Here’s the deal. Real life, that period that starts right after you graduate from college and ends with a nice plot of land, is tough. There are a myriad of challenges waiting for you, just past graduation, including paying back the student loan debt you may be accruing during your four years of becoming an adult. You know this intellectually, you’ve probably even taken an economics class. Or a sociology class. Or a business class. You know that life is hard, and you also know that because you’re in college, and you’re not leaving without a piece of paper, you’re going to have it better than some of the folks that don’t go.
I keep reading advice for college students. The advice usually goes a little something like this:
- Major in something that will make you money!
- Don't waste your parents' money on college yoga!
- Focus on the ROI of a college degree!
This advice is well-intentioned, but it runs contrary to my college experience.
I was a senior in high school in 1999. This was the year that people with English degrees were getting signing bonuses and new cars at all these neat “dot coms” and I was intrigued. I was also very good at math, so when I talked to Pacific University (it's little, you might have to Google it) and heard that for the last five years, their Computer Science department had 100% placement (this turned out to be a huge misrepresentation of the facts. Only about twenty people graduated with a CS degree in the five-year span they referred to, and yes, by 1999, they were all employed, but not in their field, necessarily. So, take statistics with a grain of sand.), I was sold. I got a good scholarship and I applied to one school.
My mind was made up. I was going to end up with a lucrative career in computer science. I'd take my core requirements, minor in politics, and focus my energy on this CS degree.
Fast forward to the spring of my junior year. Compilers. For those of you who do not have intimate knowledge of how programming works, a compiler is like the translator that turns programming language into machine language.
And it was hard. The hardest class I'd ever taken, ever. I simply didn't understand. And what's more, I loathed it. I was twenty years old, and I said to my roommate, “I can't imagine doing this as a career.”
She took a look at the course catalog on my behalf, as well as my transcript. “Look, Kathleen, you should change majors. If you major in politics, you can still graduate in four years.”
“But,” I whined, “it's past the add-drop deadline, and I don't know if I will be allowed. Plus, I can pass this class — what do I need, a C-?”
She said, “it's not about the class. This class, I think, is fairly representative of what you will do as a programmer. You hate it. You can't major in something you hate.”
So, I spoke to the dean, he made a few phone calls, and I switched my major to politics with only a bit of catch-up work to do.
Fast Forward to Today
My career today has a lot more to do with programming than politicians, and that's okay with me. I still don't have to write code, although it does help that code isn't entirely foreign to me.
My point is this: the well-meaning folks that tell you to major in business? Only listen to them if business classes are fun. Look through your course catalog. If 20th century American history sounds interesting, then by golly, take it.
You can't change the economy, no matter how much you want to. But you can dream big. And you can follow your passion. And you can join the rest of us in real life upon graduation.
See you there.