Why your major doesn’t matter (AKA the Streetlight Effect)



Ever hear of the streetlight effect?

It’s a mental bias where people look for something NOT where it’s most likely to be, but where it’s easiest to look.

An old joke (via Wikipedia) sums up the Streetlight Effect nicely:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is.”

Pretty silly, right?

Okay, THAT (laughing at a made-up person’s foolishness) was the easy part.

Now the curveball…

If you’re hung up on the idea that you need a certain, specific major to make earning your degree worthwhile, then I’m sorry to say this, but YOU, my friend, are guilty of the streetlight effect yourself!

Here’s why.

Every week, dozens of students contact me who are interested in DIY Degree’s test-out system, but unsure of whether it’ll work for whatever special snowflake degree they think they need.

For instance, “Jay, I need a business degree, but it has to have a minor in marketing, with a specialty in blah blah blah.”

Want to know the truth?

In probably 90% of cases…

What you major in is meaningless to an employer. They just want to you know that you have a degree at all — any degree. Once you do, the conversation quickly shifts to more important questions, like…

  • What do you know?
    What can you do?
    What results will you produce that the next candidate wont?

These questions are hard to answer. They require you to have (or develop) real skills, and be able to point to impressive accomplishments in the workplace.

To a student without compelling answers to those questions — or who doesn’t know how to develop the skills employers truly care about — it’s a lot easier to look under the “streetlight” of your college major.

This is a flawed way of thinking about college.

I advocate what I call the “insurance policy” approach. Which means, YES, it makes sense to have a degree on your resume, because it IS a bare minimum requirement for a good upper-middle-class job…

And you DEFINITELY want one in case an employer asks…

But you NEVER want your degree to be the MAIN REASON somebody hires you.

It goes against my self-interest to tell you this. I’d make a lot more money framing a degree as “the one and only thing” standing between you and a promotion. By pumping you up with desperation and selling the dream that once you have this magical degree, employers will beg you to work for them and everything will be okay.

Instead, I’d rather be honest.

Companies don’t hire people because the words on their degree match the words in a job title.

They hire people with a strong track record (or high future likelihood) of doing the work they need done.

So if you’re putting off college because you’re trying to figure out the exact right degree to get, well, everyone’s situation is different and there could be a valid reason for delay…

But chances are, you’re just wasting time. My advice? Get to work, earn whatever degree you can get the fastest, and spend your time building skills that set you apart in the marketplace.

The degree you can earn the fastest through our system is a General Business degree from Excelsior College. If you join DIY Degree, we’ll build you a start-to-finish roadmap for earning it in a year or less.

Which tests to take, how to study, the exact test centers to use…everything you need to go from “testing out sounds cool” to getting it done.

If you have some credits already, we’ll incorporate those into your roadmap so you can graduate even faster.

Click here to learn more.

And whatever you decide, PLEASE stop thinking about college like a drunk stumbling in the street 😉


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