Choosing A Degree You Can Actually Use

Not every degree is created equal. No matter how rampant your obsession with the Fab Four may be, a Degree in the Beatles–yes, it does exist–won’t even buy you a Ticket to Ride a rusted-out, formerly Yellow Submarine. So, how does someone–even the most Paul McCartney-obsessed fanatic–avoid wasting their time and money on a useless degree without sacrificing their dreams of having a career they will love?

Choosing A Degree You Can Actually Use

“Back in the day, it was much prettier.”

Quite simply, you need to find something that will make you happy and pay the bills. And, by asking yourself a series of soul-searching questions, you will be better able to identify exactly what your perfect career match is and select the degree that can make that dream happen.

What are you good at?

This is not the time for false modesty or self-deprecating humor. Everyone possesses aptitudes or skills that come naturally to them. A great way to identify these is to think about the subjects that you excelled in at school, the extracurricular activities in which your performed well, and the skills that you love to employ in your hobbies and other leisure time pursuits.

If you need help generating your list of aptitudes, you may wish to ask your teachers, Guidance Counselor, or parents.

According to Parade‘s “How to Select a College Major You’ll Actually Use,” another way to assess what you feel most comfortable and confidant doing is to ask yourself “what activity makes you want to skip meals?” Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, states in “What is Flow?” that the experience of being completely involved in an activity for its own sake, where time flies, and your whole being is involved is “flow.” If you have ever encountered this sensation while doing something you love, you have likely also found something for which you have a tremendous talent. Whether you are carving some Norwegian Wood or using Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, if you lose yourself in it, it’s something that you have a natural aptitude for.

What are you passionate about?

Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean that you enjoy doing it. And, it certainly doesn’t guarantee that you will feel passionate about it or want to get a degree in it. You may be an excellent driver, but have absolutely no interest in a career that involves transportation. That’s okay. This stage of the process involves finding the things that truly interest you–the pursuits that get you excited.

A great way to assess your interests is to take an inventory test. The U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration’s O-Net Resource Center offers an Interest Profiler that is based on the Holland Code–an assessment used by Career Counselors. Interest inventories, like this one, are designed to help career searchers identify the settings and job traits that will best marry up with their interests. Whether you were born to be a Taxman or a Paperback Writer, being happy in your job is the most important thing, regardless of your degree.

What do you value?

Your own personal values are very important when selecting a career path. What exactly are values? According to Binghamton University’s “Identifying Your Values,” these are a “set of standards that determine your attitudes, choices and actions. They provide answers to the question: What do I really care about?”

What do you value? Are money and prestige important to you? How much time are you willing to spend away from your home and your family life? Is it important that you work in a career that helps others? Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team? Do you want to be your own boss? Do you need to express yourself creatively? These are just some of the types of questions that you need to ask yourself when determining what you value in a career. Whether you long to Help! the poor, work with Piggies, or be footloose and fancy free on The Long and Winding Road, it is important that you can incorporate these values into your future job.

What careers match your aptitudes, interests, and values?

Now that you have an idea of what careers you are suited for, it is time to investigate their educational requirements. Research each job being considered and try to speak with people who work within each field. Ask them frank questions about what it is actually like to do the tasks involved with the position every day. Talk to your Guidance Counselor or a certified Career Counselor. You may even wish to do volunteer work or an unpaid internship in the occupational areas that you are considering. You may find that what appeared to be your perfect career fit actually feels like you’ve put your Old Brown Shoe on the wrong foot.

Are your chosen careers and degree in demand?

Once again, the Beatlemaniac who has majored in John, Paul, George, and Ringo will likely find it difficult to land a job. Yes, it seems to marry with their interests and the things they value. Heck, they may even have an aptitude for “all things Fab Four.” They have, however, failed to consider what they will do with their degree upon graduation.

“Majors With Pre-Graduation Job Offers” has created a list of the top five majors that led to students receiving job offers before graduation: Computer Science, Economics, Accounting, Engineering, and Business Administration. If any of these areas match your skills, interests, and values, you are off to a promising start. But don’t lose hope if they don’t. With A Little Help from Your Friend, the Career Professional, you can identify a hot job that meets your needs.

And if you are determined to take that Beatles Degree, follow your gut. After all, maybe All You Need Is Love.

What degree advice can you offer someone struggling to select a major?

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I am a freelance writer, avid blogger, illustrator, and aspiring novelist who thinks the world is a terribly funny place filled with bizarre things to observe--and, of course, comment on. You can follow her somewhat neurotic and OCD ramblings at The Embiggens Project and at Searching for Barry Weiss.

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