Two Roads Diverged in a Wood

The connection between undergraduate major and occupation

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/And sorry I could not travel both/and be one traveler, long I stood/and looked down one as far as I could/…
—From "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost

Although it's highly unlikely that poet Robert Frost had undergraduate majors and occupations in mind when he wrote "The Road Not Taken," his poem offers insight on the link between the two. The bottom line: The path you take as an undergraduate matters, but your major is just one of many decisions that contribute to your occupational choices.

“Your choice of major is not as closely linked to your occupation as most people imagine,” says Emily Bardeen, director of Alumni Career Services. “For example, the business world draws students from across the University, not just the Comm School. And your choice of undergraduate major doesn’t limit you to a certain occupation. Look at governmental studies majors, for instance. They aren’t all going into government service.”

Comments (24)

Charles on 11/26/2013

My degree is in religious studies. I worked for fifteen years in defense contracting as a systems integration engineer, eventually being promoted to senior engineer/project manager (admittedly 60 credits of my BA were in math/chemistry). I let that career go midstream to become a pianist and composer, less money but much more satisfying. I attribute my choice to the religious studies part.

Shoofle Munroe on 11/25/2013

Why is this a circle?

Charley on 11/25/2013

Randy… Right. That’s called majoring in “graduation” and is a ticket to unemployment, or further schooling to obtain the requisite germane education to secure a job. Wouldn’t it be significantly cheaper and wiser to initially secure a marketable degree?

Randy on 11/25/2013

Better to make good grades because one enjoys the subjects than to make poor grades taking subjects that are more practical or vocational. Few liberal arts majors expect to have careers in their major fields. Rather they intend to go on to graduate or professional school.  And these schools place greater weight on the applicants GPA than the major. In some cases, such as Law School, the undergraduate major is hardly considered relevant except for its role in obtaining a diverse student body. UVA Law 1989.

Smith on 11/21/2013

Not sure what the chart means, but it looks really cool, and isn’t that just the cat’s meow?

Carlos Pelay on 11/21/2013

Angie, I agree this is a great starting point and serves its purpose of helping younger people to start thinking about their futures as well as the wide gamut of possibilities that are available regardless of your academic background. I wish more people would appreciate and give some thought to the wonderful possibilities of a tool like this instead of focusing on where it falls short.  One thing I did learn at UVA (Economics, Grad School A&S) is that no model/theory/representation of reality is perfect.

Laura Eastwood on 11/21/2013

2 years, 5 years, and even 10 years out of college I would expect that a significant portion of UVa alumni are in graduate or professional schools.  And certainly one’s first job out of college - especially in the recent economic environment - isn’t a solid indicator of what one will do with one’s professional life.  I’d think this would be more informative if you looked at alumni further away from their undergraduate years.

Angie Levrone on 11/21/2013

Loved the graph! Not real specific but, provided a starting point for further research. My son’s a student at UVA. I will definitely encourage him to take a look. Tools like these are a good way to inspire young peole to start looking to the future. Little steps at a time.
I majored in broadcast journalism with a minor in acting. Through my entire college experience I envisonined myself in the television industry.  Within 1 year of graduating from college I was intrigued by and accepted into a public relations executive career program. Now retired, I enjoyed a diverse, lucrative, creative, and challenging career (which by the way allowed me to make extensive use of my broadcasting training).  I believe one’s major should help hone the natural interest and talents of an individual. Once you gain the confidence, dicipline, and fundamental knowledge that the college experience is design to provide, you should be prepared to navigate a broad range of choices. Be open to all possibilities and not afraid to explore a career that was not your initial goal. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Charley on 11/21/2013

Kevin… you made my point. You did not find employment in your field (French Literature) and were forced to return to Medical School to land a job. And I agree that one should follow their dream; but with a back-up plan that will get them employed if their “dream” doesn’t. For the great majority of us, what we “want” to do is known as a hobby. What we “have” to do is called a job.

Chris Franklin on 11/21/2013

I would hire a Harvard grad for just about anything?  Why?  Because I know his/her IQ is likely off-the-charts, regardless of major, and s(he)can learn to do anything in short order, in all likelihood. 

As for UVA?  Sorry, but we’re not there yet perception-wise.

As such, CLAS people still have to put up with a lot of in-house, trade-school-king negativity from the com school, engineering school guys lol.

Elizabeth on 11/21/2013

Econ/US History qualifications got me to the short list. The knowledge of Latin American literature, language, and culture sealed the deal for my position.

Kevin on 11/21/2013

In response to Charley - I recognize this is an “N of 1” situation, but I would consider my work as an ER physician to be a quality job, and I graduated UVA with a major in French Literature.  Admittedly, my French major isn’t what got me the job, but it helped set me apart when applying to medical school as someone who could do things in addition to the heavy biology/chemistry all pre-meds are required to do.  Certainly some professions are tougher to do this with than others, but the important thing is for students to assess both what they want to study (French Literature) and what they need to study to get where they’re going (the core pre-med courses), then plan their schedule accordingly so both are satisfied.

U.Va. Magazine on 11/21/2013

@Ellen C-M. Good point! Our breakdown of majors and occupations can be found here:

Lisa Brenner (Anderson) on 11/21/2013

I graduated in ‘82 from the College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in Mathematics.  Although I was always able to find work as research assistant (seismology), operations researcher, software developer (self taught) I did realize that I could not “really” be a Mathematician unless I pursued a higher degree. I chose not to do this.  Instead, I left my career, raised 4 children and now am the owner of an Alphagraphics in Albuquerque.  I do help my children with discerning their major by looking at what they want to do and where the jobs are so that they can hopefully use their gifts, study something interesting and gain employment.  I laugh at how few mathematics majors there are on this graphic.

John Robertson on 11/21/2013

Though a “late bloomer,” I spent 4 graduate years at U. Va., two in classics, and two at the Darden School.  Both experiences were immeasurably valuable to me:  the classics because they enriched me, gave me more discipline than I thought I could handle (how many people have read the Iliad in Greek in one semester?), broadened me as a person.  The Darden School did not so much broaden me as focus me, on a career, which has kept a roof over my family’s head for nearly 35 years, and an incomparable network of interesting successful people, many of whom had broadened themselves before coming to Darden.  Now the real payoff (or challenge):  go back to reading Greek in retirement, maybe the Odyssey (but not in one semester).

Bob Ramay on 11/21/2013

Interesting, but difficult to use.  The image is too large and things fall from the bottom and top of my screen.  For instance, I have an engineering degree.  To be able to hover over engineering I can not see the careers at the top of the circle so I do not know where the many colored brick roads lead up there. Oh well, I’m retired and don’t need to choose again.

Richard Drum on 11/21/2013

I did not get my undergraduate degree in landscape architecture from UVA, but I applied that degree directly to a Federal agency job description for landscape architecture and have practiced that profession for many years. My Masters in Urban and Enviornmental Planning at UVA (arch79) was directly applied to that same job, but now classified as a community planner. I like the circle concept and its simplicity, but it needs “Planning” as a curriculum item (supplementing engineering and architecture) since planning skills feed so many job requirements in the marketplace.

Daniel on 11/21/2013

Even though many people can get into business, legal, etc fields with a variety of majors doesn’t mean the unrelated majors are wise choices.  It doesn’t mean a particular major is the smartest way to get to the end goal. Students should be thinking about their majors as preparation for their career, not justifying why an unrelated major is not a waste of money. I feel like this graphic attempts to justify the excessive number of majors which have limited applicability in future careers. People should become English majors if they want to be English teachers, editors, journalists, etc. but we need more actuaries, engineers, computer and IT literate people, East Asian studies specialists—but we need to step up the modern relevance of that subject, since its mostly stuffing ancient religion, literature, etc.  I don’t believe general broad education is something that should be packaged in a 4year degree. It’s a lifelong process.

Useless majors are mostly useful for the professors who make a living teaching those subjects, and it is in their interest to convince society that more people should study their subject; they’re selling a product! I say guide students to the majors that the job world demands, even if it means more trade or technical subjects, and let the departments with less market relevance find funding from donations instead of from tuition. Why is psychology one of the most popular majors? It’s interesting, and useful to know a bit, a great subject to study personally, but only those who plan to enter the psychological services profession should choose that as their major. Same goes for similar examples.

Josh on 11/21/2013

This is very interesting, but it can generate the wrong (in my opinion) conclusion, that one’s undergraduate field of study has a small effect on long-term career path.

I am in weapons development (which could be considered government services, engineering or business) and my undergraduate major was physics.  We employ administrative people here as well, that have social science, history, religion, etc. degrees.  They are in the same industry as I am, but do very different work and are compensated at a very different level.  We don’t promote religion majors to engineering roles, we hire recent scientists and engineering grads.

Charley on 11/21/2013

One attends college for just two reasons: To prepare for future employment and to generally broaden one’s horizons. Today, germane education and experience are key to landing a job. Majoring in a field that will not lead to employment is folly. To be more blunt, if one majors in French Literature (don’t the French have that covered?), don’t expect to ever work in that field; and good luck landing a quality job of any kind.

Ellen C-M on 11/20/2013

I agree that the graphic is nice but the categories are way too opaque.  Is Anthropology included in “cultural studies”?  You should have a list of which majors were sorted into which categories.

Cory on 11/20/2013

This is an interesting graphic.

However, last I knew, Psychology was the most popular major in the CLAS.  I’m not certain if this is still the case, but I know it’s still very popular (despite being, in my experience, completely unmarketable.)

I find it strange that “Philosophy and Religion” is separated out as a major area, but Pscyhology is lumped in there (I assume) with all the other Science majors.  It seems this would be a more informative graphic if it were broken down into more useful distinctions of different major areas.  Even just a “social” science and “hard” science distinction would be far more informative.

Carlos Pelay on 11/20/2013

Amazing graphic - will be sharing with my two teens tonight.  Thank you!

Bruce Cauthen on 11/20/2013

This is wonderful, useful, beautiful!  Thank you!!

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