Defeating the College Major Label [Part 1]

Hello again!

We’ve officially survived our first week of classes here at Hope! I’m writing now about a very personal experience that I had over winter break. I find this topic relevant to most college students, which is why I’ve decided to be vulnerable and share it.

Among the oodles and doodles of time I had over break, I spent much of it doing, well, absolutely nothing. When I get in a routine like this, my mind wanders. For someone who is in the middle of deciding a career path, of course my thoughts choose this road. And long story short, here I was at home having mental breakdown because I was afraid I’d be unsuccessful in my post-undergraduate endeavors. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.

Now, first things first, I was totally wrong. My self-doubt stems from insecurities and the “Major Shame” that occurs around college and university campuses. (Major Shame is the guilt and shame put upon a peer or student pursuing a seemingly “unemployable” degree. This can be anything from English to Chemistry, where there are many paths that can be taken.) Not only are the skills that I have nurtured so far very useful in my current and future career, but so are the ones that I have yet to harness.

English majors develop strong writing, critical thinking, analytical reading, researching, and communication skills. In additional electives, we can gain many more skills. For example, in some communication classes I’m learning how to navigate and control media, social media, the web, as well as journalism and composition. In design classes I will learn how to use programs that companies look for like Photoshop and inDesign. I’m also hoping to learn some basic web design.

After embarrassing myself in front of my parents, tears and all, I sat down with my mom and step-dad to have a talk. They reassured me that my strong voice, reading, and writing skills will get me far in life. That’s exactly what we need: skills, not a major. Unless you’re going into something like engineering or education, where there are absolute, concrete concepts, ideas, or certificates that you need to understand or receive, your career is about the skills you have, not the label that you’re put under.

My step dad took about eight notecards and laid them out in front of me. On one, he wrote, Chemical Engineering Major, and drew an arrow to the career path Chemical Engineer. He tossed that card aside and pulled in a new one that said “English Literature Major” and drew arrows all around the card, reaching out to other notecards. On those around the middle card, he wrote: Academic, Media, Corporate/Business, Law, and Art/Writer.

On each we brainstormed different careers that an English major could pursue. I learned that the options were quite limitless. In the academic realm, I can be a teacher, professor, lecturer, librarian, researcher. In media I can work for print, tv, radio, web, and social media. In that area, as well as the business/corporate area, there are many opportunities to work for any company in the world as a writer, editor, researcher, or media worker. I can go to law school and become an attorney, or maybe I’ll find a more creative job and work from there. It takes a bit of research, job shadowing, internships, and honing in on what you like best to decide where exactly you want your career to reside.

It’s all about the experience and skills that you can learn throughout your path to becoming what you what to be. That being said, my step-dad also had me write down every experience I’ve ever had, whether it be work, extracurriculars, summer activities, hobbies, etc. Anything that shaped me into the person I am today. Companies won’t care that you were “just” a [insert any major] major in college if you can do what they desire with the skills you have. Now, if you’re sitting around and not making any gains, you might want to be a little worried. But if not, take a few deep breaths and follow the exercise that my step-dad showed me:

  1. Start by writing your major on the center card, along with the skills that your major has given you or that you already have.
  2. On the surrounding cards, brainstorm different areas of work that it might be possible for you to live and breathe in with your major. (And let me tell you, there are more than you think).
  3. Keep branching off of each area. The corporate section of my brainstorming turned into every corporation that’s currently running.
  4. Take a step back, give it a rest. Put the papers away, but don’t throw them out. I really hope you feel better than you did before, because that’s sure how I felt.
  5. Begin making a list of experiences that you’ve had that have given you skills. This can be anything from musicals to an after school job, winning a poetry contest in the seventh grade to being the president of your National Honor Society in high school.
The notecards
This is how we brainstormed! It’s actually pretty easy. Notice how he crossed out my “major” and circled my skills.

Don’t get me wrong, I still worry about all of this. It’d be weird if I didn’t. Even the pre-med kid has to worry about good enough scores and grades to get into medical school. However, I can look back on moments like these with my parents and rest reassured in my abilities.

I think the answer to why we worry about these things lies a bit deeper. Stay tuned for Part Two!


Published by Brooke Wharton

Hey there, my name's Brooke and I'm a sophomore at Hope right now from the southeast side of the state! I'm majoring in secondary English education with a psychology minor, so that I can spread the love of literature everywhere and maybe even become a counselor to help kiddos out with their current and future school life. So far at Hope I've helped with Time to Serve, joined a bible study, am 1-8 song girl, and a member of Greek Life! The only TV show I watch is New Girl, and I love reading young adult lit! You can email me or follow me on twitter @hopebrooke18! You can always find me on Facebook, too!

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