The major decision: when school and career paths do not line up

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By Mary Stone 

Contributing Writer

 

 

The writer advises against ignoring a field of interest simply because  of the fear of not having a successful career.  -Photo by  Becca Rosen
The writer advises against ignoring a field of interest simply because of the fear of not having a successful career.
-Photo by Becca Rosen

The summer leading into my junior year at the University of Dallas rolled around and I had still not decided on a major. When I began college, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to study. I only knew one thing: I wanted the best liberal arts education I could get.

Getting ready to go into my junior year, I was still undeclared. Toward the end of the summer, I wandered around campus, headed nowhere in particular, hoping that I would bump into someone who could give me some advice (UD is a good place for that sort of thing).

I ended up in the Cap bar (everybody does), where I waited in line to purchase an iced coffee. As I looked around Haggar, hoping to see a familiar face, I spotted Lily Ramsay, a fellow classmate who had also stayed in Dallas for the summer. I recall explaining my dilemma to Lily and expressing the pressure I felt to choose a major before school started back up.

In a matter-of-fact way, Lily asked me which Core classes I had particularly enjoyed and, after I named a few, Lily blurted out, “Major in history with me! I just declared!” My immediate reaction was one of relief that a fellow junior was in my boat and was only just now declaring a major. At the same time, I thought, “Huh, why not?”

After all, I was a humanities student through and through (none of that math and science stuff for me). Besides, I had enjoyed history since middle school, especially ancient history, which came alive for me in Rome and Greece during my semester abroad. When she saw that I was actually considering it, Lily urged me just to think about it and said she would email Dr. Sullivan, the head of the History Department, to let him know I was interested.

I decided to learn more about this major, which I was now considering, more or less as a last resort. Even though grad schools, jobs and, essentially, the future were not even on my radar, I asked myself the question that I knew would inevitably arise: “What would I do with a history degree?” Let’s find out, I thought.

My next stop was the history department on the second floor of Braniff. There, I wandered around outside the offices of history teachers and knocked on the doors of a couple professors with whom I was familiar but received no response. I then saw a light in the office of Dr. Jodziewicz and while I did not know this history professor, I knocked on his door and found him willing and eager to talk to me.

After introducing myself as a potential history major, I asked for more information about the field. The reassuring professor told me about his own initially skewed idea, when he began college, that history majors could only become teachers or lawyers. Subsequently, he pulled out a small pamphlet, which unfurled in his hands into fold after fold, front and back, of career options for history majors!

“See, Mary?” he said. “Don’t think that a history degree is useless!”

At present, I plan to continue my education and obtain a master’s in grad school. Whether I took the advice I heard that day as a default out of desperation or whether my choice was truly providential, I do not know. All I can say is that I have not regretted my decision for one moment.

Everybody has a different story. Some people come to college with a clear idea of what they want to study. Some people have known what they wanted to do ever since they were asked that question as a five year-old. Some of us, on the other hand, go back and forth, back and forth in the decision-making process.

I guess the advice I want to give is this: Don’t discount a major, especially one that piques your interest, simply because you worry that it won’t be useful later on or because you think it will hold you back from lauching a successful career. The important thing, now, is to become educated.

I have met English majors who went into construction, psychology majors who became involved in politics, philosophy majors who are now lawyers, and history majors who now run a business. Almost every one of them will tell you that a liberal arts degree helped him get where he is today. Whether the major you choose at UD simply contributes to your present formation or whether it leads to a lifelong career, your degree will not go to waste but will, rather, open doors and shape the direction of your future.

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