Wondering how your choice of major may relate to your future career? There are few straight lines between major and career. Employers consider your experience both inside and beyond the classroom.
This page oﬀers tips on exploring majors and answers common questions we hear from students. On our major tipsheets, learn about the major-related competencies you’ll bring to your future work.
What can I do with a degree in…
We get a lot of questions from students about the connection between major and career. Here, you’ll find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. Learn more by speaking with career counselors, advisers, faculty, alumni, and mentors.
If I Want a Career in…, What Should I Major in?
The relationship between major and career is indirect and less linear than you’d expect. Every major can lead to a wide variety of career options, with your major representing just one aspect of what future employers consider. Moreover, the key is to combine your academic studies with fruitful experiences that will allow you to build skills that can take you down many different career paths.
In fact, employers seeking Columbia candidates do not often limit applications by major. In LionSHARE, many positions are open to all majors or a diverse range of majors. Job descriptions are more focused on the skills needed to be successful in the job.
As an example, below are the list of requirements from a job description for an entry-level role at Ogilvy, a global public relations, advertising, and marketing firm. Notice how the job description doesn’t mention a specific major:
- You have the instincts of a business person plus a creative edge
- You are digitally savvy
- You have excellent written and verbal communication skills
- You are passionate about marketing and advertising
- You take a rigorous and creative approach to problem solving
- You take initiative and are persistent
The one exception is with technical jobs, where sometimes majors can matter more. For example, a Software Developer position in LionSHARE might specifically request computer science, electrical engineering, and computer engineering majors only, as the employer is seeking students with very specific technical skills typically gained through the coursework in those majors.
- Read the descriptions of interesting jobs in LionSHARE or other job boards like Indeed. What do the employers list as their major requirements? What are the top skills/qualifications they expect?
- See what Columbia alumni have done. Look for alumni who majored in a subject area they loved but ultimately pursued successful careers in fields that do not clearly connect to their major. You can begin this search by typing a major into the search field of the LinkedIn Alumni Portal.
How Important is my Major in Finding Employment?
Your major isn’t the only aspect of your experience that employers evaluate.
“93% of employers agree that a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”
Aside from your major and coursework, employers are also interested in how you spend your time outside of the classroom and what skills you’ve gained as a result.
Most of the skills and qualities sought by employers are what we call transferable skills, or skills you garner over time from coursework, projects, volunteering, part-time jobs, internships, or student organizations, which can be applied to or transferred across a wide range of different jobs and industries. Below are the top 10 transferable skills employers seek:
- Ability to work in a team
- Problem-solving skills
- Communication skills (written)
- Strong work ethic
- Communication skills (verbal)
- Analytical/quantitative skills
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2017 Job Outlook
No matter your major, we encourage you to always tailor your resume and cover letter to demonstrate how you possess the necessary skills to do the job.
- Assess your skills through informal exercises or more formal assessments. Check out our informal exercises in Design Your Next Steps or talk to a career counselor about taking a more formal assessment.
- Type your preferred skills or major into a career database like O*NET or Inside Jobs. Which careers use these skills/knowledge areas?
Which Majors Make the Most Money?
The industry and type of position you pursue affect your income more than your major does.
Maybe you studied anthropology but learned computer programming through a concentration or self-study. If you work as a programmer after graduation, you would make the same salary as a computer science major. Your major is just one piece of the salary puzzle.
Some industries pay more than others, regardless of your major. For undergraduates, these include engineering services ($63,624) and management consulting ($67,569). (Nationwide figures from National Association of Colleges and Employers Salary Survey, Winter 2018).
There are other factors that can also affect your salary beyond major. These include job location (i.e. a major city versus rural location) and your level of education.
There are some connections between major and starting salary after graduation. Students who major and secure jobs in STEM fields typically have the highest starting salaries. These include majors like:
- Computer Science
- Electrical Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
The NACE salary survey has compiled average salaries for graduates nationwide:
- Engineering: $66,521
- Computer Science: $66,005
- Math & Sciences: $61,867
- Social Sciences and Humanities: $56,689
But this isn’t the full picture! According to a study by PayScale, Inc., graduates in every major are able to increase their salaries ten years after graduation. These increases can even be quite dramatic. In fact, both philosophy and math majors were able to increase their salaries by 103.5%! And, according to a study by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, “liberal arts and science majors close earnings gaps with professional majors” between graduation and peak earning ages.
- Explore a career’s salary growth potential through the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
- Research salary estimates online or through informational interviews with professionals in the field. Check out Salary.com and the Indeed.com Salary Survey.
What If I’m an International Student?
If you’re at Columbia on a student visa, selecting your major is important if you plan to work in the United States after college. Your major should be related to your internships and jobs.
As an international student, it is important to meet with both CCE and the International Student & Scholars Office (ISSO) to better understand your status and make informed career decisions. If you have more questions make an appointment with a career counselor to discuss your status as it relates to careers.
- Attend joint major related programming between CCE, CSA and ISSO
- Learn more and review our tipsheets, webinars and additional resources on our info for International Students page.