I was an American Studies major as an undergraduate. It was possibly the broadest major I could have chosen at a liberal arts school. And I LOVED it. I loved reading history and sociology and literature and politics. I would do it again if I had it to do over. Except I would have double majored in sociology.
I knew even before high school that I was better at reading comprehension and writing, not as good in math and science. Remember those silly bubble tests they give you in grade school? I performed far better on the language components and got placed into advanced English courses. I continued to struggle with science and math – particularly math, for which I had tutors through most of high school. I eventually discovered that I was pretty good with applied math, such as statistics and accounting, but my reading and writing were still stronger. Someone recently suggested that I just didn’t have the right teachers to get through to me, but I’m not so sure it would have made a difference.
Based on my interests and academic performance, a liberal arts college made sense. Yes, there were science and math majors there, but they were outnumbered by the English and history and American Studies majors, so I fit right in. There were no engineering, health or business majors. It was only when I went home or to the bank I sometimes worked at, that I got blank stares or sometimes sarcastic comments about my degree. Being first-generation college, my parents didn’t know what to make of my major. My father asked who on earth was going to pay me to read books and write essays. People at the bank rolled their eyes and assumed I’d be a history teacher (not once in my life have I ever wanted to be a history teacher).
What did I intend to do with that American Studies degree? I didn’t. I picked the classes and major that I liked most and went with it. Not necessarily the most practical of options, but 15 years later, I still don’t regret it. Based on my experience with several campus programs conducting research with faculty members, a staff member in my school’s Career Center helped me identify the research and consulting firm where I ended up working right out of college. And dad said no one would pay me to read and write!
I’m not suggesting everyone should be a liberal arts major. A college degree is a significant investment, and it would be foolish to ignore practical implications when choosing a major or career. College is far more expensive now than when I went. But practically speaking, we also can’t all be engineers or doctors, or other “obvious” jobs people think of when they think stability, prestige and high income. Not everyone has the skills or drive to succeed in those positions. I know I don’t, and I can either spend my life feeling like I’m somehow not good enough, or I can get over it and take satisfaction in career opportunities that actually fit me.
And for those wondering what an American Studies degree has to do with being a career
counselor, I use two of the core skills I learned in school – researching and analyzing information – every day.
In the words of Dr. Seuss: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
Tina Mello is Associate Director of University Career Services, and has worked at Northeastern for over 10 years. Nicknamed the “information guru” by other members of the staff, she loves to research and read about various job/career/education topics. For more career advice, follow her on twitter @CareerCoachTina.