A common belief in the education industry and one that’s often repeated during conversations about higher education is that current high school students will apply for jobs that don’t even exist yet. This indicates the blistering pace at which the career landscape can be transformed by technology. In such a state of constant change, it is easy to see how misinformation can creep into conversations about the job market.
This article will address four common myths about careers that high school students and their parents frequently encounter:
1) You Can Only Work in the Field You Major in at College:
College counsellors hear this a lot: “If I study mathematics in college, will I have to become a mathematics professor?” No, you won’t! You could become one if you want to, sure. However, you could also become a data scientist, an investment banker, a management consultant, an actuary, a monetary policy expert or a sports executive. The core skill of quantitative analysis that you’ll learn as a math major is highly transferable to non-math-related fields.
Similarly, the critical thinking ability and analytical depth you gain from an English literature programme would be transferable to careers in law, scriptwriting and management consulting. Most academic programmes equip you with certain core competencies that employers are happy to help you develop in their domain as long as you demonstrate passion and hard work. Therefore, choose your major at college based on what you enjoy studying, not what you think will land you your dream job (which, as we’ve established, may not even exist when you graduate).
2) Changing Careers Is Hard:
It isn’t. Like the undergraduate programmes mentioned above, every job you undertake will equip you with skills and expertise you can transfer to another domain. Working on a merger between two energy companies as an investment banker, for instance, can familiarise you with the energy sector, allowing you to transition into it down the road. Similarly, working as an HVAC engineer at an automobile manufacturing company can acquaint you well with the global supply chains that go into making HVAC units. You may then transition into a management consulting role, advising global manufacturing companies on how to make their supply chains efficient and hedge against unforeseen circumstances like pandemics! Don’t say no to a job that interests you for fear of being boxed in – you will have the opportunity to change careers for a long time.
3) The University You Graduate From Impacts Your Career Prospects:
The university you attend does impact your prospects – for your first job. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that employers will favour fresh graduates from selective universities when there’s no work experience to base hiring decisions on. However, students from less-selective colleges can level the playing field by earning good grades and developing strong research and/or internship experience. Furthermore, any competitive advantage graduates from prestigious universities have equalises after about three years of employment, after which hiring decisions are based mostly on performance and skill. So while being admitted to a prestigious university does brighten your career prospects a little, the boost is short-lived and your professional success will ultimately be determined by the passion and commitment you demonstrate at your job.
4) You Need to Do a Master’s Degree to Be Successful in Your Career:
This might be the most commonly believed myth of them all. Too often, we hear that undergraduate education ultimately has little to no impact on long-term career prospects and that postgraduate degrees are all that matter. While master’s degrees are an excellent way to jump a few rungs up the professional ladder or pivot to a new domain, they are no longer indispensable for professional success. As we mentioned above, most hiring and promotion decisions are made based on performance in your current role as it is the most reliable indicator of how you’ll perform at your next one. If you are keen on pursuing postgraduate study, then, by all means, go ahead. But don’t feel pressured to do so by the false notion that it is the only way to get ahead. It isn’t!
There are certainly more myths about careers than the four we’ve covered in this post, but these are among the most widely discussed and endorsed. We hope understanding them has offered you some clarity on how to think about your higher education in the context of your career goals.
If you would like to discuss major/career options further, feel free to book an appointment here.