Your College Degree Doesn't Matter

A 2013 study by two economists at The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27% of new graduates found a job closely related to their degree.

More recently, a study based on 125 million professional profiles in 2019 found similar results. With the exception of engineers, the degree you graduate with does not often lead to a job in that field.

The authors found that those with engineering degrees often end up becoming an engineer. But that could be because engineering, specifically software engineering, is one of the fastest-growing careers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I have two degrees in Economics, one is a Master’s degree, and I work in digital marketing.

I don’t anticipate ever becoming a professional Economist. It’s too late for me. I enjoy what I do for a living and it affords me the ability to pursue my interests in writing.

If your specific degree choice is largely useless then, what’s the point of choosing a major?

You Learn What You Like and Dislike

Economics wasn’t the first degree I chose. I was a business major for the first 3 semesters. It took me a year and a half to figure out I didn’t want a business degree.

Granted, part of that delay is due to the required classes every student has to take. You don’t start taking mostly degree-related courses until year 2, at least at my university.

Financial Accounting is the class that made me throw in the towel. I have a profound respect for accountants now. They’re truly superhuman because those classes were pure torture for me.

Those classes are known as “weed-out” classes. They’re designed to be extremely difficult, which forces students to decide if that class, and major, is right for them.

Financial Accounting was the weed-out class of my business school. Organic Chemistry was that class for pre-med majors.

But that’s exactly the point. I hated accounting and realized I had to take more accounting classes to obtain my degree, so I opted for a different major.

College affords you the time and resources to try whatever you want. If you think you want to be a programmer, then take programming classes. If you want to be a doctor, see if you can make it through O-Chem.

No other part of your life gives you the freedom to do that. Changing careers now means upending my entire life and puts my family’s wellbeing at risk.

It’s possible to do that though. People change careers all the time, but it’s riskier as an adult with a family to feed than when you’re in college.

Choosing a major means you know at least one career path that you’re pretty sure is enjoyable.

Isn’t my degree useless then?

At this point in my career I’ve worked for three VP’s of Marketing, and one VP of Business Intelligence. Here’s what they majored in:

  • Computer Animation
  • No college degree
  • MBA, Finance
  • English

Even with this small sample of my former bosses, it’s apparent that your degree does not point a straightforward path in your career.

At best, your degree is a starting point that gets your foot in the door.

My first job out of college was as an Affiliate Manager. They hired me because I was tech-savvy and good at math. And I had a sweet picture of me in a suit in the middle of the woods.

Since then, I’ve been a business intelligence analyst and a paid search manager. Part of my job now involves buying ads on Google and Facebook.

If I squinted and tried really hard, I could draw a parallel between economics, game theory, and what I do for a living.

But there’s no way in hell they’re directly related. Not even close.

College teaches you many important things:

  • How to be a good student
  • The importance of consistency and going to class every day
  • How to shotgun a beer

Whether your degree is in journalism, art history, or engineering, your degree does not define your career path.

You do.

The work you put in day in and day out will make the largest impact on your success in the working world.

How To Be Good At Work

I’ve written before about how to be a great startup employee. Here’s the three-word summary: get shit done.

Your degree, economic background, and life experiences certainly contribute to your career success.

But there’s one thing you have the most control over, and it has the largest impact on if you have a good career or not.

Being the person who gets shit done will take you far. This is true both at work and with writing.

You’ve seen it here on Medium time and time again. Put in the work. Show up. Write every day.

That same mindset translates directly to work. Take on new projects. Raise your hand. Say yes.

And then deliver results.

It sounds easy, and to some people it is.

When I look at my former bosses and their Vice President titles, I don’t see all the hard work they put in.

I don’t see the late nights they stayed at the office to make sure that the project finished on time.

I don’t see the times they were late for dinner with their wife, or when they had to miss their son’s soccer game.

As humans, we fail to see many of the sacrifices other people make. All we see is the end result: their fancy title or their latest Instagram post.

There’s no shortcut for putting in the work.

Your Major May Be Useless, But You’re Not

You are more than your results at work. You’re a real, living, breathing human being. You have emotions, hobbies, and habits.

You eat, sleep, and shit just like everyone else.

Your life is not defined by your success at work. You’re not solely measured on how many deals you close, how much revenue you bring in, or what value you provide for the company.

But you are measured on how you impact those around you.

Are you a positive force in other people’s lives? Do you bring brighten the room when you walk in the door? Do you encourage others to be better versions of themselves?

Don’t worry about your degree. Find a job and then kick some ass. Everyone has the potential to be great.

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