Explaining your major to your mother

“What are you majoring in, again?” my mother asked me as she picked me up from the airport. I had just finished my first semester of sophomore year and I was still riding high from being accepted into the School of Media and Public Affairs.

“Political communication,” I reminded her, for the umpteenth time.

“Right, and what do you do with that?” she asked.

That’s the million-dollar question. And it’s the dreaded question almost every undergraduate fears, whether they be biology majors, interior design majors, or underwater basket-weaving majors.

But, the fact of the matter is that most of us will be asked this question, and probably more than once… from the same people. So, it might be a good idea to take some time out of our day and be honest with ourselves, what do you do with your major?

Before we answer that question, it’s important to remember that the people asking this question don’t mean to come off confrontational; they’re just curious in most cases. But, in the case of your parents, they’re probably worried about you, and rightly so. Recently, the Economic Policy Institute found that 8.5 percent of recent graduates are unemployed, and to make matters worse found that over 16 percent are either looking for work, working part-time to make ends meet, or have just given up.

To be frank, that terrifies me, and I can’t imagine what that does to my parents. So when your parents, or anyone else, inevitably ask you that million-dollar question, let’s try to have a decent answer for them. It might make you feel better along the way too.

First, you’ve got to settle on a major. And I don’t mean settle as in, “I guess this will have to do.” I mean, settle as in, “settle down” or, “feel comfortable with.”

Now, some of you might be thinking to yourself, “shouldn’t we figure out possible career paths in that major before we settle?” Sure, if you can do that. But most of us don’t. Some people start with a major and discover the career paths that stem from them and some start with an end goal or organization in mind and then choose a major. Either option works!

But, sometimes it might be more important to feel comfortable with a major before worrying about what you’re going to do with that degree after graduation. I can’t tell you how many friends I have that regret becoming engineering majors just because they heard it paid well. Just start with what generally interests you and go from there.

After you’ve settled on your major—or majors, if that’s your thing—finding out what you can do with that major is actually a lot easier than you’d think. After working with students in the Resource Room for the past semester, what I’ve consistently found is that most students underestimate just how large their support network already is, without even trying. GW is a large university with a massive amount of resources that are almost literally at your fingertips. You just reach out and grab them.

Firstly, there’s the Center for Career Services, the lovely establishment you can find at Colonial Crossroads—that’s the 5th floor of the Marvin Center. Here, you’ll not only find some of your fellow undergraduates—including yours truly—in the Resource Room during our drop-in hours, but you’ll also find our Career Coaches, who are some of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to their respective areas.

The Coaches specialize in knowledge regarding various career fields, often the ones they have the most direct experience with. Additionally, we have several Coaches that specialize in what we call “career exploration.” These Coaches are able to help you not only find out exactly what career paths are most related to your major, but also find out your various strengths and weaknesses through some of our assessments. Now, before you roll your eyes, these aren’t the same silly tests you took in high school that told you what your dream job would be—I got astronaut on one of those, oddly enough. These are assessments backed by real science and empirical research operated by legitimate companies, like Gallup, which runs the career assessment StrengthsQuest.

If you’d like to meet with one of our Career Coaches for career exploration, an assessment, or an in-depth look at specific careers, be sure to make an appointment on GWork. Or, if you’d just like stop by the Center during our drop-in hours to ask some quick questions or get your resume looked at that works as well. We’ll understand if you’re not ready for a commitment yet.

Now, while the Career Center is probably your best place to start—and I’m not just saying that because I work there—there are a few other options available for you, if you’re willing to put in some effort.

I’ve found that most students underestimate the value of their professors for one reason or another. Some forget that most professors are either extremely familiar with the careers associated with the subjects they’re teaching or have actually worked in their fields, and some just forget that professors are more than just teachers with PhDs and are actually willing to discuss more than just those readings you didn’t do—but seriously, you should go back and do some of those readings. I have yet to meet a professor at GW that wasn’t interested in their students’ future, so take advantage of their experience.

Look, no matter what I say or explain to you, I understand that this isn’t something you want to be thinking about right now. This is college! You’re supposed to be worrying about having the best time of your life, right? But, maybe, just maybe, you should take some time out of your day so that the best time of your life doesn’t roll over into unemployment.

At the end of the day, you’re the one paying for your education here and all the services that GW offers.

At the end of the day, you’re the one who is taking advantage of everything that is offered here, or not.

And, at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to explain your major to your mother.

So, what are you going to do?

Sam Gubitz is a Career Ambassador at the GW Center for Career Services. He is a junior studying political communication. 

Drop-in hours:
Monday – Friday, 11am – 2pm

Off-site satellite hours:
a. CCAS, Phillips Hall Rm. 112, Monday 10am – 12pm
b. SEAS, Tompkins Hall Rm. 107 Monday 1:30pm – 3:30pm
c. ESIA, 1957 E Street Suite 302 Wednesday 12pm – 2pm and Thursday 11am – 1pm

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