Your Undergrad Major Doesn’t Matter

Mostly.

Once upon a time I was graduating high school and applying to University, and I chose Economics.

It made sense to me.

Sure, I excelled in science and math and absolutely loved Biology, but what could a person actually DO with a Biology degree?

As it turns out, the answer is, “Quite a lot,” but I didn’t believe it.

The Buildup

I attended high school in upstate New York for grades 9–11, and then just outside Toronto, Canada for grades 12–13 (yes, there was a grade 13 back then, and you can guess how excited I was about that when we moved to Canada when I was 17).

My high school years had their ups and downs like most people, but I loved the challenge of learning tough things, and excelled in the sciences — particularly Biology.

I loved putting puzzles together, figuring out how one system impacted the next, and how there was a neat order to things in the midst of what seemed to be chaos.

I also spent most of that time feeling like my love of science never quite helped me fit in, especially in the school I was at in Canada where the average kid had a car and a stock portfolio by age 16. (I had neither.)

So, I decided for once in my life I was going to fit in, and I was going to study what was popular at the time. So instead of following my heart, I followed my teenage head and picked business over science.

The Dream

My vision was to work on Bay Street (Toronto’s equivalent of Wall Street in NYC), wear a suit, carry a fabulous briefcase, drive a BMW, and buy a condo.

I mean, it was the 80’s. Wasn’t that everyone’s dream?

So, I applied for a major in Business at the same University most of my family went to (back to the class of 1914), and was devastated when I didn’t get in.

“What about Biology?” whispered the voice in my head (and probably some well-meaning adults too).

No. Biology does NOT get you to Bay Street, I thought.

So I applied to “Almost Business,” or Economics, and got accepted and spent the next three years being miserable.

I hated Economics.

“What about switching to Biology?” my inner self whispered after only a year.

Stubbornly, I refused.

At the end of three years I cut my losses and graduated with a BA in Economics, and set off to find my career on Bay Street.

Crickets.

Ok, so back to school, this time, to do a Master in Business Administration.

The Result

I had a great time in my MBA — not because of the courses I took (more business, more economics) — but because of the people I met.

90% of the class had prior work experience, so they were older and provided me with some important reality checks and mentoring as I found my way through those two years and decided what to do next.

From there I took a job at Ford Motor Company of Canada because they promised international work and a glamorous career path. Not Bay Street, but still pretty posh.

Ha.

A few people at Ford of Canada worked in Michigan or even overseas, but most of us stayed in Oakville (just outside Toronto) and climbed the ladder through finance, sales, and marketing.

My fifteen years at Ford were some of the best of my life. I grew up there and learned the hard knocks of managing your career, the joys of managing people, and knowing when it’s time to move on.

I also made some life-long friends.

But here’s the thing.

I did not need a degree in Business to take an MBA or get a job at Ford or anywhere else.

I could have taken Psycology. Or Archaeology. Or Math. Or Art. Or Phys Ed.

I could have taken Biology.

The Lesson

What you choose to take in your undergraduate degree does not, in most cases, matter.

In some cases it does, of course. If you know you want to apply to Medical School, then you probably should have an undergraduate degree in science. Or if you know you want to be a Chartered Accountant, you probably should take an undergrad in Finance.

But even then…

Even then, nothing is carved in stone when you take your undergraduate degree. You may be exposed to different things or introduced to areas you didn’t even know existed.
You are allowed to change your mind midway through and apply for something completely different!

Things turned out all right for me.

I am really happy with the career path I followed, but I will always wonder what would have happened if I had followed my heart and studied Biology in my undergrad.

One thing’s for sure, I would have enjoyed school more, and most likely I would still have ended up doing similar work.

The defining choice was NOT my undergrad! The choice that put me on my path came after that, and for me it was choosing to take my Masters degree.

This is the case for so many people I know. Their defining choice was their Masters degree, or a job, or a volunteering opportunity, or meeting someone who inspired them.

Their defining choice was NOT their undergraduate degree major.

So if you are one of those people wondering what to study next, remember that you don’t have to know all the answers today!

My advice to you is ALWAYS follow your heart and your passion, and see where it leads.

You can fine tune things later.


Ruth Henderson is Editor of Medium Publication “At The Whiteboard,” and a top writer in Leadership and Productivity.

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