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March 10th, 2019

life advice: pick a versatile degree?

When I was in high school my dad loved taking me to visit colleges. My parents were both first generation college students and wanted college to be a default choice for me rather than a major leap for them, they didn't want me to deal with the struggles along the way that they did. It was extremely helpful, to say the least. I saw myself going to college.

At each college we visited we'd get the shiny brochures, look over the list of majors and programs and see which ones might be a possibility for me. One university had an environmental sciences program. I liked the environment, taking care of the earth, making the world a better place, so we met with a professor during our visit.

I don't remember how all these visits went but on that one I remember Dad asking a lot of questions about where their graduates go... some continue on for post-graduate studies, a lot tried to work for national parks. On the way home he said "It sounds interesting but it sounds like they turn out a lot of park rangers, do you want to do that?" no, not really. If I did, it might make more sense to just get a general biology degree. I didn't really like biology, it was one of my least favorite sciences. So I guess that was that. I had talked myself out of environmental science.

I think back on this because we get these really strange posts sometimes in our engineering communities like "I'm graduating in May with my BS in acoustical sports engineering," (or some other things I have NEVER heard of) "what companies should I be applying to?"

I want to be supportive, but I'm also thinking uh... it is MARCH! Not only have you been working on this degree for three years, but even in your senior year you're just now thinking about this? The fall career fairs are over, the spring career fairs are targeting next year's graduates, you're just now asking random internet groups where you might find a job? Your campus career services hasn't worked much with industry on this weird new niche degree that your college offered up? You didn't ask, going into the program, what becomes of people who get your major?

Yes it's true that there are new and fascinating careers that spring up all the time that didn't exist ten years ago, but you know who gets those jobs? Not brand new college graduates! They're born from existing industries, all of them. It's a pretty well known fact (I think) that college teaches you great things about how to learn and run studies and read papers, but in whatever job you have you will have to learn a lot more weird specific things. So why spend time learning the weird specifics in school, especially so much time that they end up in the title of your major? You're limited.

If you're not sure of your path, keep your options open. Go big, go general! Pick the degree with the biggest spread of where people can go. I was stunned in college to go visit companies and learn about people's bizarre career paths... like the chemistry major who now designed NASA spacesuits. Get a degree that can get you into industry, then narrow in.

Anyway this is just one woman's advice here, maybe someone reading this majored in something really new/interesting/specific and it worked out great for you, but I think everyone else should plan for some flexibility.

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