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Where in the world will your college major take you?

(OPINION EDITORIAL) College degrees determine a ridiculous amount of your life, what should you do when you’re ready for a pivot?

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Career paradigm

There is, if that’s what we’re calling this, a silver lining to the downfall of the career paradigm. First, let’s be good little cognitive agents and define our terms. When I say “career paradigm,” I mean the thing your grandparents may have told you about: go to school, acquire skills and credentials for a thing, then do that thing until retirement.

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For any millennials or younger in the audience, feel free to take a minute to laugh, cry or both as appropriate. Everybody back? Cool. Let’s talk college.

Multiple bosses

Unless you’re reading this through a time machine (send specs!) you’re not going to have a lifelong career doing one thing for one employer. Just not how the 21st century does business. Us kids these days don’t have careers. We have skills.

That can be a colossal pain just coming out of college.

Let’s be real: how many of y’all took your first job because it was the only thing on offer, or because it was the best in a field of not-best for someone with a degree and no experience? I’d do a “Just me?” joke here, but it wasn’t, and frankly, it’s not funny.

For an awful lot of us, graduating college pretty much meant a piece of paper that said we were employable, and a whole lot more paper that said we’d be in debt until the stars die. For a smaller but non-negligible lot of us, only one was telling the truth.

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But as it happens, things get better. The great thing about college, whether you’re attending or re-attending, is that it provides you with means to pivot.

Post college ch ch ch changes

Pivoting is our topic for today. If you’re looking for a change in career, your major isn’t just a credential. It’s a skillset. In an economy based on frequent changes of job, career, straight-up profession, knowing and growing your skillset is what will keep you in food and shelter for the foreseeable.

Indeed recently ran an excellent article about how to make that kind of career change work. It breaks down professions by choice of major, focusing, not on the stereotypes (science majors work for other scientists; humanities majors teach humanities) but on strategies for turning various degrees into profitable, sustainable work.

My degree, I swear by your deity of choice, is in Shakespearean theatre. What I do now is not. You may have noticed.

Thing about theatre, though: it teaches you to talk. If you want Shakespeare to make enough sense to a modern audience that they’ll pay for him, you need to be an expert communicator. Now I do that for a living, backed up with a hopefully endless supply of anecdotes, asides and goofy references I got from learning how the Bard did business.

So when the grind threatens to grind you down, remember: I was supposed to be declaiming in tights.

Now I tell the Internet about Linux distros. Not a lot of Linux in Shakespeare. But mastering the latter gave me a foundation for the former. It provided the skillset.

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Different strokes

Your thing might be math. If you want to work in the corporate world, that might sound like accountancy. That works. But if you’d rather not, try cash management, or shoot high and be somebody’s CFO.

More artsy? We may be running short on chapel ceilings to paint, but composition, spatial awareness and a visual vocabulary are the exact skills you need for the vast array of opportunities in graphic, industrial and UX design.

Education? That one might seem like a straight pipeline into some level of academia. Nothing wrong with that. But if it’s not your jam, try consultancy.

Real talk: consultants are just teachers for grownups. So are corporate trainers.

The jobs I’m listing all have two things in common: they suit the skills of the major in question, and they pay better than $50,000 a year.

You got this

To state the staggeringly obvious, I did not pull down 50 Gs as a stage actor. I had to go a long way out of my comfort zone, and even further out of my predicted career path, to find a living wage.

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If I can do it, best believe you can too. The only trick is to assess what you’ve learned and what you’ve done in the context of skills.

#skills

Written By

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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  1. Pingback: Are liberal arts majors about to dominate the next wave of tech entrepreneurship? Absolutely - The American Genius

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