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Did Your Degree Influence Your Career Path?

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I was recently talking with some friends about college degrees. We all agreed that a college degree is often a necessary requirement for many people to get started in their professional careers, but we also noted that often times, our careers take us in a different direction than our degree might otherwise indicate.

I am a good example of this: I have a Bachelor’s in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an Associates in Aviation Maintenance Technology from the Community College of the Air Force. I can’t really say there is a direct correlation between those degrees, both of which are in the aviation field, and my current full-time job (I am self-employed).

Does your degree influence your areer path?

Did your degree influence your career path?

But it also wouldn’t be fair for me to say that college was a waste of time, or that it wasn’t necessary for me. College had a huge ROI for me, and it was very necessary for me.

Even though I don’t directly use my degrees in my current field, there was a direct correlation between those degrees and the first few years of my post-military career.

After I left the Air Force, I worked as a consultant doing logistics analysis for the Air Force, then I transitioned to working on other elements of the USAF supply system. Without my degree and background as an aircraft maintainer, I wouldn’t have been qualified for those positions. And working in those jobs gave me needed skills to grow professionally, while also giving me a means to support myself and my family as I grew my business from the ground up.

There is No Right or Wrong Path

When I was a kid, I loved reading the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. You read a few pages, then you are given a choice – and your answer tells you which page to turn to, leading you to another fork in the road and a decision to make. You can read the book a dozen times and never have it turn out the same twice.

In a way, our careers and lives are like that. When I started college in 1998, the internet was very different than it is today. I didn’t have much interest in it, and never thought I would run sites as a full-time job. But to be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career, which is partly why I joined the military after attending one year of college.

As for my degree choice? I could have chosen the degree that paid the most – instead, I chose my degree strictly because it was the degree I could accomplish the most quickly. I signed a six year enlistment contract, and around year three I made the decision that I wanted to get my degree as quickly as I could so that I had career options. Achieving my degree would allow me to apply to Officer Training School (OTS), reenlist for another four to six years, or get out of the military with a Bachelor’s Degree in hand, making it easier to find a job in the civilian sector.

My first choice was to go to OTS. I wanted to be an officer and see where that path would lead. But at the time the Air Force was drawing down troops and it was very difficult to become an officer through the enlisted ranks. (In a weird twist of fate, it would have been easier for me to get out of the Air Force, then apply for OTS as a civilian than it would have been to apply while I was still in the USAF. I still don’t understand that logic).

My other choices were to remain enlisted or separate with an Honorable Discharge. I wasn’t thrilled with my job at the time (I was an aircraft mechanic and deployed frequently), and there weren’t many jobs I was interested in cross-training into. I had achieved virtually all of my professional and military goals to that point, so I decided it was time to turn the page on my Air Force career and see what life had in store in the civilian sector.

It wasn’t all easy. A degree doesn’t guarantee a job, and it took me six months to find a job. But my degree and Air Force experience played a vital role in the jobs I had after I got out of the service.

It was shortly after I started my civilian career that I stumbled into blogging and I was intrigued. I had a big interest in personal finance and career topics, and I knew I had a lot to learn. So I created this site to help me learn and become accountable to myself and others. Along the way I started several other sites, took up freelance writing and consulting gigs, and turned this site (and everything else I do) into a business. It has been a huge blessing.

So when I look back at my choice of college degrees, I can say, “No, I don’t use my degree in my current field. But it was necessary for me to get where I am today.”

Do you use your college degree in your current career field? Do you think college was essential for your career path?

image credit: Our Lady of Disgrace


Published or updated June 12, 2012.
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kathryn C

I’d say your degree influenced your success you have now. As in, your college degree. I’m of the believe that your “major” doesn’t matter, but having a degree, does.

I kid you not, I don’t even know what I learned about finance when I was in college, and I was a finance/business major. I work in finance now. I learned all of the skills I use now while working.

Life skills are more important than book skills – coincidentally, I hated my organizational behavior classes. I was like, these are zzzzzzzzzz, why do I need to know how to get along with people at work??
And now I’m like,…ohhhhh, I get it. So you can get them to do your work!

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2 Kurt @ Money Counselor

I have a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an MBA-Finance concentration. I’ve never worked as a chemical engineer, and have spent most of my career in corporate finance type jobs. Some would say I “wasted” the chem eng degree. On the contrary: An engineering curriculum is a fantastic way to develop very good problem solving, analytical, and math skills. These skills are useful in any profession, and I’ve found they’re key to helping me succeed in the business world. When a career business person sees you can solve two equations and two unknowns, it’s like you split the atom or something. :-)

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3 Kris

The relations hip between a degree and a career is a strange one. In some cases the degree is more vocational (like health sciences or computer science) and usually has a strong correlation. Other times, who knows (like with just about any liberal arts major)? I still use my degree, but not directly. So it wasn’t a bad choice, but didn’t lead directly to a career. If only I knew then what I know now about careers & money…

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4 Roger Wohlner

I am probably an oddball, but I use my degree everyday and have basically stayed in a field related to my degree since leaving college. I was a finance major undergrad and then went right on to pick up my MBA. I worked in corporate financial positions until the mid 90s when I obtained the CFP designation and made the transition to being a financial advisor.

As the parent of a college grad and two college students I find the ideas in this post to be quite interesting. My oldest has a BFA from USC and works for an institute under the USC umbrella in PR and web design. I feel that the design and related skills that came with her art studies, combined with having taken a few web design courses in the college of engineering have really served her well professionally.

My middle one is majoring in Anthropology and Religion and wants to go onto law school. She has gained a good bit of experience through college as Treasurer of her sorority, as an intern for a local non-profit consultant, and this summer as a trade and investment intern at the British consulate. I doubt she will ever work in a field directly related to her major, but I feel that her other experiences while in school will serve her well.

My youngest is majoring in Hospitality management. It will be interesting to see if he goes into a related field after graduation, he will be a soph in the fall.

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5 Ryan Guina

I wouldn’t say you are an oddball, Roger. I know a lot of people who stayed in a career directly related to their degree. But, as I wrote in the article, I also know plenty of people who have gone into different fields (myself included). In my case, it was a combination of not exactly knowing what I wanted to do, and knowing I could graduate with my degree more quickly than I could with any other. I’m sure many people who have changed career paths have an interesting reason why the chose to do so.

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6 Barbara Friedberg

My dad was an airplane mechanic in the AF too. Thanks for reminding me of his important work . I have a bachelors in Econ and 2 Masters degrees, one in Counseling and an MBA. I’ve used all of my degrees at various times in my life. I love education for the experience as well as the opportunities.

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7 Paula @ Afford Anything

Like you, my degree has only a tangential relationship with what I do for a living. I think that the skills I learned when I got my degree (critical thinking, writing, and “learning how to learn”) are the main things I carried.

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8 Ryan Guina

Those are the skills that will carry you through life. :)

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