SURVEY SAYS: Does College Major Matter?

December 9, 2013 ( – Last week, I asked NewsDash readers if they work in a field related to their college major.

More than half (53.2%) of responding readers said their first job after college was related to their college major, and 44.7% reported it wasn’t. Slightly more than 2% indicated they did not go to or finish college.

Moving forward to the present, 51.1% say they are working in a job related to their college major, while 47.9% are not.

Nearly three-quarters (73.4%) of respondents are still pleased with the college major they chose. Two in five (20.2%) are neither pleased nor displeased, and 6.4% are not pleased with their choice.

I also asked readers how important they believe a college major is to someone’s career path. The biggest percentage (44.7%) agreed it is important for some careers and not others. Thirty-four percent said it is somewhat important, while 17% feel it is very important. A little more than 4% indicated it is not important at all.

In the verbatim comments, many expressed how just getting a liberal arts education teaches what is needed in the workforce (and elsewhere), while some argued college isn’t necessary at all. Several folks shared how their seemingly unrelated major gave them skills that help them in the benefits business. An honorable mention goes to the reader who said: “My degree is in music/performance. Sometimes I sit at my desk and sing. Does that count?” A few readers pointed out that it is very hard for someone in their teens to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, and some folks never do. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who said, “If coulda-shoulda-woulda was a degree, there’d be so many letters after my name I’d need an extra line on my business card.”


My major in college was philosophy and I have always worked in finance and accounting. There is clearly no direct relationship, but philosophy did provide a solid foundation for critical thinking and analytical skills.


Except for highly technical areas, I believe the interpersonal, communication, and work habit skills learned in school are significantly more important than the technical course work. In fact, little of the course work is EVER needed in the real world.


I majored in Political Science but went to work in Corporate Benefits (and now in 401(k) Communications). I think the important thing was my broad-based liberal arts education which helped hone my learning skills preparing me for a lifetime of learning.


A liberal arts education can take you anywhere!


I have never heard of anyone saying that their dream career would be to go to college and become a TPA!


I went back to school and got an MBA because it was clear to me that without a related degree my career was not going to progress as well, if at all. I needed the technical foundation relating to my job that a general liberal arts education did not provide.


I was a Biology major in college. I got one benefits job because going to USC showed I was 'analytical'. I got another because I went to USC; don't think he cared what I majored in. Only beneficial aspect of being a biology major is that I don't get grossed out by much.


I think that having a college degree is the key. Naturally there are some fields where the major is of up most importance for what you do. However, the greatest benefit you get from any college degree is the ability to read, assess and then apply information to your current situation. College moves you out of your comfort zone and exposes you to new people, cultures, ideas, etc. These things help make you a success in your career as much, if not more, than your major. I am an accounting major, and while my job has an accounting component to it, I spend most of my time evaluating issues and solving problems totally unrelated to accounting or finance. Learning debits and credits did not teach me how to prepare a faith based organization for an active shooter situation or how to counsel a person facing a terminal illness.


If the assumption is that you will major in an area which you are genuinely interested in, then you may be happy; whether you will be able to make a decent living (after paying student loans, etc) is a different story. I think what is more helpful is getting a general degree (business, bio, history) then going on to obtain a certification or further study in the field you want to be in (EB, physician, museum curator, broker). That said, I'm one of those people who, during my college career, never thought I'd be doing what I'm doing for a living. I started out in Journalism but had a part-time job as a teller. All these years later I'm still working for a bank - and investment info and numbers still makes me cross-eyed. Go figure.


Critical thinking is the most important thing people learn in college. It can be applied to any career or industry (except government).


Many qualified people don't have or need a college degree. What they need is a willing spirit to work hard and learn new things. They can always go to classes that teach what they need to know or go online.

Verbatim (cont.)

I'm not sure that most college students have a real idea of where their passion lies when they enter college and declare their first major. I'm not even sure most of us figure it out until we have been in the workforce for several years...maybe never. I do feel that many of us have a passion and just don't know how to turn it into a viable "job".


My undergrad major was German; ended up being a legal secretary, then decided to go to law school.


Because I chose a liberal arts education (poli sci/econ/public admin/public policy) I am a good writer and critical thinker!


Even if it is not the major that directly relates to your career, if you choose a solid one, it builds the foundation for other opportunities.


My college major was Floriculture with a minor in Journalism because I didn't want to get stuck behind a desk all day. Guess that didn't work out as planned!


Learning how to think independently, critical thinking skills and analysis are important for a well-rounded education. These are skills that can apply to any profession.


I've spent the past 35+ years dealing with retirement plans - started one year after graduation, when retirement was the last thing on my mind.


I think it depends on what you want to learn & what you want to do after college -- some careers require your BA to be the foundation for what you do in grad school, etc. Personally, my theatre degree was never intended to turn in to a full time job -- I spent college getting the best education in theatre that I could get so that I can spend my free time doing what I love & doing it well. While my career in HR doesn't obviously tie back to theatre, the years of training & experience have helped me more than people would think. The value of each member of a team; how critical & necessary each person's contribution is to the larger project/goal; the importance of deadlines; knowing you will sometimes have to be "center stage" & other times "behind the scenes" & being comfortable either way ... all of these are things that "theatre folk" take for granted and yet are rare in the business world. I take great pride in my degree - it gave me skills that serve me very well (& i still get to do what i love in my free time). 🙂


I think that freshman should not be permitted to choose a major and possibly even sophomores. There are so many basic courses to be taken, this would give young kids more time to think about "what they want to be when they grow up". It's absurd to ask an 18 year old what they want their career to look like. Many 40 year olds don't know what they want their career to look like. I also think more people should delay going to college - more mature students work harder, have a better understanding of their possible career path, and a better understanding of their personal goals.


I went back to school and graduated at 45 choosing classes to expand my knowledge in my areas of expertise, it made me portable and was extremely helpful in my career path.


When I went to college, I didn't know that the position I hold today even existed. It wasn't until I was employed that I discovered this field. The fact that I had a college degree wasn't as important back then as it is today - but it showed employers my potential for taking on new challenges and responsibilities and my ability to make a career change.

Verbatim (cont.)

While not working directly (except a second part time job at one point) in the field of my major, the subject was very good general education for most any career. It taught research techniques, importance of facts, problem evaluation/solving, all of which have assisted me in administering benefit plans.


As an English major, I feel I am better able to communicate clearly to plan sponsors and participants.


In many professional and technical fields, college degrees in the field remain essential.


My current job is not directly related to my college major but that was nearly 40 years ago. However, the skills that I learned in college (research, analytical thinking and development, diversity of studies) were enhanced during my earlier career in a job directly related to my college major. Improving on those skills and demonstrating the value of those skills ultimately lead to my current job.


Pick what you enjoy


My major was paralegal. Although I have never worked in a law firm, it was not my intention to do so. I have worked in a bank trust department and for TPA firms using the legal training.


My liberal arts degree has been amazing and beneficial to my career. I think it comes down to the individual, what they want from their degree, and ultimately who they are.


I earned a BS in Personnel Management, went to work at a small regional bank and was on the retail side for 13.5 years. As the bank grew an HR Dept. was established and I was transferred to it. My experience as a banker was most helpful in doing my HR job - but my degree was the reason I was selected to go into the HR side. I think a good path for me.


I never thought my Theatre Arts/Rhetoric major was useful until I got into sales. Theatre is excellent for many non-obvious careers/jobs such as teaching, sales, politics, small business, anything to do with talking on the phone, front office, customer service. Theatre is a great way to learn to be a chameleon, and to learn how to learn what you need for the situation you are in.


My first job and my current job (46 years apart) are related - actuarial, although I'm not an actuary and never took more than a required math class in college.


I initially worked toward a degree in journalism, I envisioned being a writer for a newspaper. I switched to business administration with an emphasis in finance in my second year of school and have never regretted it. I do want my doctor/lawyer/ children’s teachers to have the proper degrees but there are some careers where having a degree in anything is fine provided that you are successful in what you chose to do. I have a friend who was a nurse but made a career choice to work with plan sponsors to administer 401(k)'s and she is very successful and she has fun at work!

Verbatim (cont.)

If you want to be something specific, like a doctor or a lawyer, then yes, your major is important. But if you're going to college and then just hope to find a general job in the business world when you graduate, then no, your major is not important. And it doesn't seem to matter to employers, either.


My liberal arts degree was excellent preparation for the writing and critical thinking skills I needed in my career. I think a lot has changed in the more than 20 years since I got it, though. Degrees don't carry the same weight anymore, and a specialized degree is more necessary than ever. Especially if you have to take on $80-100k in student loan debt to get it!


My degree is in music/performance. Sometimes I sit at my desk and sing. Does that count?


Depending on a person's specialty, a major could be critical, e.g., Doctor, CPA, Engineer. Other fields it is not as important; a person with a degree helps to open doors, but it is ultimately up to the individual to take the opportunity from there and make the most of it.


Some college majors have no practical relation to a well-paying job


In general, technical education is required for a technical career path. A non-technical "social / concept driven" education (i.e. Sociology, English, etc.) is required for a more "socially driven" career path (i.e. Human Resources, Sales, etc.).


Someone should tell every incoming freshman that your major means almost nothing. You really just need to know how to get along with people.


When I went to college (early 70's), my father said that an undergraduate degree was not intended to be a preprofessional training program. That a good liberal arts degree trained you to think critically, to write well and to make connections between seemingly divergent fields. At that time, most CEOs of large companies were English majors in college! I have never worked in my major field (linguistics) but my education has never been wasted. I think a good liberal arts education can teach students to think "outside the box" and that is a highly desirable trait for success in today's economy!


I think it really only matters that you made the effort to finish college. We are a financial institution and have hired people with various non-related degrees (i.e. psychology, youth ministry, etc.). I think as long as you have the right person with the right skills and/or experience, I don't think it matters what major you had in college.


My career path started in nursing in industry but I was part of Human Resources. As time went on we were all cross-trained in HR and I took on more HR duties. When I was laid off due to an acquisition of the company, I was hired as HR Manager for another company. I could have taken a nursing job but this job paid more. I have enjoyed both professions.


My undergrad degree is psychology. It's been terrific in working with people. No matter what I have done, especially as a one-time trial attorney - I find it has been helpful.

Verbatim (cont.)

I am an English major in PR - so I answered yes to question 2 because of the emphasis on writing - without the college experience in critical writing/thinking, there is no way I could do what I do


My major in college was Criminal Justice/Sociology and I am now working as a Retirement Plan Consultant and Investment Advisor. There are not a lot of day to day opportunities to use my major but the education has provided me with thinking and writing skills.


Ok, I was a government/history major specializing in Soviet/East Eurpoean studies, yes this was a while ago..I am now a TPA and have owned a TPA business. I think my liberal arts education was extremely important in teaching me how to think, learn and research... skills that I use every day as part of my job. So while the Soviet/East European bloc is no longer a major concern worldwide, the skills I learned and developed have been hugely helpful.


If coulda-shoulda-woulda was a degree, there'd be so many letters after my name I'd need an extra line on my business card.


I was an economics major in college while pursuing a pre-med path. When I decided not to go to medical school, I had a college major that helped me find work in a very different career path.


more important for technical career paths like engineering; otherwise, need the ability to think, speak and write clearly, grasp lots of info quickly and synthesize, learn from others on the job.


Since I went to the 'School of Hard Knocks' instead of a formal college, perhaps my job in Retirement Services is related to my 'college major'!


Depends on the job. Everyone in the accounting department have accounting or business degrees. In Sales we have an art history major and a science degree. Very interesting choices.


A bachelors degree is the basic requirement for any professional job. The masters or higher is now usually expected for treasury and tax positions.


It's rare to find a college freshman who knows what they want to DO the rest of their lives with any real precision, but while I don't buy the notion that college is supposed to be a trade school, I think people who pursue undergraduate degrees in underwater ancient Russian basket-weaving shouldn't expect to find careers in accounting or finance. Your selection of, and performance in, a specific degree program is all an employer has to go on (well that, and a 30 minute interview). Once you're "in", you can demonstrate skills other ways - but it's no surprise to me that this new generation of "make your own" majors is struggling to find gainful employment...



NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not the stance of Asset International or its affiliates.