What Should I Major In?

Students often ask us about the connections between their major or concentration and ultimate career.  This is a very complicated issue, because some fields of study connect very directly to specific career fields, while others may not have intrinsic connections, though lead to impressive and stable career options. For example, a student studying nursing will clearly be well prepared to pursue nursing jobs or graduate study in the field. However, she may also seek positions in allied fields such as pharmaceutical sales or writing for a health-related or wellness publication. Although the jobs are very different, her nursing major helped prepare her for all of these roles.

Majors without clear “links” to specific career fields can offer students content knowledge and transferable skills that prove highly competitive both in employment and graduate study. The Career Plans Survey Reports Career Services produces detail the post-graduate activities of our students and can give you a picture of what students from different disciplines, majors and schools have pursued.

We believe that the most important element in determining a choice of major should be the student’s interest in and ability to do well in the field. Why? Because in general, if students are interested and engaged in a subject, they will do much better work and have a much more rewarding experience at Penn. When students are really excited about their studies, they communicate that enthusiasm: to their faculty — resulting in lifelong relationships (and substantive recommendations); to graduate schools — resulting in broader choice of where to continue their education; and to employers — resulting in a much wider choice of job options both during the summers and after graduation. A vibrant, strong record of achievement in an “impractical” discipline serves students far better than a lackluster record in a “practical” subject.

There are many ways that students can round out their majors to be well-prepared to begin their careers.  Clubs and activities provide excellent opportunities to learn about new fields and develop leadership skills.  Internships and volunteer experiences can help a student “try out” and gain practical experience in a particular field.  And of course at a university such as Penn students have the opportunity to take a wide variety of elective courses, allowing the English major to pick up a course in marketing and a political science major to take data science courses.  In addition to taking ad hoc elective courses many Penn students also chose to pursue a minor.  Career Services advisors can help students develop effective strategies for presenting their major – whatever it may be – to employers and graduate/professional schools.

Resources to Explore Majors