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What Does Your College Degree Mean in the Real World?

When it comes to landing a job—whether you’re 22 or 62—sometimes I think companies just want applicants to have a degree. Any degree will do! Which makes me wonder why it’s so important. To prove that you can stick with something for four years? Actually, maybe that’s not such a bad test for a potential new employee. With company loyalty at an all-time low, maybe employers want to know that you can stay in one place for more than six months.

So if a degree is make-or-break important, at least if you want a white-collar job, what do you do if you’ve got a degree, but you never want to work in that field? This I-picked-the-wrong-major realization happens to a large percentage of people over the course of their careers, in part because you’re forced to choose what you want to do with the rest of your life when you’re 20 years old. Not exactly the best recipe for success.

If you count yourself in this category—or picked a major like philosophy that’s tricky to translate into any field (I can say this because my dad has a Ph.D. in philosophy), the question becomes, “How do I spin my college major and classes for the job I want?” First, think about the nature of the field you’re interested in, rather than the specifics of the field. If you went through college as an accounting major but want to try an artistic field like graphic design, point out to potential employers that not only do you have the creative chops to do the job, but you have the perseverance and detail-orientation that accounting classes require—a big plus in a field where professionals are notoriously flaky. Likewise, if you took mostly creative classes in college but want to get a foot in the door at an accounting firm, talk up the fact that while tax laws always change (meaning that what accounting majors learn in class is obsolete by the following year), you’ve been trained in creative flexibility. Unlike the stuffy business majors, you can easily change parameters and adapt with the times. It sounds so good, it almost makes you wish you picked the wrong major on purpose, huh?

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