7 College Experiences That Matter More Than Your Major

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For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.

At the end of May, I graduated with a degree in international fashion business management. I've spent the past four years taking classes on buying, allocation, and business. However, I will not be pursuing a career in any of those professions. Instead, I have chosen to pursue journalism, and you know what? The title of my degree doesn't matter.

When I ultimately decided to go after a career that didn't perfectly align with my major, I realized that just because I didn't have a journalism degree didn't automatically mean I was unqualified for a position in the field. Having the skills and experience to excel in said position is what matters — and there are other ways to get those. "Employers care far less about your major than other characteristics you have that make you a desired employee," Brandon Hoffman, director of digital marketing for KEA Advertising Inc., tells Bustle. "Just because someone has a marketing degree, it doesn't mean they have any practical education about the marketing industry — and the same goes for many other undergraduate degrees. The characteristics employers desire is what is your aptitude for learning and putting that knowledge to use quickly. Employers don't want to waste time in training, they want to invest time which means that things like communication skills, sharpness, note taking, drive, and grit mean far more than the words printed on your degree."

While there are certainly careers, such as nursing and engineering, where a specific degree is necessary, this is not always the case. According to Liberty Street Economics, in 2013, 62 percent of recent college graduates held jobs that required a college degree, but only 27 percent of college graduates were working in a job related to their major.  

So whether you continue on to grad school or stop after your bachelor's degree, the skills you learn in college go far beyond the topics in the classroom. Making the most out of your time in college is what's important. There are many college experiences that can shape your career more than your degree does. Here are just a few.

Moving out for the first time is a huge change. Learning how to cook for yourself, budget your money, and realizing it's up to you to actually get sleep tonight is a learning experience. The independence and self-confidence you gain while being away at college is irreplaceable, and something you will bring with you into your career.

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I knew from the day I discovered my school's study abroad program that it was something I wanted to experience. Studying in Italy is how I learned to communicate with people, even when we have no words in common. It's where I found my love for situations that pull me out of my comfort zone and challenge me. I lived in a place I had never been for a year, and discovered that I could call multiple places home. That experience helped me figure out more about the path I see myself taking than anything else I've done.

Want another reason to study abroad? According to the University of California, 97 percent of students who had studied abroad found a job within 12 months of graduation, while 49 percent of college graduates who had not studied abroad found a job within the same time period.

I completed six internships and held three jobs during my time at college. Four of these internships have been directly within the editorial world, even though it's not something I majored in. The amount I have learned from real-life experience in the field has been invaluable, and unlike anything I likely would have been able to glean from a classroom, even if I had majored in journalism. Through my internships and jobs, I have gained a well-rounded look at the work force I am about to enter.

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Many of the classes I decided to take outside of my major have helped me develop skills useful to entering all kinds of other fields. I've taken Photoshop, coding, and minored in Italian — all of which were done separately from my major, and have proven to be immensely helpful as I pursue my career path.

I have been surrounded by some of the most hard-working and motivated people I have ever met in the last four years. Being in that environment has encouraged me to shoot for the stars, and settle for nothing less. We have been there to edit each other's resumes and cover letters, to help each other study, and most importantly, to form a support system whenever one of us is down. The people you have around you influence you immensely, and will be a huge reason why you take the path you take.

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I know the term "networking" can be a surefire way to make anyone cringe, but it truly is irreplaceable. While this is easier when you go to school in or near a city, thanks to LinkedIn, it's really possible anywhere. On top of that, connecting with alumni and teachers can be equally as helpful in finding connections. Recently, a friend of mine got a job interview because her teacher's friend worked at the company she was applying to. You never know who can help you get closer to achieving your goal.

"Depending on the career, possessing a college degree in a given field may not be quite as important as how you choose to spend your free time. Many employers require a college degree, because it shows a level of dedication and perseverance," Brad Stultz, human resources director at Totally Promotional, tells Bustle. "The activities, groups, and internships that a potential employee has on their resume paint a far clearer picture as to the type of employee they will be. Collegiate students should use the resources available in their university’s career services department to see what may be available to help bolster their skill set towards their desired career."

Recently, I've been reflecting back on what stands out most from my college experience. The choices I've made, the friends I've met, and the confidence I've been given are what I will remember most. Your degree is just one tiny part of you. Get out there, and show the world the whole package.