Let me guess, at some point, maybe while you’re struggling to finish your thesis, you’ve asked yourself: is this really what I’ll be doing from here on out? Maybe you’re one of the many who, three years into college, started doubting the huge decision your 17-year old self made while filling out college application forms: your college degree. For whatever reason, somehow, you’re worried you may have taken the wrong degree, and are now obsessing over how much it would affect your life moving forward.
It’s either that, or you’re someone who has a degree and a job related to it, but aren’t really happy or fulfilled with how things have turned out. Either way, one thing’s for sure: you’re reading this because you are wondering whether or not your degree will limit your career. If not, then I guess you’re reading this because you’re my mom. Hi, mom!
So, the big question…
Does your degree limit your choice of career?
Somehow, yes—especially if you took a major that’s built to focus on a specific profession, like engineering, nursing, or computer science. Taking up these majors equip you with technical skills and knowledge needed in order for you to work in the specific field or industry that you want to be in. Thus, it offer a more direct career path after college. To put simply, these kinds of majors wire you to be a specialist and that, by itself, may sound limiting already.
You were made to be knowledgeable and skilled in one field. You’ve studied to be an engineer, a nurse, or, in my case, an information systems manager your entire college life. Your degree is proof of what you’ve been spending time on learning for four to five years: you’ve taken countless major classes, crawled your way through finishing your thesis, and may have even gotten a job in your field after graduation. You feel committed to it, for sure, because you’ve invested time, money and effort for it—to you, not pursuing a career related to your degree may sound almost the same as throwing away all the years you spent in college.
To be honest, that’s how I felt, too, before I finally decided to pursue graphic design at Kalibrr despite being a Management Information Systems graduate. Funny as it sounds, at some point, I felt like I was in a relationship with my degree, and that by thinking of pursuing a different path, I was cheating on it. It felt wrong because that’s not how it usually works, right? Usually, you pursue what your whole college life prepared you for, so that your whole college life would make sense and have purpose. Doing otherwise felt ridiculous.
But it’s that kind of thinking that limits you to what your degree says your career path should be. As much as pursuing a career path related to your degree sounds not only logical but also practical, you shouldn’t feel obliged to do so, especially if you feel like it is not what will make you happy.
I ran an informal survey, asking my colleagues, friends, and friends of friends about the relationship of their degrees to their careers. Although 89% said that they liked their college majors, 40% said that the careers they are planning to pursue are not necessarily related to their degrees. When asked whether they agree with the statement “your degree limits/dictates your career path,” 75% disagreed—meaning, even those who are pursuing career paths related to their degrees believe that their degrees do not limit or dictate their careers.
Your degree doesn’t limit or dictate your career. You can calm down and feel totally fine not pursuing what you went to college for! Here’s why:
1. You are equipped with transferable skills, too.
Even if we are specialists in one field thanks to our degrees, we have transferable skills that are useful and relevant to multiple career paths. Transferable skills are those that you can take with you from one aspect of your life to another, or from one role to another. This includes leadership, creativity, empathy, communication, problem solving, pitching, and the like. It is even possible that some skills or knowledge related to your degree can be transferable. You should keep in mind these transferable skills when thinking about alternative paths you can take aside from the path aligned with your degree.
2. We are the multi-hyphenated/slash generation.
Being the millennials that we are, we live and breathe the art of multitasking. Just as how we are able to work, watch a movie, and keep up with our friends through social media simultaneously, one person can wear many hats all at the same time and be good at it if he wills himself to. I know someone who is a graphic designer/IT security manager, and someone who is an entrepreneur/video producer/DJ. New York Times even wrote an article about millennial career jugglers.
We are called the multi-hyphenated/slash generation because we tend to not focus on one thing anymore. In her TED talk, Emilie Wapnick mentioned the term “multi-potentialites,” which she defines as someone who has a lot of interests and creative pursuits. Most millennials are like that. I, for example, am a graphic designer but I am not just that—I am a writer/painter/baker and sometimes, a programmer as well.
Sure, you may have spent four or five years pursuing a certain degree, or may currently have a day job related to it, but I’m sure that you have other things happening on the side. Be aware of what else you spend your time on outside of pursuing your degree or clocking in hours for your day job—more often than not it is a big clue to alternative paths you can take.
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3. There is never a single path, and the path is never straight.
I’m sure you’ve seen interactive videos online, the ones that have a lot of forks on the road that let you decide how the rest of the video unfolds. One of my favorites is the music video for Coldplay’s “Ink.” The video, if I remember correctly, can unfold in over 300 unique ways! I believe that our lives and careers are like that; there is never a single path, and the path is never straight. Sure, your degree is one of those decisions that affected how your college life turned out, or what kind of job you landed first, but you can steer away from that if you want to.
You can face another fork on the road and choose another path. It may be scary at first, but we shouldn’t be too scared because, according to Wapnick, “we bring everything we’ve learned to every new area we pursue so we’re rarely starting from scratch.” What’s important is that even after getting a degree, you never stop learning and acquiring new skills. As long as you don’t stop learning, you won’t feel limited by your degree, or by anything at all.
So, again, the big question: will you let your degree limit your choice of career?