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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

You Are Not Your Diploma: Why Your Degree May Not Dictate Your Job

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a teacher.  My parents love to tell the story about how, when I was small, I would line up my stuffed animals and dolls and “teach” them.  Even before I could speak in complete sentences I was trying to teach my Cheer Bear to read, write, and add.  When I was a little older and fell in love with the idea of being an astronaut Christa McAuliffe became my hero because she was going to be the first teacher in space (the Challenger explosion is still an emotional topic for me.)  Everything about my life wove into the idea of teaching so it was natural that when I went off to college I declared my major to be English, pre-Education.  I was going to be a teacher.

Sixteen years later I spend my days working as a victim’s advocate for a domestic violence shelter.  I am, for all intents and purposes, a social worker.  A few years ago I was a personal assistant for the vice president of a transportation company.  Before that I was an account manager for an international bank specializing in automotive finance.  My first professional job was as a broadcast journalist and one of my first stories was covering  September 11.  I got my English degree, but I also have a communications degree, an MBA and a nearly finished MFA in film and creative writing.  At least once a week I get asked how the heck I ended up a “social worker” with my credentials.  The answer is actually pretty simple: because I could.

The assumption when one goes off to college is that we declare a major based on our future employment and career goals.  A student wanting to become a doctor would take biology or chemistry and declare pre-med.  A future lawyer might declare history or political science.  The assumption isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Your degree does not determine your career.  At least not anymore.  Even as few as twenty years ago in order to have competitive advantage in getting into your chosen field you had to have the educational background.  If you wanted to be a businessman (or businesswoman) you had to have a degree in business or finance or something related.  If you wanted to be a journalist you had to have a journalism degree.  While there were some exceptions (English degrees really are applicable across the board in many cases) you picked a degree and that locked in who you would become and what grad school you applied for.

In the late 1990s, however, some shifts began happening in secondary education.  Particularly in liberal arts schools there was a movement towards interdisciplinary relationships.  At my own university, an entire special graduation requirement was created in the junior year where students were required to take a survey course that would force them into applying elements of their chosen field of study to an area entirely outside of that scope.  Biology students might find themselves investigating depictions of natural science in Impressionist art while art students might find themselves exploring representation of mental illness in the films of the 1970s.  When, after leaving journalism for a series of administrative assistant-type jobs, I decided to pursue a graduate degree I chose to get an MBA thinking that a business degree might give me an edge what I really discovered was that my English degree made my MBA all that more complex—the MBA by itself wasn’t what was attractive.  It was the combination of the two and the experiences that I had from opportunities presented me by my English degree and the business degree made me stand out from the herd of English degrees and MBA-holders.  I was different.

Credit: Women on the Fence

As our society changes from a world where a good job would be a career for life to a twenty-four hour, instant society full of connections and round-the-clock news cycles what employers are looking for is changing as well.  Increasingly employers are looking for a sum total of experiences and how they integrate with what you learned in school.  At my primary job in social work none of my colleagues have just a social work degree.  Some of them do, but a few don’t have anything even related directly.  As one of my coworkers puts it, her resume is all over the place because she’s “done lots of weird stuff.”  Like me she is a former journalist who ended up in social work.  On the surface a journalism degree doesn’t really mesh with the field, but journalists are good at prioritizing, asking questions, listening, and presenting information.  There is a huge quantity of those skills required in social work and by working in the trenches of the news world, we honed those skills to a point very different from those who took a more traditional path.  We stood out in a sea of sameness.

Every day the world and the demands of the world are changing.  Even in the four-ish years it takes to get any sort of degree the field a college freshman aspires to enter may change so dramatically that the degree achieved at school will bear little relevance.  My MBA is very different from the content taught to newer MBA students, but it doesn’t hinder me.  It’s all about the combinations and, ultimately, your passion.  So take heart, philosophy majors: it isn’t about what you studied.  It’s about what you make of it.

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