What does a jack of all trades, master of none major in?
October 17, 2013 11:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm making it my goal this year to pick a major for Spring 2014 and actually see it through the end. The problem is I can't seem to stick with anything. I'm interested in almost everything. What do/have you done in this situation?

What usually happens is I'll be majoring in something, discover something else that fascinates me, and then either switch majors or take so many useless classes in that thing that I slow down my college progress considerably. I'm 6 years out of high school with nothing to show for it but a mish mash of credits that don't really transfer into any particular program.

I'm in love with learning. I like to learn about anything and everything; from science to art to math to animals to music etc etc etc. I'll pick up introductory books just to learn more, I take Coursera classes just for fun... you get the picture. As a result I have a little knowledge in a lot of different subjects, but I have issues focusing on one thing long enough to really get in depth about it and stomach the 2-4 years it takes to get a degree. When I finally do pick something to major in, I maybe get through half a semester before something else catches my interest and I feel like I've made a mistake major-wise and end up switching. It took me awhile to realize nothing I become interested in is really going to be "The One True Major" that I'll finally stick with... I just love learning for the sake of learning.

I can't be the only person like this. What did you do/major in in this situation? I know I can get a degree in something like "general arts," but that doesn't seem like it will help my career at all.

Please don't suggest not getting a degree; getting one is very important to me. I've just managed to severely mess it up thus far.
posted by Autumn to Education (54 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I had a similar issue and found that my university had an "interdisciplinary" degree that allowed me to mesh most of my credits together into a coherent final degree. I basically chose a "random" major that fit with the credits I already had.

Some universities have "design your own major" programs that can offer flexibility in this as well. Can you either look for programs like that at your school, or barring that, consider transferring somewhere that might provide you that kind of flexibility?

Also, don't fall for the trap that your major will determine your life path and/or career. Undergraduate majors for most disciplines in the world don't count for as much as it seems like when you're in school. Your major is NOT your identity.
posted by amoeba at 11:50 AM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


What would you like to be doing when you get out of school?
posted by MetalFingerz at 11:51 AM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Only 27% of grads have a job related to their major (Washington Post Wonkblog, May 20, 2013).

Major in something that you find appealing enough to stick with, then graduate and keep on learning. I'm one of the lucky/rare ones who has landed two consecutive jobs that are directly related to my major (though I should note it took me 8 years to get my undergrad, after changing my mind near the end of my first major).

After you graduate, apply for jobs that match your interests and where your diverse education and background can fit. Rarely do you get a 1:1 match, and you'll find that you can fit into many fields if you think of ways to apply your education and life skills to the job requirements.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:52 AM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm the same as you. I know some people think of it as a cop-out degree but I got my BA in Communications (from a good school) and minored in English and Anthropology (the former because I knew it would be useful [and it has been] and the latter because I found it endlessly fascinating).

And on preview, I agree with MetalFingerz and think that the most important thing is to figure out what your end goal is here. Even if it's just having a very general idea of what you MIGHT want to do--if you would be happy working around computers, that could point you in one direction, for example. I know that I'm a decent writer and would probably end up doing something related to that anyway, which is why I went the Comm/English route.
posted by lovableiago at 11:54 AM on October 17, 2013


Find some way to marry all of the things you like into one program. Interdisciplinary studies. Etc.

For me this was a major called "History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine." Super broad, and I was able to make an argument for just about every class I felt like taking.

Make a date with your adviser and just go and talk about your options.
posted by phunniemee at 11:54 AM on October 17, 2013


So I'm like you, except that I did manage to buckle it down to a single degree on my first go-round with school. (I'm now pursuing another one in a totally different field, but whatevs.)

I've had to struggle with two things (still am):
a) figuring it out what it was that I really liked about learning new things. The excitement of something new? Is there a theme to what I'm most interested in for each subject? Is there something that happens where I start looking around for something else, every time, and what is that?

b) accepting that it is really okay not to have one passion or one vocation or follow one single path. The trick is trying to get as many of those things to coalesce into one manageable goal, instead of chasing down every single lead.
posted by sm1tten at 11:55 AM on October 17, 2013


Remember that all those things you're interested in will not vanish when you graduate; they will still be there for you to explore and learn about and blog about and research.

Pick the subject that you have the most credits in and declare that. When you're done and out of school, keep on learning.
posted by rtha at 11:59 AM on October 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Honestly unless you have a very specific career goal it doesn't really matter what you major in. That said, whatever you major in, be able to give an intelligent boilerplate answer as to why you picked it, because you'll probably be asked in job interviews. I interviewed a girl who was fresh out of a little school that had an "Interdisciplinary Studies" program, and she couldn't explain to me at all what her major was or why she chose it. As an interviewer I don't necessarily care what your answer is, I'm mostly trying to learn about you and move the conversation forward.
posted by radioamy at 12:01 PM on October 17, 2013


I'm not going to suggest not getting a degree, but why not take a break and travel, volunteer, or get some experience in the work world? You'll come back with better ideas about to pursue.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:01 PM on October 17, 2013


If it were me, and I had this insatiable intellectual curiosity, I'd trust that I'd continue a lifelong course of learning (e.g., Coursera for fun) and do something practical and employable at school (business, accounting, CS or something).

As people have said above, your major does not define you. It does, however, help you get a job. Which is good (unless you're planning to fly solo and define you own job, which might be appealing to you). Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take a couple business credits. Ideally, they will be interesting to you, but at the very least, they should give you a basis for applying your disparate learnings to some place that would like to hire you to do things.

Business stuff is going to be applicable and useful almost everywhere.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 12:03 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm with the crowd, either see if there's an interdisciplinary degree, or see what you've got the most credits in and finish that up. General Arts is FINE!

I was an English major because I liked to read. I took a job while I was finishing up my degree at the Phone Company. I ended up with a great career in Telecommunications for 25 years. The BA or BS is merely the certificate of completion. It has NOTHING to do with a potential career.

Now I will say this about that. Do you have a vague notion of the stuff that people pay wages for that you'd eventually enjoy having for a job?

If it's just general office stuff, then major in whatever floats your boat. But if you think you'd like to major in something medical, then enroll in a medical program like Nursing or Biology.

If you think you'd like to teach (this may be a very viable path for you) then check out elementary education, because it's that smattering of a bit of everything, tied together with classes in educational theory and practicums.

But at this point, if you don't have a focus and you just want OUT. Interdisciplinary or whatever you have the most credits in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:04 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know I can get a degree in something like "general arts," but that doesn't seem like it will help my career at all.

Which career is that, exactly?

I was sort of in your shoes, only my somewhat timid nature basically forced me to stick with the, well, with the second and forth majors I chose (discarded two others along the way). I found them fantastically interesting, then not interesting enough to actually do for a living, then I just stuck it out and graduated.

My first professional job? I got it because I had a decent writing sample and happened to have used Excel before in a random general ed class I took. That's it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my majors. I majored in anthropology and advertising, and got a job in nonprofit fundraising.

Now, here's the thing. I am now three years out of school, two years into this career (on my second job), and I now know it isn't for me. BUT. And this is so important: now I know what it's like to have a job. It is so, so different from all the schooling I've ever done, and it has given me the perspective to know what I do and don't want out of my career going forward, a perspective that I never would have developed in college no matter how long I stayed there or how many programs I tried. I am now embarking on a search for a career that will make me happier, and the knowledge I am using to conduct that search is primarily based on my experiences in the working world.

My advice to you is to stop dicking around in school and enter the working world. Go to an adviser, show them the courses you've taken, and ask them what the quickest route to a degree- any degree- is, based on what you've done already. You can always go back, and when you do, you'll be closer to actually knowing what you want. At least, that's the case for me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:04 PM on October 17, 2013


Please please don't listen to the posters who are telling you to leave school to figure things out. No, don't. Stay in school and finish your degree. And, as the other posters are telling you, pick anything for your major, preferably the subject that will get you out the fastest.
posted by DMelanogaster at 12:12 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


In addition to practicality/employability, consider what you're better at than other people. Better to be the top English major than a poor or mediocre science major.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 12:14 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also: you asked a very similar question two years ago and are no closer to making up your mind. If you'd just picked ANYTHING AT ALL back then, you'd have a degree now and could start looking for jobs as a BA-holder rather than a high school graduate. You could be asking this question again in 2016, or you could just graduate and get the hell out ASAP, and then start building your life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:18 PM on October 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Agreed with everyone else in re: interdisciplinary work and seeing if any mishmash of credits will apply to some major or another faster. (At my undergrad school, the social sciences were known for this, so if one of your phases was sociology, I'd see what you'd need to finish that.) Unless your family is quite wealthy, the thing that gets you out soonest is best.

If that doesn't work, though, I'd look at which of your interests best meshes with the paying working world. I'm a lot like you in terms of interests. I just plain like learning. I majored in the sciences in part because I felt it was a field that I could always learn and create more knowledge. But the other, big, part was that starting salaries were higher, jobs were considerably easier to come by, the entry-level jobs were closer to my interests, and the recent graduates I knew just plain seemed more successful and happy than those in other fields. Because I make a solid living, I have the means to keep exploring those other interests and don't need to have a second job just to pay off student loans.

(Also, when you're done, look into jobs in the university system; most colleges and universities allow their staff to take classes for little to no money. There's no reason that graduating should mean the end of learning.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:19 PM on October 17, 2013


I get it, I do, but you need to stop making your major out to be a (if you'll pardon the pun) major deal. A huge number of people have careers that are uttler unrelated to what they majored in. So just choose SOMETHING, something that interests you and that you are reasonably good at, and get on with it! Stop viewing this as the end all be all chance to learn about various things. If you choose to major in biology that doesn't mean that you never ever get to learn about art later on. It just means that right now you're going to put extra focus on biology.

FWIW - I majored in psychology and english. I work as a computer programmer, so count me as yet another person whose job has zero to do with their major. Oh, and my husband majored in geography and he is a computer programmer/analyst too.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:20 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does your school have a geography department? Geography covers a surprisingly large area - Human Geography involves a lot of history, anthropology, etc, and Physical Geography involves a lot of geology and other natural sciences. Both involve statistics & math, and if you get into cartography that can overlap with the arts and computer science. Plus, GIS (geographic information systems) is super fun and very applicable in a variety of professions.
posted by troika at 12:22 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


First, figure out what majors will allow you to finish your degree in the desired amount of time. Make a list of all of them.

Now run down the list. For each major, imagine you're you in 10 years meeting someone you really want to impress in a professional setting. And then say out loud "I have a degree in [NAME OF THE MAJOR]."

Pick the one that sounds the best when you say that sentence out loud.

I graduated with a double major - one that is very respectable and boring and makes sense in a professional legal setting and the other that is esoteric and surprising and a lot more interesting. I love telling people I have a degree in the interesting one. I rarely mention the boring one. Neither one is ever particularly relevant to what I do for a living. But it's nice to have something that makes me a little bit interesting.
posted by The World Famous at 12:24 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your story reminds me of my husband's. He ended up graduating with a bachelor's degree in philosophy because, like you, he just took whatever courses interested him during college without any sort of plan or intent. When his adviser sat him down and told him he had to pick a major, he asked what degree he was already the closest to completing, and philosophy was it. Done. It has had absolutely zero bearing on his ability to successfully find work in whatever field he chooses, which began in politics for twelve years and later morphed into nonprofit development and communications.

And echoing other posters that you sound like a prime candidate for the "design your own major" option if it's available to you. Definitely look into that.
posted by anderjen at 12:36 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


You are not alone, tons of us love to learn and are fascinated by a million things. Here's the problem: You're confusing that love of learning with a love of college. You're not in college to learn. You're in college to get a degree. I'm not sure how you are funding your time there, but seriously, 6 years is enough you have to get your bachelor's and get out of there. Your first job will not be related to your liberal arts degree in any way, you have to accept that.

Trust me, I was the same way as you. Here's what I didn't know: Once you are off campus, and have a regular 9 to 5, you have WAY more time to pursue your interests. No papers to write, unless you want to write them. You only read (or reread) the books you want to read, on the topics you want to explore. Trust me. I love school, but no school is WAY better.
posted by Think_Long at 12:37 PM on October 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Double major- one practical, one fun.

Some majors touch on a lot of other fields. You can look in your course catalog for majors that contain a lot of courses that are also listed with other majors. I noticed that at my university, Operations Research was like this.
posted by Jpfed at 12:38 PM on October 17, 2013


Picking a major isn't the end of exploring. You can still take classes and read books about anything you want. Just put the classes in your major first. Or find a major that has the most classes that interest you, or the fewest requirements.

For example, where I went to college, one needed a 2.0 or higher and eight specific classes to get an English degree, on top of whatever other classes the university required. So assuming one spent four years in college or eight semesters, all you had to do was take one required English class each semester. I was not an English major but I was one class shy of a double major with English (and I had been in that class but I dropped it because the professor was a jerk).

Talk to an adviser. It's their job to help you figure this out.

Side note: a family member majored in creative writing and poetry. Now she's a client relations manager at her company. It really, really doesn't matter.

Also, looking at your previous questions, you've mentioned an interest in law school. Barney Frank, former member of Congress from Massachusetts, said something like, he didn't know what to do with his life and was interested in a lot of different things so he went to law school. My best friend is also someone who just loves learning. She got a B.A. in linguistics and psychology, then went to law school. Then she did an online program in education. That's not to say that you should go to law school but just some food for thought.
posted by kat518 at 12:42 PM on October 17, 2013


I'm a lover of learning, too. I took classes all over the spectrum but majored in Music because I loved it and knew that I would never again have the opportunity to study it as deeply as I did in college.

I went to grad school for business and music is now just a treasured hobby. I have no regrets, though. However, if I had known that I was going to be a boring businessman when I grew up, I'd have probably gone with a degree in econ.

Regardless, I agree with the multitudes above- you're undergrad degree does not define you in any meaningful way. Get your diploma and get out into the world.
posted by bluejayway at 12:42 PM on October 17, 2013


Your college has an advisement center, almost undoubtedly. Go talk to them, and ask if you can model your degree plan with, say, your top three favorite majors. Which will take you the least time to complete? Do that one. If it won't add more than a year, do a minor in your second favorite.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:42 PM on October 17, 2013


Another way to skin this cat is to ask, of the majors you might be inclined to select, which gives you the most time to explore outside your major? As an undergrad, I discovered the Math department basically only required I take one math course a semester (provided I fill out the major with sufficient related courses, mostly as I recall in hard sciences). This gave me the opportunity to take a number of courses I never would have dreamed of majoring in (e.g. folklore, anthro, English lit). Of course it helped that I found math pretty easy.
posted by mr vino at 12:48 PM on October 17, 2013


So, at the tender age of 27, I graduated from an unexceptional university with a major in English. Useless, right?

Well, turns out, not really.

I picked the major because I could guarantee myself that I'd be able to pass any course in it if I put effort into it. Compared to, say, engineering where above a certain level, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't hack the math. Also all the Film Studies classes were 3+ hours long and that was a bit much.

I don't get a lot of use from learning about John Donne and 20th century British theater, but the skills I got from analyzing thick, academic texts, distilling the ideas and applying them to unrelated source texts is incredibly useful. So is the ability to communicate clearly in text which, from what I can tell in the working world, is an ability hard to come by.

Design your major if you like, or pick something you know you can hack. Either way, it's up to you to figure out how what you're doing will apply in the Real World, not for your classes to provide a guiding path for your future. That's awesome for people who can pull it off. As the 27% statistic above states, though, most people do not.

More likely than not, there's no single major that will hold your attention so utterly that you will desire with your heart of hearts to complete the coursework. If that was an avenue open to you, you wouldn't be asking this question. So sit down, forget about being interested in what you're asked to do, and do it to the best of your ability regardless of whether you want to or not. There's more value in that life skill alone than in 90% of your degree, and it will serve you long past anyone cares what you majored in.
posted by griphus at 12:51 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


And also I 100% agree with all the above posters who advise that you major in whatever gets you the degree the fastest.
posted by griphus at 12:54 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I think it bears saying that the discussion and quality of thought you get in upper and graduate level liberal arts and social science courses is much, much more interesting and challenging than the general survey you get in intro-level courses. You're actually hurting yourself intellectually by refusing to specialize!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:55 PM on October 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


You are getting a liberal arts degree. It's not vocational training. People now change careers an average of six times in their working life. Go talk to an advisor and calculate your fastest path to the piece of paper.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:56 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am another interdisciplinary person, but also: it doesn't have to be some vague "interdisciplinary studies" major you cobble together yourself. Pretty much any major with "studies" in the title (ie, women's studies, international studies) is interdisciplinary, and will give you more focus and more of a cohesive program of study than you are likely to be able to put together yourself.

For instance, I did women's and gender studies, and got a really excellent education. I took classes in history, English, theater, political science, linguistics, and economics, all which counted towards my major. But running through all those courses was a fairly consistent theoretical underpinning and approach. Plus I took a foundations course and an advanced theory course that further helped tie everything together. I graduated with a really strong grounding in feminist/cultural analysis. Which may not sound all that careerist, and it wasn't, but hey, turns out those are the kind of "critical thinking skills" you get a liberal arts education for!

Also, nthing what everyone else says about major and career. I took one poli sci course and no communications courses, yet I now work in political communications. If you're doing something liberal arts oriented (that isn't a hard science or maybe econ), your major matters less than learning to write and analyze well.

Just make sure you have lots of work experience (internships in your field if you know what that is, plus paying jobs to show you know how to show up to a job and not get fired) to complement that liberal arts degree.
posted by lunasol at 1:03 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Depending on which floats your boat more, either Math or History. Either can be focused onto almost any field of specialization. Twenty years ago, a math degree was a benefit in almost any line of work; I'm not sure if that's changed.
posted by KathrynT at 1:27 PM on October 17, 2013


Like you, for a long time I majored in Registration. Eventually I settled on Anthropology, and I use it not at all in my career. However, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. It was an amazing learning experience with great people, and I'm happy I did it.

I agree with the people suggesting some sort of business degree, because it's almost universally applicable, and you can take it in any direction that interests you. Another option might be a degree in education, for much the same reason - you can always add specialties on top of an education degree to make yourself more marketable. However, the business degree will actually make you money, whereas the education degree... maybe not so much.
posted by kythuen at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2013


There isn't a sharp line, necessarily, but in some majors you learn a skill set and in other majors you consume the fruits of previous research, which is not that far removed from being an armchair historian or psychologist in your spare time.

For example, in history, you learn about events and patterns and trends, and the interpretations that various historians have attached to the events, patterns, and trends. In general, you don't redo the historian's work by collating primary documents, visiting archives, examining rolls, charts, and tables, or interviewing contemporaries.

By comparison, in disciplines like computer science and math you generally rebuild things from the ground up. Yes, you get a guided framework and yes, things are cleaned up for you. So instead of decades or centuries of false starts, you get a linear picture of how things got to be the way they are now. But you generally get to that point by yourself. You re-derive te basic results from calculus. You write parts of a simple operating system.

And what I'm going to claim is that you can do one without interfering with the other. A lot of students like the fruits of history or psychology and don't realize how different, and potentially tedious, plodding, and frustrating the experience of doing history or psychology really is.

On the other hand, if you come to history or psychology with a technical skill set, you will find lots of opportunities to apply your skills to both new and existing problems. It might take a couple of weeks to make a computer science graduate productive in a psychology lab. Going in the other direction will take a lot longer.

So do math or computer science or engineering with a humanities studies minor on the side.
posted by Nomyte at 2:20 PM on October 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have the same problem! It's kind of an awesome problem to have, but I do often feel like I'm pulled in a billion directions because I want to learn about anything and everything.

My undergrad degree is in Theatre Management because I did theatre in high school, but I became fascinated by fundraising for nonprofits and did that for awhile. I'm working on a Masters in Public Administration while working full-time because I'm really interested by the government and issues of inequality. Now I work for a company that makes software for nonprofits and am starting to do more learning about open data and coding.

As others have said, remember that a degree isn't a be-all end-all. You can continue to learn about things that interest you on your own, and it's not a bad thing to have multiple degrees in different fields.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:28 PM on October 17, 2013


I found one degree that fit many of my interests (Architectural Engineering), and simultaneously completed a broad liberal arts-based degree that let me explore the breadth of my University (a program at The University of Texas called Plan II). Architectural Engineering was great for me in that it is also applicable to a wide range of fields after graduation.

For me, this offered depth in an employable plan (though I honestly wasn't thinking about that at the time), while letting me explore areas like scuba diving, the history of rock and roll, and the study of strategy and war games.

So maybe your solution isn't putting all your focus in one direction at a time. Find one thing to take much of your focus, but still give yourself an out in a broad-based program. That's what worked for me, at least.
posted by BevosAngryGhost at 2:40 PM on October 17, 2013


Dude, there is nothing wrong with coming out of college with a "I am freaking epic at trivia contests and telling you about nonsense" degree.

I dithered around for my first two years, supposedly settled into an Anthropology degree, discovered that one of the Classics professors was starting a "Religious Traditions of the West" major, and pulled together all the odds and ends I had to make that my main major.

(I was going to double-major in Anthro/Religion, but, alas, I had to make a choice between some boring-ass cultural anthro "let's study the primitive people like the great white heroes we are" seminar and "Magic and the Supernatural in the Ancient World", and, come on.)

Because it didn't matter what I was majoring in. Just because I got distracted by everything from Architecture to Genetics to Bioanthropology to Victorian England rather than settling into a set path for the rest of my life, it didn't mean I wasn't learning important skills. I was learning how to write, and how to research, and I spent most of my free time hanging out in computer labs designing webpages.

So now I write, and do research, and design webpages. And occasionally bore people with stories about ancient Carthaginian child sacrifice and how tertiary syphilis can turn your skull bones into something that looks like pumice stone. Because I can.

And so can you. Figure out what you can pull together into something resembling a major, get that piece of paper, and head off into the wild frontier, picking up random knowledge as you go about your awesome way.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:40 PM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Make sure you get a science degree. My experience as a Computational Linguistics B.Sc. holder who knows a shit-ton more about other subjects than I do about "Computational Linguistics" (whatever that is), is that a science degree will go a lot further in most traditional "arts" circles than an arts degree will. I'm really glad that, when I went back to school to complete the degree, I did not take the easier route and get a B.A. in Philosophy.

Two close friends of mine have, respectively, Mathematics and Physics degrees and neither of them work in those fields. But they get a lot of respect for having that education.

As a "jack of all trades, master of none," you are really trying to sell yourself as a straight-up smart person. Right or wrong, a lot of people out there associate "smart" with "science degree."
posted by 256 at 3:02 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pick the major that will close the fewest doors. I'm interested in math, physics, philosophy, economics, literature, music composition, piano, etc... So I'm planning on majoring in math. Analytic philosophy is almost a branch of math, a lot of successful economists studied math at least as an undergrad and often as a grad, Xenakis studied physics and didn't become a composer until his 30s, you get the picture.
posted by myitkyina at 4:13 PM on October 17, 2013


Best answer: Oh, Autumn... I remember you from your AskMe history. You seem really smart, and it pains me that this struggle continues.

I graduated with a Journalism major, and no interest in pursuing Journalism. I write for a living, sure, but I've also worked as an account manager, a paralegal, a barista, an illustrator, and very likely the worst waitress in Central Pennsylvania. I never ever used my degree, but it did lead to better salaries if that's something you care about.

I have a friend who's ten times smarter than I am, but she took forever on her degree and eventually dropped out. She's brilliant, she's capable, but she's stuck because people don't see past her resume.

If you're non-STEM, your major doesn't matter. Just your degree. Pick one. Any one. And stick with it.
posted by mochapickle at 4:24 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


My suggestion is to leave college. Surely you can explore your varied interests in a less-expensive manner. You can always finish your degree once you've figured out why you actually want to finish your degree.

Or, you could dig in and do what it takes to major in something right now, based on what you've already explored. If it doesn't work out, you can revisit my first suggestion.

As for how to get yourself to stick with it? Ultimately, you will have to answer that for yourself, but I have some suggestions that might help you change the way you think about the decision.

1) 2-4 years to finish a major isn't really all that much time compared to the 6 years you've already spent since high school, and it is nothing compared to the rest of your life, and really, its not like the chance or need to learn stops when you graduate. Perhaps it would help to think of learning post-college as something to learn about?

2) Consider that you aren't actually in love with learning. Maybe you are just in love with the idea of learning. Real learning changes you, irreversibly. It's a commitment.

3) Its pretty hard to build a life or make a decent living as a dilettante, unless you get really really good at being a dilettante. Breadth is great, but it is best when it is coupled with depth in some area. In the great scheme of things it almost doesn't matter what that area is, because just gaining serious depth in one area helps you understand what you don't understand about other areas, and how to fill the gaps that need filling, when they need filling.


I say this all as someone who is, at heart, a generalist, with more interests than I'll ever be able to explore even superficially, much less in the sort of depth I'd like. I've done a reasonable job of making my way in life and career in the two decades since I graduated college, but I've never had an easy time knowing what to call myself professionally. If I look back, my biggest strength is that I have enough breadth to figure out when specialized knowledge is needed, and how to develop it on my own, or seek out someone who already has it.

My interests have always been broad, but I think I'd have had a much harder time in life if I didn't pick something and stick with it for 3 years. Studying for Intro Bio, and Chem, and spending half my time and attention on O-chem, while digging into Cell/Molecular bio and genetics, and animal physiology, and then doing my undergrad thesis research, while trying to keep up in intro physics, and developmental bio helped prepare me. Without that, I wouldn't be as ready to constantly be learning about new stuff and digging deeply into some of it.

As to what that major should be: Something that challenges you. Beyond that, you haven't given us much to go on. "Not General Arts" covers a lot of ground.
posted by Good Brain at 4:35 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


As suggested above, does your school offer any kind of inter- or cross-disciplinary major? Mine had one called Political, Legal, and Economic Analysis (PLEA for short), which meant studying poli sci, pre-law, and econ, as well as the various general ed and electives. You did have to choose a focus (so during "what's your major" conversations people would introduce themselves as "I'm PLEA-legal" or "I'm PLEA-econ"), but (IME) it offered both a wide range of for-the-major classes as well as the flexibility to explore other areas.
posted by Lexica at 8:42 PM on October 17, 2013


Are you still in nursing school like you were in April? I was under the impression you don't get a lot of choice of major in nursing school.

I apologize for bringing your past question history into this, but it looks like your schooling has been all over the place since the beginning of the year, and you were recently considering bankruptcy. If I were you, I would avoid taking more classes (and more student loan debt) until I was 100% sure about what I wanted to do and 100% focused on completing it.
posted by schroedinger at 9:40 PM on October 17, 2013


I also looked through your AskMe history and would suggest a two prong attack.

1. I would encourage you to look at some of the medical programs offered at professional/community colleges. A good friend of ours is a nurse. Near where I live, there is a phlebotomy diploma one can earn in eight weeks (class, lab, practice). Classes are four days a week (allowing people to continue working part-time). Total tuition/materials/fees are about $800. Their job placement for people who complete the program is 100% (!!!) and they start at ~$14/hr. To my way of thinking, that's a healthy return on your investment.

Obviously don't take my word for it. Investigate your local job market and perform some due diligence. Go ask someone working in the medical field what specialties are getting snatched up. Don't just believe what the schools tell you. I encourage you to approach your professional education like a customer.

2. With all the money you make from being a phlebotomist (or similar), you can take one class each fall/spring and finish up a four year degree at your leisure. Anthropology, Music, Business, whatever strikes your fancy.

Good luck!
posted by 99percentfake at 10:11 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meet with an academic counselor at your school. Sit down together and look at all the credits you have so far. See if there is a major that isn't completely pointless and/or that you don't absolutely hate that will allow you to graduate sooner than the alternatives. Change your major to that, take the necessary coursework, and GRADUATE ALREADY.

Seriously, nobody cares what your major is. The basic area (STEM, liberal arts, education, social sciences, etc) matters to an extent, but if we're talking about you wavering between History and Sociology or the like, seriously, nobody gives a single shit about this the minute you graduate.

There is no such thing as One True Major.

Your major is just a list of courses that you take in order to get a degree. At most American four year schools, the major only consists of like 6-8 courses. Just find something you can stand to take six courses in and get it done.

I majored in Anthropology. I was passionate enough about it at the time to endure the 24 credits of coursework needed to get the degree. I learned about a lot of cool things that have really had an impact on my worldview. I had a lot of cool professors. For the first year or so post-college I did something for a living that tangentially related to my major (worked on some international film productions), but since then, it mostly impacts things like my choice of reading material, what types of documentaries and podcasts I'm likely to enjoy, which museums I visit on vacations, and nitpicky arguments with friends because it turns out that pretty much nobody knows anything about anthropology.

But was it my One True Major? No. I just as easily could have majored in sociology, history, or art history, and there are days I wish I could do it over again with one of those majors. I started as a film major and could easily have stuck to that. I like a lot of different things, could have majored in any of them, and to be honest, a decade later it really doesn't matter at all.

Just go finish your degree. Don't worry so much about majors.
posted by Sara C. at 10:44 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Adding to the responses above, my major/concentration: intellectual and cultural history.

Some other ones might be anthropology, comparative literature, English, or literature of any other language (German/French/Italian/Spanish/whatever), or classics.
posted by Busoni at 2:40 PM on October 18, 2013


I really do agree with some of the others here, in that your major doesn't really matter at this point, it's more learning how to learn, read, think, write, organize, and work that you're going to want to take away from college.
posted by Busoni at 2:42 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


My point of disagreement is the people telling you to talk to your advisor. Your advisor has let you down if you've been puttering around for six years without graduating. If they've been chasing after you for three years screaming, and you've been ignoring them, then, well, maybe they're okay... Otherwise, you need to find a mentor, a professor who knows you (at least a little), someone whom you respect, someone who also knows the basic ins and outs of your college catalog.

And once you have found a mentor, ask them the same question recommended above: based on your completed coursework, what major will get you out the door fastest.
posted by BrashTech at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2013


My point of disagreement is the people telling you to talk to your advisor. Your advisor has let you down if you've been puttering around for six years without graduating.

Ha! You act as if a person in college necessarily has "an advisor". At my school, we had "the advising office." You showed up and spoke to... someone. Not ever the same person you'd spoken to before, not a professor in your major, just... a person who worked in the advising office. They'd tell you something, then the next week you'd come back and another person would tell you the opposite thing.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:06 PM on October 18, 2013


So I know that a lot of people have problems/ are disappointed by their adviser/ advisee relationship, but I still would recommend OP go see one.

Not because this adviser will necessarily care that much about your interests or your passions. BUT, they will be able to help determine which major you are nearest to completing. That's all that matters at this point, finding the major that you have made the most progress in so you can graduate as soon as possible. You don't need a mentor, you need a bureaucrat who can count credits and get you out of there.
posted by Think_Long at 3:14 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, so this obviously depends what institution you're at. At my institution (and most of the institutions I have studied or taught at) there isn't an "advising office," you have a professor as an advisor... and sometimes students get assigned to one who doesn't do a great job. The point being, you don't have to go to the person your college says needs to sign your paperwork... You can talk to whatever person knows how to get you graduated (and, maybe, as a side issue, actually cares a tiny bit about you as a person).
posted by BrashTech at 3:29 PM on October 19, 2013


Response by poster: Thanks everyone; I actually read through all the answers back on the 19th so it's hard to say which ones specifically were helpful, but I will say the ones that reminded me I posted about this same issue around two years ago did kick my butt into gear. (I had actually forgotten about that posting, heh.)

I looked into my college program and they do have a general degree where the curriculum consists of 90% electives. Not sure if I'll do that, but my game plan right now is to pick something for January and not let myself leave the program no matter what. This also means making sure I can complete the program financially. I will note that my early failures weren't due to indecision but due to being unable to continue classes for financial reasons. I'd switch to a more affordable college and just switch majors with it. This is probably also why it seems that my advisor has utterly failed me. I've never had one for more than a year! Granted, the last one I did have let me switch majors 5 times in 2 semesters, so maybe they weren't doing their job all that well either.

Anyway, thank you again for your advice! I'm going to be re-reading this a lot as well as the [painful to remember but necessary] thread I posted two years ago... reminding myself that if I'd stuck with something then I'd be finished up right now!
posted by Autumn at 5:07 PM on October 31, 2013


Best answer: You don't really need a great advisor who is dedicated to your education.

You need someone who knows the course catalogue and degree offerings of your school like the back of their hand. Someone who can sit down, look at what you have, and say, "Oh, hey, you have all these social sciences courses. You could have a degree in Sociology next year. Your new major is Sociology."

Then you go take a couple semesters of courses you probably won't hate, and you're done.

The ship has sailed on someone who understands your potential and can help shepherd you towards finding your passion. That's not what you're looking for right now.

You're looking for the quickest path from A to B, where B is having a bachelor's degree.
posted by Sara C. at 6:05 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


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