14 Women Who Work In Fields Way Different Than Their Majors

by Madeleine Aggeler

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.

When you think about it, asking an 18-year-old college student to declare their major — the area of study and thought to which they will supposedly dedicate the rest of their life — is absurd. Most 18-year-olds are like oversized puppies: enthusiastic, easily distracted, and primarily concerned with finding something to eat. It’s no surprise, therefore, that people often end up on career paths different from whatever major they declared one morning while hungover from a dorm party the night before.

For all of the significance that is placed on your major in college — the fraught consultations with academic advisers, the hours spent poring over course catalogs, the disapproving glances exchanged by extended family members when you tell them you’ve chosen English or music or anthropology — there seems to be little actual connection between a person’s major and what they go on to do in life. Certainly, there are careers like medicine, architecture, and engineering that require a specific course of study, but besides that, there is a lot of flexibility. A 2014 study for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that as little as 27 percent of bachelor's degree holders work in a job related to the field they studied in college.

This is not to say that people’s degrees are a waste; quite the contrary. Another 2014 study by found that 87 percent of college graduates say they do not regret their college major, and 89 percent think going to college is a worthwhile investment in the long-run.

What these numbers suggest is that college is less about what we learn than it is about how we learn to think. As Willard Dix, a former admissions officer at Amherst College, wrote in an article for Forbes titled "A Liberal Arts Degree Is More Important Than Ever":

People often assume "liberal arts" is a political term. As it's used in academia it's closer to the idea of broadening the mind and "liberating" it from parochial divisions and unthinking prejudice. It encourages the questioning of assumptions and reliance on facts as well as an understanding that even facts can be interpreted differently through different lenses. Ideally, it enables individuals to gather information, interpret it, and make informed decisions on a wide variety of topics.

Learning how to think critically and problem solve is valuable in any field, no matter what college department you learn them in. Below, you'll find stories of women who, for whatever reason, once they had eventually grown out of their excited puppy phase, chose to take their skills in a different direction.

I obtained my BA in English literature with the intention of becoming a high school English teacher; however, a month before graduating, I applied to grad school for nutrition science instead. Eating disorders, digestion, and how food is absorbed was far more fascinating to me.
My BA is in communications with a concentration in theatre. While I pursued this initially I am a successful private practice lactation consultant. This career grew out of motherhood. I fell in love with breastfeeding and decided to [make it into] a career. My communication and improv skills work well in dealing with new families.
I studied Spanish and Russian because I thought languages were fun. After realizing that there were no jobs for a bachelor's degree without some type of additional teaching degree or interpreter certification, I went to grad school for Hispanic linguistics so I could defer my student loans. I later got a MS in speech therapy as there was a huge need for Spanish-speaking speech therapists and great job security.
I went to Lafayette College in Easton, Penn., and double majored in psychology and religious studies thinking I'd do something in counseling, therapy or psychology [...] because I really enjoy helping people. Instead I work in public relations at an agency on consumer brands. Midway through college I decided I wanted a team environment, something creative, and wasn't ready to commit to grad/med school at the time. My aunt has been in PR for over 20 years — she brought me into her office to shadow her one day and the rest is history.
My undergraduate degree is in history (pre-law). I never went to law school and I've spent much of my career in nonprofit management or education. I started in college working with a number of organizations and as soon as I graduated, I was recruited and working for an organization (an education nonprofit) that I volunteered with as a college student. That was the beginning of my 20-plus year career in this space.
I graduated with a joint specialization in anthropology and sociology with the intention to continue on with more studies. However, as fate would have it, upon graduating I entered into the world of publishing and book marketing instead, and haven't looked back. I think my lifelong passion for literature and a chance encounter at a networking event sent me on a different career path.
I left the corporate world — where I worked in marketing communications — to assist my family in taking care of my dad who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. I was a public relations major in college. After my dad passed away, I decided I wanted to assist families as a caregiver coach and help people struggling with career change as career intuitive coach. Today, my coaching work involves empowering people of all ages, which I find very fulfilling — there is nothing I would rather do!
I studied philosophy [...] and now I'm in digital marketing and public relations — totally different fields! I was convinced that academia was the path that was for me but decided to take a year to experiment a bit. I got into this field after speaking with some people in PR and it seemed like this writing-based job was right for me. The first job I landed was for PR and digital marketing, and it turns out that I love the hybrid between these two jobs.
I have a BA in political science with a focus on South East Asian studies and in the last 20 years I have launched and managed three businesses centered around corporate housing. Political science is about understanding society, studying the past, and planning for the future. As a successful entrepreneur I like to study, plan, and move forward; the subject matter is less important than the challenge. Corporate housing, monthly furnished rentals, was an idea I came across that could be developed into something more, so I did.
I'm currently the director of marketing at a large multi-practice cosmetic surgery practice, but if you knew me in college, you would have probably never guessed this is where I'd end up, since I double-majored in fashion design and applied economics. When I graduated, the economic recession was in full swing and I couldn't find a job in anything related to my majors, so I took my sister up on an offer to file medical charts at the dermatology practice she was working at for $8 an hour. [Three] years later I ran away to New York City to pursue my dreams of being a fashion designer. It didn't work out, but I did find a cosmetic practice willing to take a chance on me as their in-house marketing manager and I couldn't be happier.
I got a degree in in anthropology simply because I loved learning about it and I didn't know yet what I wanted to do for a career. I spent almost 10 years in corporate business development and recently quit to be a full-time writer and editor. It may have been unexpected, but I am happier than ever!
Although I loved English literature at degree level, you're often pigeonholed into a career in education, as most English lit graduates go on to teach. While I have a passion for reading and writing, I really wanted to channel my analytical skills into digital marketing and put my knowledge into practice, instead of simply teaching it to others. Plus, there were, and still are, so many different opportunities available in marketing which can allow you to learn on the job and kick-start your career.
My bachelor's and master's degrees are in music in opera performance. I didn't have a big enough voice for the Big Time, and transferred my stage skills to stand-up comedian for 10 years. At age 44, I made another career change to psychotherapist after falling in love with my volunteer work at a shelter for sexually abused teens.
My major in college was information technology management and my career has taken me down a path in human resources! Right out of college, I joined a rotational program and my first rotation was in human resources. I ended up telling my program manager that I would do one rotation in HR and then would like to do something more aligned to my major. My first rotation led to a second rotation in HR and 10 years later I am still in HR! There is no reason why this happened — I was just enjoying what I was doing and was more curious to learn more about HR and that is what kept me there. But I have to attribute a lot of my success in HR to my IT degree. It allowed me to think differently, be solution-oriented, and be able to solve complex problems in a very thoughtful and systematic way.