Rachel’s the kind of girl I started this site for — someone who’s getting rotten advice from the people close to her. And so, loyal fans, today I spring into action on her and your behalf. Behalves. Whatever.
This fall, I’m going to be a Junior in college. My declared major at present is International Relations–I love it, but all I ever hear is, “You can’t get a job with that.”
First of all, they’re wrong. There are a lot of majors out there that receive that kind of criticism — a few that come to mind are women’s studies, philosophy, art history, comparative literature, Jewish studies, and lots of other things ending in “studies” — but international relations doesn’t deserve to be among them.
A good IR program will prepare you for all kinds of jobs in the government, business, and nonprofit worlds. The crux of these programs (and correct me if I’m wrong, current/former IR students) is to give you a solid foundation in the policies, politics, economies and cultures of the areas you’re interested in. That foundation is something you can apply to any of the industries above.
Another important thing about an IR degree is the connections you can make during your time in school (which is true of every major, but perhaps even more so in international relations). One advantage IR folks have is that the whole world is your job market, and not just the U.S., as it is for most students. Use your school’s association with conferences and partner organizations to forge as many individual contacts as you can so that you can leverage them for jobs when you come out.
(And if you don’t understand what I mean by that, I mean — go to the conferences, meet and talk to and network with as many people as you possibly can for the entire time you’re at school. If you don’t have a couple hundred LinkedIn connections by the time you’ve graduated, you’re probably not working hard enough).
The modern world is more interconnected and has fewer barriers than ever before. If you are a strong IR student, I don’t think you should have a great deal of difficulty getting a job.
I have no idea what I want to do with my life.
Absolutely, positively, unequivocally, nothing wrong with that. See Everyone’s On Plan C.
I know where my interests lie, but none of them seem to be conducive to acquiring a job. I’ve considered dozens of professions, everything from being commercial airline pilot to a college professor to an interpreter to a journalist.
It’s true that the prospects for professors and journalists aren’t what they used to be — but they’re still out there. I’m not sure what you mean by interpreter, but if you’re talking about foreign-language interpretation (as opposed to, say, sign language) — foreign language skills have NEVER been in higher demand, my friend.
And young pilots make terrible money, you’re right. But, amazing coincidence that it may be, you have written the one man who is trying to change all that through a simple solution: tipping airline pilots. I’m serious. I started a website about tipping pilots. But yeah, until that website catches the world on fire, that’s a really rough life the first few years.
And after hours of contemplation, the bottom line seems to be, “In order to get a well-paying job with an ounce of job security, you’ll have to suck it up and graduate in a degree with something you tolerate, at best.”
Bullshit. Mostly, anyway — the security part is the shakiest, but you know what? There isn’t much true job security out there in ANY profession as there used to be, and that’s just part of the working world that we’re all gonna have to share for the rest of our lives.
Let me take it a step further, actually, to something you may not have considered: the degree you get may end up having NOTHING at all to do with the career you end up in. I couldn’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are in the same boat as I’m in.
I got an English degree with a 3.91 GPA and I swear to God, I cannot tell you one damned thing of consequence about anything I read in all that literature I had to pore through. Then I got a master’s in journalism, after which I never practiced one iota of journalism. I fell into Internet stuff, which led to software and business and marketing, then advertising, and all of sudden 10 years later I’m writing 1,500-word blog posts every day answering questions from students all over the world.
How the hell did this happen? No idea. There is no logical explanation for it. Point is — I’m not alone. This happens to people all the time, and the subject of your college major has only a small role in the whole of how things in life turn out.
The general consensus right now is, “Drop your IR major and graduate with something you can get a job in, like Healthcare Administration.”
If you do that, I swear to God I’ll drive down there and shoot you with a paintball gun until you recant. (Not really, but I’ll definitely do it in my mind).
Look, it’s true that you may not get a job right away that you’re absolutely in love with. You might not be singing “Whistle While You Work” with a sparrow on your shoulder while magical dwarves cavort with you on the sidewalk all the way into the office every day. But that doesn’t mean you have to choose a job that’s so goddamned boring that it sucks out your very will to live.
There are plenty of jobs out there that will be “good enough” to get you by and not make you want to hang yourself until life guides you toward something that really resonates with you.
If I decide to switch majors, it will likely take me a minimum of 6 years to complete my Bachelor’s degree, and I’d hoped to get a Master’s as well–in hopes of stalling entering the workforce until the economy improves and get paid better once there 🙂
Don’t switch majors. And I’ve never liked the whole “hide from the bad economy in grad school” idea either, frankly — I think it’s wrongheaded, especially if the master’s degree is something you’re doing solely to stay out of the work force (and not for a specific and calculated career benefit).
Let’s say a master’s degree over two years costs you $40,000. Well, don’t forget the opportunity cost of not working those two years — even at Starbucks, you could probably swing $25k per year. So that’s a $90,000 real cost you’d be incurring by doing that.
Admittedly, I’m living at home and going to a state school right now, so student loans should be kept to a minimum.
Is it better to graduate with a degree in something you like? Or am I better off going with the more competitive major, getting a job I have no real passion for whatsoever, and finding a job that’s suited with that degree?
I think I covered that above, so you know where I stand. 🙂 Good luck, and let us know what you decide to do!
What about you? What do you think Rachel should do? Let us know in the comments below.
HEADS-UP: This site is getting a name change and along with it a complete redesign in the coming weeks. I’m not revealing the name just yet, but it’ll a) combine both outlawstudent.com and GiveMeaResume.com in order to serve current high school and college students as well as recent grads looking for jobs, and b) it’ll reflect more of the renegade, take-charge spirit that you find in a lot of my advice. Stay tuned!