Your College Major is Not Your Passion (and How to Choose the Right One for You)

If there’s one thing that you should know about college, realize this:

Majors != Passions

For those of you who aren’t programmers, that means that college majors cannot and should not be categorized as passions.

Think about when you were in high school. The adults around us would tell us, “pick a major that interests you, you’ll be doing it your whole life after all”, as if it was the end-all-be-all choice of our lives. Can you remember staying up late on those nights doing research on what major looks the most fun, provides the most money, etc.?

With so many majors to choose from (my school has 100+), it probably made you want to pull your hair out. Maybe even procrastinate on making that decision until 11:59 PM on December 31, when the Common App was due. How could you decide what you wanted to do “for the rest of your life” at age 18?

You were just trying to get through your senior year of high school.

Maybe you’re in college now, and you still feel some unease with your major. It’s understandable. You’ve been told that this is important.

Here’s some relieving news:

Your college major really isn’t that important.

Outside of traditional job sectors (doctors, lawyers, or academia), your college major really doesn’t matter.

It’s a false pretense.

Your major gives you a certain flavor to your knowledge base, but it does not limit you to a certain set of jobs.

We need to stop inflating the importance of choosing a college major. How can we present a question like this the way we do to 18-year-olds and feel honest about what we’re saying? Why are we trying to create this idea that this decision is bigger than it is?

This ideology gives young people a false view on their outlooks on life and the future.

Your life isn’t about what role you played and that’s it. You need to be asking yourself the bigger questions of what matters to you.

So you’re a marketing major. What’s product did you advertise and how did it help people?

So you’re a business student. How do you want your company to benefit your customers and society?

So you’re a programmer. What problems of mankind does your app solve?

It’s not about what role you did. It’s about your cause.

So here’s my guide to finding your cause and matching that up with your major.

How to Choose Your Major:

1. Identify five potential industries or companies that you would like to work for.

You may be limited on your idea of what an industry is.

Anything that you buy products in is an industry.

If you like Nike or the NFL, you could work in advertising or manufacturing. If you like anime (please no One Punch Man), you could work in marketing or production. If you like to climb mountains, you could blog or make videos about the gear you use to help promote a lifestyle.

Imagine different ways that you can help out a company or contribute towards the overall growth of an industry.

2. Pick a major that you’re naturally curious about.

It’s hard to find something that you love. Might as well pick something that you don’t hate. Even if you don’t plan to do it for the rest of your life, if you’ve picked a major that you are naturally curious about, you’ll be able to have the motivation to explore something new for the four years you’re in college.

College (and life for that matter) is about finding your flavor of “shit sandwich”.

Everything involves sacrifice. Everything includes some sort of cost. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time. So the question becomes: what struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate? Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable rotten days. -Mark Manson

Your college major is a tool that you spend four years sharpening. Just one extra layer that adds to your unique perspective. That perspective will bring your creativity and uniqueness into any industry you want to enter.

Pick a major that lets you express yourself without hating yourself.

3. Think of ways to apply your major to where you really want to work.

Who do you know who is passionate about programming in C++? Like just loves the language, plain and simple?

Not a lot of people, I can bet.

What they’re more passionate about is what they can do with their programming skills. Is it their desire to further access to education like Sal Khan of Khan Academy? Is it their goal to provide travelers personal and affordable housing like Airbnb? What about providing affordable and efficient transportation and jobs like Uber?

Learning computer programming did not mean these people were “programmers” for the rest of their lives. What programming did was give them the method to further a mission that they thought was important. The same methodology applies for all other majors.

A better question to ask instead of “what’s your major” is this:

What’s your mission?

And how can you further that mission using the knowledge and connections you’ll gain in college?

There’s a reason people choose computer programming as a major in college; it’s in demand, and it’s extremely valuable in its flexibility to apply to virtually any industry in the world.

So how can you use an understanding of developmental psychology to contribute to the music industry? How can you incorporate your knowledge of marketing and public relations to get more resources to third-world countries? How can you use philosophy to help people make better decisions about their nutrition and fitness?

The New Definition of Passion

I want you to think of your college major as simply a medium, a method, to contributing towards a cause you believe in. This is where true passion lies. Passion is where you spend most of your time doing. Passion is in what topics you read blogs, watch videos, and talk about.

Put simply, your college major is your hammer.

And passion rarely lies in the hammer.

Passion lies in what you build.