range of majors, and I’ve not yet correlated a major with better success at the position, so we don’t restrict or specify majors. There is some preferences for business or economics but it’s not a hard requirement. I also have a handful of employees who are technology types, none of whom have a technology degree. I joke that political science majors can learn database management just fine — I used to work for a CIO that was a poli sci major, too.

      Reply
  31. Polabear

    I have a degree in political science, and work in IT. I was lucky that I graduated right during the dot com boom, and had always messed some with computers as a hobby. I went to a liberal arts school, and I think it was incredibly useful to my career.

    Reply
    1. DQ

      PoliSci major graduated in 97. Worked in the field briefly, then eventually landed in IT, where I’ve been for 14 years (where I’m now a Director).

      Not sure if things are different 20 years hence but it never mattered for me.

      Reply
  32. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP, for social media and communications, your critical thinking, creativity and writing skills will matter more than your major (and possibly more than your degree). And over time, the deciding factor will be your work experience.

    There are of course fields where your degree title will matter more. But in general, I’ve found that jobs that are restricted are restricted either because (1) you need a specific credential (nursing, education, engineering, accounting, architecture); or (2) you need a specific skill/methodological fluency (e.g., statistical analysis, technical writing, foreign language fluency, survey design, GIS).

    My first post-college jobs fell within the second category. They were not related to my major, but they did require that I had demonstrated proficiency in a specific methodology. I demonstrated proficiency by showing that I’d taken courses in that method, had done well, and had done some RA work for a professor who used that method. So if you’re dealing with category #2, there are ways other than your degree to show your qualifications. If you’re dealing with category #1, then the hiring folks likely cannot budge on waiving “credential” requirements.

    Reply
  33. Lora

    A note on new-ish majors that don’t fall neatly into a more traditional one: There are very valid reasons to go with the traditional major for that job.

    When I was fresh out of grad school, there was not such a thing as a major in Bioengineering, even though that was very much what I did. There were Chemical Engineers who did creative things with fermentation, but it wasn’t exactly a major anywhere. When one of the local (large, prestigious) universities started issuing degrees in Bioengineering, there was a lot of head-scratching from hiring managers, who would pass over someone who was perfectly qualified if they didn’t immediately recognize the major and fit it into some mental pigeonhole. I find you’re better off just double-majoring or do your undergrad in one thing and a graduate degree in the other thing so people can recognize what it is you do.

    When I was an undergrad there weren’t a lot of Biochemistry degrees being handed out; there were organic chemists who specialized in biological molecules and enzyme activity. So I double majored in biology and chemistry. This went over a lot better than my colleagues who did Biochem at the few universities who granted Biochem degrees back when dinosaurs roamed the earth – back then, Biochemistry was only a two-semester course at most institutions, so if you said you majored in it people would raise their eyebrows.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      So I was a Mathematical Biology major myself, and I have to disagree with this.

      Yes, there is a little more work trying to educate employers as to why your major is useful, but if you come from a good school and use your cover letter well to explain what’s going on, I’ve found that the new combination really clicks with employers. Furthermore, your plan requires graduate study, and if nothing else you can emphasize one aspect of the major over the other when looking for work and preparing a resume/cover letter.

      Reply
    2. Miranda

      Yes to this! I majored in Biomedical Engineering, somewhat new at the time, (which, at my uni, was like mechanical engineering + biology classes, if you did it right you could use it for pre-med). The jerks hiring wanted straight mechanical, and “we’ll teach them the bio”.. grrr…. It took forever to get an actual engineering job (though this was during a tech job recession so that did not help).

      Reply
    3. Cedrus Libani

      I was the actual first person to major in Bioengineering at my (large, prestigious) undergrad, so I’ve been there and done that. You aren’t wrong about getting your foot in the door; graduating into the teeth of a recession didn’t help, but still. If I could have a redo, I might have just double majored in biology and CS, though I don’t regret having the breadth of training now.

      Reply
  34. A Pet Peeve

    It’s communication is not the same as communications.

    Communications are the means of sending messages, orders, etc., including telephone, telegraph, radio, and television.

    Communication is the message.

    Reply
      1. Electron Wisperer

        Communications Engineering should probably not be mistaken for Communications when looking for a course, one of them has SCARY maths in it (Think Shannon, Fourier and Viterbi).

        I took a film studies course once, was very confused to discover that it did not go into the mechanics of the Kodachrome process (Interestingly **weird** chemistry BTW), or human visual perception, they were equally confused by my fascination with the behaviour of the glass beaded perlux screen and the behaviour of the Dolby phase matrix decoder. Taught me to pay close attention to the prospectus, and also that such things can often be passed more easily by studying the Lecturers taste in film (And citing their writing) then by actually coming up with original thought.

        Reply
        1. Cece

          This reads as being unnecessarily dismissive of an entire (well established!) academic discipline, when in fact your problem was with your own expectations.

          Reply
          1. SarahTheEntwife

            Yeah, that’s kind of like going to a literature class expecting to learn about bookbinding or typography. They’re both valid and fascinating fields, but they really aren’t related academically despite both being involved in the finished materials.

            Reply
            1. Electron Wisperer

              Hey, I PASSED that course, with a a decent grade too! I shouldn’t have been able to and I take my pulling it off as an indication that the lecturer really shouldn’t have been!

              Saw (And wrote about) some great movies, but they really should have named it cinema studies, I don’t think we got anywhere near any actual film at any point as part of the course (And I was working my way through college as a projectionist at the time, pretty sure I would have noticed).

              I have seen course names stuff other people as well, one local uni ran two courses “Music Technology” and “Technological Music”, MT spent 2/3rds of the first couple of years with the electronic engineers, mathematicians and physicists, learning to design the technology, this was not what some students had expected.

              It did not help that the UK unis at the time tended to write very opaque perspecti (Is that a word?) with listings of course content that could really only be understood if you were already a practitioner.

              Reply
  35. Government Worker

    Straight out of school I think the humanities versus social science versus science distinction can matter a little, but the exact major matters less. Someone reviewing resumes for an entry-level position that requires a lot of writing is typically going to favor an English or history major over a physics major, and someone hiring for a more quantitative role will favor an econ major over a theater major, all else equal. But there’s lots of room to demonstrate the relevant skills elsewhere on a resume and cover letter, so its very possible for someone to end up in a job totally unrelated to their degree. And after the first couple of years/jobs, it’s totally irrelevant.

    Reply
  36. Cadbury Cream Egg

    Lets say my career is marine biology. We’ve hired someone who was a journalism major once and he actually ended up as a team lead for me until he was poached by someone else in the MB field. We hire some really junior positions so it doesn’t necessarily matter what your degree is, it more matters what your resume says and how you interview.

    Reply
  37. seejay

    Something else to keep in mind is it depends on what you do during your education. My partner did his undergrad degree in psychology but self-taught himself computer design skills and software and that’s what he’s been doing now for 20 years. The psychology degree helps in that he applies it to how people think and their behaviour in regards to interaction and UX but in truth, he’s a front end user interface designer and very little of his career path is in psychology.

    My engineering manager has a PHD in music but he did a lot of certifications in software engineering courses after he finished school and hasn’t done any career stuff in music in years. He still plays music but it’s a hobby now and he’s been a software engineer for 15+ years instead.

    So yes, you can go on a completely different path from what you went to school in, depending on extra curricular studies (at least in those two cases that I know of).

    Reply
    1. Dan

      It does… but I’ve noticed that at least on the STEM side, the feds aren’t unreasonable in how they define “or equivalent” degree. My degree has a bit of an obscure title, but the requirements for appropriately suited jobs don’t screen me out.

      Reply
      1. hermit crab

        I’ve also found that, in some cases, they are more stringent about coursework, rather than what the degree is called (e.g., a posting will require a certain number of credit hours in a particular subject). This makes a lot of sense to me — they may need someone with proficiency in, say, advanced math, but they recognize that you could complete the relevant coursework not just as a math major but as a physics major, a comp-sci major, etc.

        Reply
      2. Anita

        @Dan, they are super rigid on the accounting, administrative, and policy sides. I have been rejected from positions I was qualified for, with equivalent experience, because the job series wasn’t the same as the one I was trying to transfer into (GRR) and my major wasn’t on their list of approved ones.

        Reply
    2. MK

      I was just coming here to say this – and for other levels of government as well. Because there’s supposed to be a very fair hiring process for civil service jobs, government HR can sometimes be super rigid about degree requirements. Our state government hiring process auto-screens out people who don’t have the exact degree listed in the announcement. It’s super frustrating when we’re trying to hire and know that good people have applied, but we don’t get to see their applications because they got auto-screened for that reason.

      Reply
    3. Anon4This

      Eh, not always. My spouse has a less-than-rigorous interdisciplinary studies degree and works as a network administrator for the fed. They had no problem subbing experience for the majors stated in the job requirements.

      Reply
  38. asfjkl

    The thing people aren’t addressing is how you manage to get the experience. Depending on where you’re located, those entry-level jobs are competitive and getting in is difficult. I’ve been working as a receptionist since I got out of school in an industry I have no interest in, and no one will hire me so I can’t get out. I can’t even get internships. I can’t get any experience because no one will give me any. I make it to final rounds of interviews but inevitably am passed on because of lack of experience. I hope you have an easier time with your liberal arts degree than I have with mine.

    Reply
    1. LS

      I did a lot of moving sideways to get where I am, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to jump straight into it with no degree or relevant experience. It possibly helped that I didn’t have an end goal in mind… I just looked for opportunities which were reachable from wherever I was, until I found something I loved doing.

      Reply
  39. Lazy Cat's Mom

    Sometimes what really matters is how you present yourself. I majored in journalism and employed by an international media company. But many of my colleagues have degrees in other subjects including English.
    What matters to us is how much experience you have in journalism. If an English major sends us a short story or poetry she’s written, that’s not going to push us to hire her. But clips of news or analysis she’s written would.

    Reply
  40. LS

    One of the business analysts I worked with at OldJob had a degree in… Aeronautical Engineering! My sister has a Fine Arts degree and has worked as a business process analyst, amongst other things.

    Reply
  41. Katie

    I was an English major and I worked for several years in publishing, where there were many English majors but also people who majored in a lot of other things- history, political science, math, business, you name it. Two years ago, I moved into a new job in higher ed administration, and no one cares what anyone’s major was- it’s all about how you spin your prior experience. If you want to work in a specialized STEM field, then you might have had to have studied in that area, but in general people think your undergrad major matters more than it does. My dad has worked in commercial real estate for something like 35 years. His major? Early childhood education.

    Another thing to add- there are some jobs where you need graduate degrees, but very often your undergraduate major has no impact on whether you’ll be admitted to grad school. You can major in literally anything and still get into law school- I had a roommate who was a nursing major, but she went to law school right out of college and is now a lawyer for a hospital. I know people who became doctors when they weren’t pre-med in college. I have a friend who got a masters in education after graduating with a business degree and realizing she didn’t want to go into business after all. I could go on and on.

    Reply
  42. Red 5

    I work part time in a field that has absolutely nothing to do with anything I studied, but I just made a pitch in my cover letter for my experience in the field (not saying “I know I don’t have this major” but saying “Here’s where my experience will be an asset to your company”) and when I got to the interview and they mentioned that it looked like I hadn’t studied that field, I just pointed out how the two fields were similar and what skills overlapped, etc. I got the job so it must have worked.

    When I applied for this job, it was on a whim and because I wanted something really out of the box because I was burnt out. It’s become one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. Apply for the job you want, if you can do the job you can do the job and if they’re worth working for they’ll hopefully see that. People who would get hung up on communications vs. English sound like I wouldn’t want to work there.

    Reply
  43. Alton

    I’m in a similar boat. I majored in English but am very interested in communications and web management.

    I feel like the main challenges are 1) being comfortable putting yourself out there and marketing your skills and 2) finding an entry point. I feel like while I’m certainly capable of a lot of communications-related jobs, I probably wasn’t as exposed to opportunities to gain experience as people who majored in communications.

    It’s always most difficult when you’re first starting out, I think, and having a closely-related major might be an advantage in some instances. You might not get the type of job you’d ideally like right away, but you can look for opportunities to build skills related to the area you want to work in.

    Reply
  44. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

    “Of course, there are some fields where it really does matter what your degree is in, like engineering or nursing.”

    I’d expand this to just about any STEM field. I’m an environmental consultant; if you didn’t major in ecology, geography, or environmental science, you’re going to be missing basic classwork and qualifications required for entry. Same with many others. I’d never qualify for an industrial chemist position, for example. In STEM fields, classwork lays down a basic body of theory and specifics and a way of thinking about the world that is not really transferable.

    Reply
    1. hermit crab

      Yes, but at the same time, ecology/geography/environmental science is a fairly broad area! Presumably you’d also take a biology or earth science major who had relevant coursework. Remember that the OP is asking about communications vs. English, not communications vs. chemistry.

      For what it’s worth, I’m also in environmental consulting and our entry-level job req says something like “bachelor’s degree in the environmental or life sciences, environmental engineering, economics, statistics, or closely related fields.” That covers a lot of ground.

      Reply
    2. Anxa

      I think it’s hard to judge with majors on the margins. In your scenario, would it be unreasonable for a biology major with coursework in ecology, natural resource management, resource economics, and soil science to apply. With an environmental health post-bac with classwork in toxicology, sanitation engineering and experience with percolation tests, soil testing, etc.

      Granted, there are still gaps in the coursework. But I think it’s reasonable to apply.

      Reply
    3. NotAnotherManager!

      Agree on science and engineering, but not technology. I work with tons of IS people, including those in management and c-level roles, where those with computer science or comparable degrees are the minority by a large stretch. A small number have gone back and gotten a master’s in some sort of technology field after years of work experience in order to move up or get a management role, but I’d be surprised if more than 1/4 of our IS folks actually have an undergraduate degree in some sort of tech-related major. Our CIO (of an 800-user organization) does not have a technology degree.

      Reply
  45. Goyangi

    It certainly matters more for some jobs than for others. We don’t have specific rules about which majors we interview for entry-level hires, but we won’t look at anyone who doesn’t have a demonstrated history of quantitative ability in some form or fashion. We aren’t a STEM company but we need our new hires to be comfortable manipulating, analyzing, and presenting data and if you’ve spent your whole college career as an English or history major actively avoiding any kind of work with numbers, then you probably won’t be a good fit.

    An English or History major isn’t an immediate disqualifier, but someone with those majors would have to show extra experience as say, work as an RA on a quantitative project, or handling a budget for a large campus organization, or a senior thesis involving lots of data analysis, or something along those lines whereas we wouldn’t care about that for an econ or stats major because by virtue of their major we assume they’re comfortable with data.

    Obviously as you get further along in your career it stops really mattering. But it can be important for that initial foot in the door.

    Reply
  46. SubwayFan

    Late to this party, but I don’t think for social media that your major really matters at all. I work in social and my undergrad degree is in History. I picked it up because I was playing with it a lot and when in grad school, the Career Services office asked me to run a few workshops on using Social for job searching. I turned that into my first social media marketing gig.

    If you want to make this your career, you have a lot of options to show your talent. Start publishing posts on LinkedIn or sharing content related to social media marketing, go get a free HubSpot social marketing certificate, answer questions on Quora about how to use social… be creative.

    However, one caveat: working in social will get you pigeon-holed later on, so if you want to move beyond social media and into say, content marketing, or something that related but bigger, it’s a tougher leap to make. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Dan

      One of the things we should keep in mind is that what is true today isn’t necessarily going to be true tomorrow… or four years down the road when incoming freshman are graduating and getting jobs.

      Part of my work in an area of STEM that has really broad degree requirements because a more specific degree isn’t mainstream yet: Data Science. You can major in pretty much anything numbers related and go work in Data Science. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if 5-10 years down the road, that “Data Science” is a real degree, and not having one will put you at a disadvantage.

      Not that we can major in things that don’t exist, but it’s useful to have a broader understanding of how trends can work, and how what’s “hot” today can be cold four years from now, or have a completely different set of entry requirements.

      Reply
  47. Ashie

    My degree is in wildlife ecology and I work in nonprofit management. It was sort of marginally related to the entry-level position that got me started on this career path, but it’s definitely not the reason I got the job (it was more like they needed a body and I was reasonably competent).

    Reply
  48. SM

    Alison’s advice is on point. I work in architecture, and for recent grads (less than 5 years experience) it’s pretty much a deal breaker if you don’t have a bachelor’s or masters in architecture. After you’ve got some more experience it seems companies are willing to consider related degrees, like urban planning or landscape architecture, if your previous experience closely matches what they’re hiring for.

    When they hire for positions that aren’t directly related to architecture, like an office manager or executive assistant, anyone with an even vaguely related degree would be considered (assuming you have a good resume).

    Reply
  49. Mine Own Telemachus

    Just to add to the chorus of voices: there are some majors where you will NEVER find a job that requires it, and so being able to flex it is important! I have a BA in Theology, an MA in English Lit, and another Master’s in Women’s Studies. There is no job that requires these. So I work as a program coordinator for a non-profit, doing content writing, editing, and event management. It’s a lovely job, and I’m happy to be doing this instead of trying to survive as a freelance writer anymore.

    Reply
  50. Lo

    I was an English major (graduated 5 years ago), and I found a job in PR. Apply for those jobs. An English degree is so similar. Also, it helped that I had some good skills that I could highlight in interviews because of my degree (for example: I said that I have strong verbal and written communication skills) Try to find a few key skills you can highlight instead of focusing on the specifics of the degree. Good luck!

    Reply
  51. LAC

    I work in the financial services industry, and in my experience not having a particular degree hasn’t been a deal breaker. That being said, people with business degrees have often been seen as more serious candidates than those with liberal arts degrees. A lot of the time someone with a liberal arts degree will get some side commentary (e.g., “A psychology major? Why would she be applying for this job?”), but it wouldn’t necessarily be disqualifying.

    The good news is that the further I’ve progressed in my career, the less my major has mattered because employers are more focused on relevant experience and having the appropriate certifications. I’m a financial planner, and since I’ve moved beyond entry level positions my English Lit and Women’s Studies double major is more of a fun fact about me than anything else because I am also a CFP and have relative industry experience. So while having a non-business major can make it a little harder to get in the door initially, it isn’t a life long struggle or anything.

    Reply
  52. Mischa

    I really wish I had known this when I graduated back in 2014. I was a history and French double major. I (stupidly) didn’t apply for jobs because I thought, “Oh, they want a business degree, they won’t want me.” Since I didn’t apply to anything, I worked dead-end part-time jobs and other odd jobs until I landed in my current position. As the first to graduate college in my family, the whole “graduate and get a job” process was amazingly foreign, and I had zero idea what I was doing. Happily, I’m about to start graduate school, so there’s the silver lining.

    Reply
  53. Ophelia Bumblesmoop

    I like to introduce my students to a friend who majored in Criminology but currently makes six figures as a gynecological device salesman. :)

    Reply
  54. morrissey

    Hmmm, I have to shine a rare note of discord. I’m not in the US, so maybe things are different here.
    Obviously, there is some fluidity, but why hire an English major to do marketing/comms when there are so many Marketing, Business, PR, Communications graduates around? An English major is at a distinct disadvantage versus people who have done training in those other areas.
    But I gather it’s very common to major in English in the US, more so than in my country.

    Reply
    1. N

      It IS a pretty common major, morrissey. I don’t know where you’re writing from, in the States there is a lot more fluidity because students aren’t tracked in the same way that they are in, say, Europe. There’s been quite a bit of debate about this recently, but it’s common for people to just study whatever is interesting to them and then to figure out the details of their career later. As Alison says, your undergraduate degree mostly matters in a few select fields–otherwise it’s more about the accompanying experience and the way that you “sell” yourself as a candidate.

      Reply
      1. morrissey

        It seems like where I live, undergraduate education is much more targeted compared to the US liberal arts model. But I thought it was only a minority of universities that run a liberal arts-style curriculum? And from googling around, it doesn’t seem like very many people take English in the US? The stats I’ve found suggest that in recent years English majors are about 2-3% of total graduates.
        Sorry, I’m not trying to go against you, just figure this out.

        Reply
        1. N

          Well, I certainly can’t speak for the whole US undergraduate system (and my background was in the liberal arts model) but I can try to answer this.

          Again, I don’t know where you’re based, morrissey, but I have found that undergraduate programs outside of the U.S. (and this is based mostly on what I know about the U.K. and Germany) offer a very targeted curriculum that directly leads into one’s intended career field. In the U.S. there are a lot of different educational models (one of which is the liberal arts model, which makes up the minority but is intentionally a more interdisciplinary, classical model of education) but nearly all undergraduate degrees require a lot of general education requirements that may or may not have to do with your degree. My classmates at non-liberal arts institutions and I had pretty similar four-year curricula even if they majored in things like finance while I studied political science. There’s just a slightly different philosophy around university education here and it’s often taken for granted that someone may not work in the field they studied, so many recent grads are marketing their general skills rather than their hard knowledge in marketing or biology.

          Also 2-3% of all graduates having English degrees seems like quite a bit to me, when you consider that that’s compared to all of the possible majors that exist. :)

          Reply
    2. MissDisplaced

      I agree the skills are different, but here an English degree also focuses a lot on writing well, so it has a high degree of transferability to PR and Communications type jobs (at least entry-level ones anyway).

      Reply
    3. Thlayli

      What I’m getting from this thread is that there are a lot of American employers that just want someone with “a degree in anything” for entry level jobs. I think the mindset might be “they have a degree in anything at all, so they are better than someone straight out of high school.”

      Which is incredibly unfair considering you have to pay for college in america.

      This kind of thinking probably contributes to the class difference in America. If any degree at all will do, why require a degree? Why not give the less well off 60% of the population a chance?

      Reply
      1. N

        There’s a movement afoot to make that happen, actually. There are some large American companies that don’t have degree requirements at all anymore–they just want to see commensurate experience.

        The problem, of course, is that you’re more likely to have that experience if you have a college degree.

        Last thought–while you do have to pay for college in the States, the amount you pay for really varies, and the most low-income, in theory, should be able to get enough scholarships to pay for their education. In practice it doesn’t always work that perfectly, but there are efforts to make it more of a true meritocracy.

        Reply
  55. Bets

    I don’t know; I think having a journalism degree does matter. Most of the people I’ve known to hire in communications and journalism roles know the difference in rigor of that speciality over a literature degree. You learn the expectations of the industry in school, which is something you don’t get with an English degree. This seems especially important as we’re seeing the results of a downward spiral in journalism ethics, and I was expressly taught about how to weigh the particular ethical challenges of the job as part of my journalism program.

    Reply
  56. JamToday

    English major, have been working in the technology biz for 20 years! The ability to listen closely, distill signal from noise, and communicate both with engineers and customers (who speak *very* different languages!) is undervalued. Humanities degrees of any stripe are incredibly versatile, don’t let anybody sneer at yours!

    Reply
  57. Lizzard

    For creative fields employers typically care more about your portfolio than your qualifications, so definitely still apply. For a social media position having strong writing skills should still make you a viable candidate. Try to put together a strong portfolio, one that demonstrates your writing skills and how they can apply to social media. Good luck!

    Reply
  58. AliceBD

    I’m an English major, graduated six years ago, and now work successfully in social media. Especially if you have portfolio items (I have a bunch of friends who do social media for animal shelters for example, or other volunteer groups to get a portfolio; I started a part-time freelance business for mine) then you’re fine.

    You may have to explain your college didn’t offer a PR or communications degree, of that is true.

    Reply
  59. Running gal

    I’m also a few years out of school and a proud English major. When I was in school, a classmate in my seminar mentioned that he was set on med school and we asked him why he was majoring in English if he was med school bound. He explained that majoring in English wasn’t just an opportunity to read great books but taught us how to cultivate critical thinking skills and effective arguments, express ideas, listen to others, and consider alternate perspectives. I use this whenever I interview for positions because they’re great skills that extend into a lot of different types of roles.

    Reply
  60. writelhd

    Does anybody find though that if there’s application tracking software the software just filtering people out based on college degree though? Like the posting says “communications” so anybody whose resume doesn’t say that doesn’t even make it through the computer system, just because the software trackers didn’t set it up to recognize similar clearly related degrees? I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s one of my fears, and one of the reasons my husband who has been job searching forever has given up applying to big companies that probably have screening software, as his undergrad is in something many would find relevant to his job but isn’t often the one listed on the jobs he’s applying for.

    Reply
    1. Anxa

      I had someone ask me why I hadn’t applied for a job at their company since they knew I was looking. I remember that one of the job requirements was a B.S. in Biology. I know I filled out the field of my major with the actual name of the degree, which was “biological sciences.”

      Apparently I had been screened out, but I’ll never know if that was the reason. The position was filled and hadn’t reopened before I moved out of that area.

      Reply
  61. HollyTree

    Just chiming into say that I work in social media and I don’t even HAVE a degree.

    Yet, anyway – I’m studying English part time, and I’ve another six years to go before I get it.

    I got a few interviews to entry level social media jobs, and the ones I got turned down for were because I wasn’t good enough at making graphics/photos. So if you’ve time to spare, get good at graphics. Any company that is large enough to require marketing but small enough to not be able to afford a graphic designer and/or videographer will lean on the social media/blogging type roles to produce this content. Or they should, or they’re missing a trick. You needn’t be fantastic – I know in the next few years we’ll start farming out the graphics and video from my role to probably freelancers at first, but in smaller companies you will need to wear many hats.

    Reply
  62. MissDisplaced

    For social media, English is related enough. My undergrad was in English and my masters was Communications. I wound not be that much of a stickler if I was hiring for that role in my department. But you should also know how to produce some of the graphics in addition to writing.

    Reply
  63. Mushroom

    I graduated with a BS in Animal Science, and am an air traffic controller. You never know where your life will go!

    Reply
  64. De Minimis

    English/Creative Writing major, work in accounting now. I did go back to school for a Master’s in Accounting, but only because that made the most sense for me to do, if people wanted to just take accounting courses without seeking a degree they could do that.

    I use my writing skills all of the time. A lot of accounting involvess explaining things to people.

    Reply
    1. JamieS

      Completely agree on Accounting. I was an Accounting major, not working as an accountant but tangentially related field, and for most Accounting jobs having coursework in Accounting is a must but an Accounting degree isn’t.

      Reply
  65. LawBee

    fwiw, as far as being a lawyer is concerned, it doesn’t matter one whit what your major is. Getting into law school is all about the LSAT and your GPA. Philosophy majors have a bit of an advantage once they’re in because they’re used to kicking around pure theory (I assume, idk anything about philosophy), but it’s negligible after the first month.

    Reply
  66. Aus Schaden Wird Man Klug

    This is good timing for me. Just moved to a new state for my husband’s job and I haven’t had much luck in the job search so far. I have a liberal arts degree but fell into operations and then accounting jobs, so I’ve been looking at jobs which fit my experience. I tailor my resume and cover letter to the position, but a lot of positions also have an application which have asked if I have an accounting degree. I’ve gotten a lot of rejections the day after the admission period ends, so I’m thinking the lack of an accounting degree is the gatekeeper here.
    Then again, I’m in CO and I assume the big immigration to the state is affecting the job market here as much as the insane housing market.
    So, casting a wider net and trying not to get discouraged it is.

    Reply
  67. Bunny

    I’m an on air journalist with 25 years experience, 15 of them at network. I only have about 2 years of college.

    Network, Contacts, never stop learning your business. Never burn a bridge.

    I’ve done media relations, public affairs, editing, blogging, social media, photography. Know how to write, make your point, persuade, and sell.

    Reply
  68. Office Girl

    Even for engineering, there can be wiggle room as long as your field is reasonably technical. I work in the MEP/consulting engineering sector and have a physics degree–and I’d hire anyone interested who had a degree in materials science, physics, math, chemistry, as long as you have a mathematics background. (Just sharing for any college students reading this who have interest in engineering but didn’t select this as their major! Always apply anyhow, you never know!

    Reply
  69. idek

    OK, AAM commentariat: any advice how to market a STEM degree for non-STEM jobs?

    I have a physics degree and astrophysics research experience. I can get a programming or quant finance interview pretty easily. (I know, I’ve gotten them.) . The problem: I want to be working in public policy, preferably crunching numbers.

    My work experience is a bit scattered; I’ve worked at a lot of labs, doing high energy physics/astrophysics, but I’ve also worked as a social media person and contributed to some published books. I teach some. I can do math. But I don’t know how to market myself, without getting another degree to prove that I can indeed do statistics.

    Reply
    1. Thlayli

      If you are applying for a job crunching numbers then describe how your knowledge and experience in your degree is relevant to the job. I would have thought the vast majority of number-crunching jobs would be within the capability of a physicist.

      The trick is finding a number-crunching job in those areas. Mostly governments don’t hire people to do those things directly, they hire a consultant to do the project for them. You might be better off looking at cobsultanciea that do government work. a lot of big accounting and engineering consultancies do government reports.

      Reply
    2. Inspector of Gadgets

      US feds actually have a hard time recruiting these skills! I would not rule out government as an option (job series 1501, 1529…USAjobs can be a pain, but they’re out there). And if you have taken any coursework in, or accomplished projects using any stat/data methods/programs like R, SAS, SPSS, Stata, Python…highlight those. Your skills are definitely wanted.

      Reply
    3. Student

      Public policy has almost nothing to do with number crunching (at least in the US). It’s about who you know, not what you know, and whether you can charm people. I work at the intersection of policy & numbers myself. The numbers get short shrift, and they really don’t want people who do deep analysis of anything. They want a very fast turnaround that sounds authoritative and is hard for the other side to shoot down easily, even if it’s total BS. They want pretty and very simple graphics to argue in front of. If you’ve got those skills, then you’ll find a way in eventually.

      The ugly truth about policy is that it’s not about getting good results, never has been, and never will be. It’s convincing people that your policy’s mediocre or bad results are The Greatest Thing. It’s making the numbers look supportive of your “side” regardless of whether that’s really the best thing. It’s finding post-facto justifications for decisions that have already been made because they tested well to an audience or appealed to somebody’s gut. It’s about making it hard for the other side to discount your results, countering the other side’s numbers with more impressive-sounding stats to a layperson.

      In short, if you love math, you don’t really want to be in policy, since it’s largely an empty farce. Obvious disclosure: written by a math person currently running as far away from policy as possible.

      Reply
  70. JamieS

    IMO whether your major matters depends entirely on the job. There are some jobs where you just need a degree, some where you need significant coursework in a subject but not necessarily a degree in it, and some where you must have a specific degree. For jobs applicable to my degrees (Accounting and Finance) I think the most common is a candidate must have fairly significant coursework in the subject (or at least subject matter knowledge) but it’s not required to have majored in Accounting or Finance.

    Specifically pertaining to liberal arts, I think more often than not your specific major isn’t likely to matter for people with liberal arts degrees. However my opinion is colored by the fact I don’t think there’s really any difference​ between liberal arts majors except mathematics (possibly barring a few exceptions) when it comes to translatable work skills and knowledge in any given field.

    Reply
  71. Wrench Turner

    I was told in interviews many times, “You need to have a degree, we don’t care in what” Nothing made the education I had feel so utterly worthless, and the decades of debt repayment so insulting. I have an Associates, not a Bachelors.

    Reply
  72. Justanotherthought

    I’m an Elementary Education major. I have never had a teaching job. I got a job at an engineering firm through a temp agency and then was hired on full time; I worked there for over 2 years in the finance department until I was laid off. I’ve now been working as a DoD contractor financial analyst for the past 7 years and am doing quite well. So apply away! Some people may stick hard and fast to their requirements but some may not care.

    Reply
  73. NewHerePleaseBeNice

    My degree is in geography and education; my Masters is social science.
    I’m an IT trainer……..

    Reply
  74. ForeverAnon

    When I was looking for receptionist jobs in NYC I was told many times that my liberal arts degree was the reason companies wouldn’t hire me. (They didn’t want to risk me leaving for a passion job). I eventually found a full time job at a company that didn’t care but it was definitely tough. I’m sure it’s a little easier in other areas of the country though…

    Reply
  75. Slippy

    It matters more for technical fields. Employers want to verify you actually have the skills you claim on your resume and a degree removes part of the guesswork, same thing with certifications.

    Reply
  76. Ro

    Hi all, I have a BFA in printmaking. I am proud of my artistic capabilities and my background. I also have an associate’s degree in graphic design and a certificate in marketing/advertising. I did graphic design professionally but as it turns out…I hate computers! I took a vocational program in high school that was operating printing presses, mixing ink, playing with huge cameras….and then BOOM it was all digital. My associates was involving computers but thats when I kind of realized…I have worked as an event manager at a marketing agency, sales assistant in radio and print publications, executive assistant in marketing, etc. I started out out of college interning at a radio station that doesn’t need college involved, simply a foot in the door and it really was the best thing I ever did. Sometimes a 4 year degree is all companies care about. NOW here is what I want to say. For anyone that has a degree in something people don’t understand, or judge you because it’s fine art, or liberal arts here is where I got it to work for me. I was sick of feeling offended in interviews “printmaking. Why?? What is that?” Or “fine art, hmmmm interesting.” You don’t want to work for judgmental people, so instead own it and stand up for yourself when it’s a job you really want. “I spent my time at a university and gravitated toward art history, I focused on printmaking because it’s a hands on mix of all art forms. I’m a very creative problem solver. My education shows that”….or “who doesn’t need a creative person on their team???” :) It’s worked out great when you use the creative angle which can work with many degrees. I’m currently trying to break into the automotive industry ….wish me luck.

    Reply
  77. Pooja Krishna

    I think it makes sense to have a degree at least in a related field, unless you can show connected experience. Your best bet would be to state your english degree and in addition, demonstrate communication ability either through a job, volunteer work or activities you took on. Eventually, it boils down to skill fitments.

    Reply

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