It’s a truism that most college graduates go into fields that have no direct relation to their majors, but does it matter what you study in college? The answer is yes, but not necessarily for the reasons you think. Some majors are more likely to help you find a job and rake in cash, while others are likely to help you achieve satisfaction in life.
According to Forbes, engineering majors experience lower unemployment and make more money than graduates of any other major. According to the same article, liberal arts majors tend to make less money, but often experience greater satisfaction with their lives than other majors. And earning a college degree, regardless of your major, is statistically likely to boost you well above the U.S. median income, as well as providing you with a good shot at promising career paths.
But to see the diverse paths successful people follow during their college years, consider these successful CEOs:
Larry Page was one of the founders and the first CEO of Google. He started the company while working on a PhD in computer science at Stanford. He had previously earned a Master’s in Computer Science from Stanford and a Bachelor’s in Engineering from the University of Michigan. According to Forbes, “He wants to tap the brains of his company to deliver ‘moon shots’ of innovation, saying ‘If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.’” In addition to the company’s much buzzed-about Google Glass project, Page is currently investing in a venture that aims to mine asteroids with robots.
Sam Palmisano earned a history degree from Johns Hopkins. He was also recognized for his musical ability and his performance on the football field, even turning down an offer to play in the NFL. He got his first job at IBM as a salesman in 1973 and eventually served as CEO from 2002-12. In 2005, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute. He still loves to read about history in his spare time.
Larry Ellison dropped out of both the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago before founding Software Development Labs with Robert Miner and Ed Oates. The young company won a two-year contract developing a database project for the CIA. The project’s code name, Oracle, later became the name of Ellison’s corporation. According to the Washington D.C. Academy of Achievement, Oracle is now the world’s largest business software company, supplying software to all of the Fortune Global 100 companies.
So how do you know what major is right for you? Don’t assume that you have to decide the rest of your life at age 18 if you want to be successful. After all, only 11 percent of CEO’s majored in business administration.
The best bet is to study what interests and excites you. If you have a particular job or graduate degree in mind after college, it’s a good idea to research which majors might help you to get your foot in the door there, too.
You don’t need to be a pre-med major to go to med school, although a solid background in the sciences helps (and it doesn’t matter much whether it’s biology or the social sciences). So study what excites you, and keep in mind that your major isn’t the only factors employers or graduate school admissions officers will look at.