Does Your Major in College Matter? We Asked Seven Successful People

Choosing a specialization may seem like a choice of your entire life path. Or it might seem like a placeholder while you get your shit right. We asked some of the most successful people we know, former guests of Lifehacker’s How I Work column, what they specialize in. They told us how their specialization affected their careers – or it didn’t matter at all.

Maurice Cherry, Revision Path Designer and Host :

I attended Morehouse College with a degree in mathematics . Yes, mathematics is trigonometry, calculus and all that, but above all, mathematics teaches you to think critically. Deduction, reasoning, analysis and other cognitive skills that I learned during my studies have been applied in several areas of my life and career. You will learn how to draw conclusions, evaluate, justify, classify and decode all types of information to make informed decisions, whether it be part of a design project or everyday situations.

Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation :

Specialty: English Language and Literature , University of Chicago.

At the time, I didn’t think my specialty was useful. “What to do with a degree in English literature?” I thought. Turns out it couldn’t be more relevant to what I do every day. I chose English because I loved books and reading without thinking about what that might mean for my future career. I only started working in magazines and books in 2012, so it took me a little longer to establish a direct connection with my professional life, but it looks like I ended up where I started. Love is love.

Shang-Ling Ma, CEO of Zola :

I always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, but I didn’t know where to start! So I chose two majors that I thought would be of most interest to me: Business Economics and Marketing at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. One thing that I have studied and written in my honors thesis is the topic of organizations that have a “learning orientation.” This is still what I think about today in the context of work: how can I continue to learn new things to improve my work, and how can I hire and maintain an educational orientation in the Zola team. This is still a very hot topic that you can literally never stop talking about!

Sarah Pappalardo, co-founder of Reductress :

I was a dual specialist in English and TV / Filmmaking . It didn’t have a direct impact on my career (I learned more from the world of work and comedy), but they were fun specialties to play with and enjoy what I already enjoyed doing.

Susan McPherson, founder of McPherson Strategies :

Specializing in history / political science . His choice definitely influenced my life, as it gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and develop my critical thinking skills instead of focusing on what will contribute to my subsequent job search. I believe that my liberal arts choices are directly related to my current ability to solve key problems, communicate effectively, and manage a company.

Nicole Conniff, ScareHouse Design Manager :

In college, I majored in industrial design with a focus on special effects.

I am one of the few who can say that it helped me get my current position. I would not have the skills or knowledge of the industry if I chose another specialty.

Craig Zucker, creator of Buckyballs and Speks :

My major in finance and mathematics , while somewhat rewarding for doing business today, was almost problematic when I was in Miami, Ohio. Basically, I knew this specialization was an integral part of my plans, but I spent more time on my first startup, HB Marketing, which I started as a junior. I nearly got kicked out for a low grade point average, but college simultaneously awarded me Entrepreneur of the Year for a successful marketing business. I sold HB in 2001 and it still works. Majors are what you think of them, but real life experience is always better.

So! Your college major can really set the stage for your career or end up distracting you. The results depend on your field and how you approach your career. For more evidence, read the top stories in our college regrets comment thread . Whatever you do, remember that there are several ways to be successful.


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