California — Picture this: you’re at a family gathering, and you know it’s coming — the dreaded question: “What’s your major?” High school seniors and college freshmen everywhere feel pressure to have their entire lives figured out. But is your major as big a deal as everyone makes it out to be?
One of the major myths surrounding college majors is that what you study dictates your future success in the workforce. The pressure to opt for a major that aligns with current job market trends can be overwhelming. However, this perspective disregards the fact that success can look different for different people and overshadows the real purpose of higher education.
Choosing a major just because it seems like the “smart” or “safe” choice is missing the point of college. While you can learn valuable workplace skills and knowledge, college is a place to challenge yourself and gain a well-rounded education. The focus should instead be on personal growth rather than a narrow emphasis on job preparation. Besides, those skills of critical thinking, flexibility and perseverance you learn in college can benefit any career path.
Being in my first semester in college, I’ve seen the effects of this kind of pressure first-hand. My friends put themselves into boxes saying things like, “Sorry, I can’t help you with your essay. I’m a math major for a reason!” As if individuals can’t possess diverse skills and talents beyond their concentration. Stereotypes associated with each major, although they might be well-meaning, contribute to the unnecessary stress associated with picking a major. It perpetuates the idea that some fields are more prestigious or promising than others when the reality is that your major can never define your future success.
I especially notice insecurity from students who aren’t interested in the STEM path. Many students feel pressured to pick a STEM-related major in hopes that they can live up to societal/parental expectations and obtain higher wages than their peers. This often leads to students abandoning their true passions and pursuing a path that does not bring them happiness, as they aren't studying the subjects they are genuinely interested in.
The societal pressure to have a clear direction in life, complete with ambition and passion, can be stifling. The idea that you have to have everything figured out at 18 is unrealistic and often counterproductive. Sometimes, passion doesn’t come until after you start learning, so embrace the unknown and be unafraid to journey without a predefined path.
Even during my first few weeks in college, I decided on my major, changed my mind, and then changed my mind again. It's perfectly normal to not have the answers and to constantly change. The best part of transitioning into college is embracing all the new changes that come with it.
So, don't stress when people ask about your major or let them convince you it won't make any money. Every field of study is necessary for a productive society. Study what you enjoy and be proud of it.
Knives Nguyen, (he/them/theirs) is a journalist from the Bay Area who covers entertainment, culture and student life. You can connect with them on LinkedIn: @knivesnguyen.
Edited by Nykeya Woods