How Is Your Major or Concentration Related to Job Opportunities?

By Barbara Hewitt

Preregistration for fall 2010 is nearly upon us and many students (particularly sophomores) are starting to feel some angst about what they “should” choose as a major or concentration.  Should they declare a minor?  Will study abroad be important to recruiters?  Is it better to study something you love or something you think is practical in terms of getting a job?

There are unfortunately (or maybe fortunately…) no easy answers to these questions.  Job applicants bring many different qualities to an employer, and it is not easy to distill down in a few short paragraphs what employers are looking for when searching for a new employee.  It really depends on the industry, job function, culture of the organization and, of course, the individual interviewer.

What you study in college is not the only thing employers consider when hiring.

For some jobs, what you study DOES matter. If you want to become a Certified Public Accountant, you need to complete a certain number of accounting courses, so concentrating in accounting makes sense.  Organizations that hire actuaries prefer very quantitative candidates who have passed at least one actuarial exam, so often gravitate towards actuarial science, math or statistics candidates.  However, there are plenty of jobs that are much more flexible in terms of background.  Want to be a reporter?  It will likely be more important that you have writing experience and writing samples (including published articles) to send in with your application than a specific major.  Working for  the Daily Pennsylvanian or writing press releases for a public relations firm as a summer intern will likely impress a prospective employer more than if you were, say, an English major with no published articles.

What you study is just one way of building and demonstrating a skill set for a particular field, but there are many other ways of doing so. For example, if you are interested in marketing, it makes sense to take some marketing, psychology, statistics, and/or communication courses while at Penn. All of these courses can help you think about marketing from a theoretical viewpoint, and also help you develop very tangible skills that will be attractive to employers.  However,  there are plenty of other ways to get marketing experience outside of the classroom. Join MUSE (Marketing Undergraduate Student Establishment) at Penn.  This is a great way to have the opportunity to interact with accomplished industry professionals, attend marketing related career fairs, get involved in marketing case competitons, and perhaps even become involved in a marketing consulting engagement for an organization.  MUSE isn’t the only career related group on campus – Penn is fortunate to have clubs focused on retailing, real estate, finance, consulting, insurance, social entrepreneurship, and many other areas.  Joining such professional clubs can  help you explore and eventually break into your field of interest.  In reality, you can get excellent experience in almost any club on campus, given that most clubs have marketing, financial and other leadership roles.  Taking on such a role can help you develop tangible experience that employers will value.

In the end, you will need to convince a prospective employer that you have the skills and interest for succeeding in their organization, but you can demonstrate this in many ways including your choice of classes, extracurricular activities, and previous work experiences. In very few instances does it boil down to just what you studied.

Career Services provides several resources which can help you explore the ways in which different courses of study fit into various career fields.

CAS: First Jobs and Grad Schools of Graduates

Wharton: Concentrations and First Employers Link

General “What Can I Do With This Major” site

Post-graduate Career Plans Surveys (with jobs listed by students’ majors/concentrations in the back)

Of course, as you pre-register for courses in the coming weeks, do come in to speak with a career counselor if you would like to discuss the various options you are considering.

Author: Barbara Hewitt

Barbara Hewitt is the Executive Director of Career Services.