Two Paths to Picking a Major

A recent graduate holds a degree and smiles.

Some college majors focus on preparing students for very specific careers. For example, a nursing major gives you the technical skills and knowledge you need to work as a nurse, and prepares you to pass the licensing exam for that career. We can call majors like these career-oriented majors.

Another road to a career is a liberal arts majorThe liberal arts is an umbrella term for many subjects of study including literature, philosophy, history and languages. Students who major in these subjects don't build technical skills for a specific profession, but they still learn valuable career skills: for example, the ability to communicate effectively and solve problems creatively.

Liberal Arts Majors

Range of subject matter. If you choose a major in the liberal arts, you'll probably take classes in a wide variety of subject areas, which can include English literature, history, sociology, economics and philosophy.

Course requirements. Your eventual major within the liberal arts curriculum will be the subject area you take the most classes in and eventually earn a degree in. For example, you may major in — and earn a bachelor's degree in — history or English literature.

Career planning. Some liberal arts majors don't have a specific career in mind when they choose their major, but some do. Many future lawyers, for example, study the liberal arts as undergraduates — majoring in subjects such as political science or English — and then go to law school for advanced study.

Career-Oriented Majors

Range of subject matter. If you choose a career-oriented major, you'll probably take the majority of your courses in your major. That's because you'll have to take a lot of required courses.

Course requirements. Career-oriented majors have more course requirements than liberal arts majors. For example, an engineering major would probably have to take a lot of math, physics, chemistry and other lab science courses from freshman year on.

Career planning. Once you choose a career-oriented major, your career path is well mapped out. Note that some careers, like engineering, require so much specific knowledge that students often start preparing for them in high school.

Both types of majors prepare students for careers.

Career Options

Both types of majors can prepare you for a variety of careers.

Here are a handful of popular liberal arts majors and a few careers they can lead to:

  • English: editor, marketing executive, writer
  • History: archivist, museum curator
  • Foreign languages: foreign service officer, translator and interpreter
  • Political science: community organizer or activist, lawyer, policy analyst
  • Psychology: market researcher, social worker

Some career-oriented majors include:

  • Radio and television broadcasting
  • Culinary arts
  • Paralegal studies
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Commercial art
  • Dental hygiene
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