Transition from major to career

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March 31, 2011

10:43 PM

Every year, students are intrigued by the mysterious interdisciplinary major. When students at the College of William and Mary first look into the interdisciplinary major, it seems like a great idea. There are some pros and cons, which are not always explained, that students need to take into account before signing their major declaration form. These factors can seriously influence students’ opportunities after graduation.

I am a senior, and I decided my sophomore year to double major in two interdisciplinary departments, International Relations and Environmental Science and Policy. I was not really sure what I wanted to do, but I loved the environment and I liked government and economics, so I figured — why not major in the two subjects and take a bunch of different classes? Interdisciplinary majors are great; I was able to gain experience in many fields of study and was exposed to a lot of different ideas. I was actually able to figure out what I wanted to study and focus on because of the variety of classes available to me. To give you an idea: For International Relations, I took history, government, economics and language classes. The interdisciplinary major challenged me along a spectrum of academics. There are problems, however, with this path later on in your college career.

An interdisciplinary major gives students the opportunity to take classes in many different departments, but this can also be a problem. For example, how does a student describe himself or herself when applying for jobs? I cannot say I am an economist, despite having taken many upper level economics classes for my international relations major. It is difficult to define your skills for potential employers. If you are an interdisciplinary major, it is also really important to take classes that teach you specific skills. Often these classes are required if you major in single disciplines such as economics or government, but these classes tend to be optional for interdisciplinary majors. Proper planning and advice from professors is necessary to successfully select these valuable courses.

Right now, I am job hunting just like every other graduating senior. Employers are looking for good students with the right references and a strong resume, but they are also looking for students that possess specific skills. These skills could be fluency in Chinese or experience with ArcGIS for data analysis and statistics. All of these skills are helpful in getting a job; single discipline majors help students acquire these skills as the classes teaching these skills are required and not optional.

So what can you take away from this about the interdisciplinary major? It is an awesome way to be exposed to a variety of ideas and classes during college. Without the proper advice and preparation, however, it can be difficult to find a job because you did not take the classes preferred by potential employers. Before you sign up for an interdisciplinary major, I suggest you talk to a professor plan, it out, and make sure it is really what you want to do with your college education.

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