Brooks, K. (2010). You majored in what?: Designing your path from college to career. New York, NY: Penguin Random House

Review by Allison Ramsing, Washington State University Vancouver, [email protected]

All advisors been asked by their advisees various versions of “the question, what do I do with this degree?” when discussing the majors, they advise for (Brooks, 2010, p.3). However, “the problem behind the question is that it can assume a linear path between major and career.” (Brooks, 2010, p. 2). For example in a linear path, business majors go on to work in business, engineering majors go on to be engineers, education majors go on to be teachers, etc. In today’s economy, many students deviate from the traditional paths pursued with their chosen major. In the book, You majored in what?: Designing your path from college to career written by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., helps students explore multiple alternatives to the linear path between major and career, all based on chaos theory.

Chaos theory, “is based on mathematical formulas originally designed to develop a better weather-prediction model” (Brooks, 2010, p.9). Even though weather forecasters predict the weather it can still change, just like students can pick a major and alter their future major/career plans. With intentional research and planning (part of chaos theory) students can begin to get an idea of how their major and career trajectory will begin to take shape throughout their life.  Because, “chaos theory tells you that even though your goal may seem etched in stone, as you move toward it, you will learn new information and it may change” (Brooks, 2010, p.183).  

You Majored in What? goes into detail about the five basic tenets of chaos theory and how they are applied to one’s career through wise wanderings. These basic tents are: 1. Assess what you know, cannot know, and can learn; 2. Decisions complex: don’t base them on one single fact; 3. Change is constant. Allow for the butterfly effect; 4. Situations may appear chaotic, but an order will appear, and; 5. Attractors will help to focus your attention. There is no simple answer with chaos theory, because everyone’s major and future career goals are different (Brooks, 2010).

Chaos theory gives the reader the opportunity to welcome the chaos into life. This theory when applied with wise wanderings can make the chaos of life well-organized and ordered. Wise wanderings give students the ability to take proactive, positive action towards their future major(s) and career(s). There are four tenets of wise wanderings, which are explored in four parts in this book: discover your strengths, develop your vision, design your path, and deliver your talents. These four tenets are based off of Appreciative Inquiry (Brooks, 2010).

Using chaos theory, wise wanderings, and the activities in the book with advisees, advisors can also use the NACADA core value of empowerment and the NACADA relational core competency, component six. This value and core competency is essential as for advisors to rely on as they meet with students daily. But especially, as they support a student through the chaos of one’s major and career decision making process. Advisors empower students to “recognize their potential, meet challenges, and respect individuality” (NACADA Core Values, 2017) and, “facilitate problem solving, decision-making, meaning making, planning, and goal setting” (NACADA Core Competencies, 2017).

In a linear path, often times, business majors are trying to guess which of the multiple business related positions, if any that they’ve applied to in this round, will hire them to do which of the many roles they’ve applied to. Students are also trying to guess if that major they pursue will give them the salary they desire so that they can afford, with budgeting, hopefully, the lifestyle they desire. In contrast, chaos theory explores the question, what do I do with this degree with a twist, “if you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?” (Brooks, 2010, 173). When students explore their future career with chaos theory one might major in fashion and go on to be an academic advisor, or drop out of college and go on to be a web developer and then a manager in information technology, etc.

Brooks includes multiple interactive exercises that are helpful to any advisor to help guide their advisee to think outside the box of the standard career path for each major. Because, one’s career and major plan can often shift due to numerous factors. Exercises in the book are based around on how to construct powerful stories, resumes, cover letters, how to wandering into new opportunities, and how to try out new ideas and be mindful in the chaos. The wandering map and major map exercise are central to nearly every exercise in the book. They both center around the question, “how do seemingly disparate parts of your life connect to and influence one another?” (Brooks, 2010, p.62). Creating a wandering map helps students explore events in their lives, jobs, classes, experiences, lessons learned, awards, hobbies, and more, can connect to the future (Brooks, 2010). Creating a major map helps students explore how the projects they completed, courses they took, internships, part-time jobs, and more, can connect to the future.

In conclusion, this book is one that that all advisors and college students should read. The activities in the book would be helpful to any advisor who is guiding their caseload through the major and career decision making process. College students should read this to keep an open mind toward their future career goals and to proactively explore their future major and career goals with a chaos theory mindset. With “chaos theory, greater knowledge leads to better predictions, so that the information you gather through your research and experiments will help you make better decisions about your future” (Brooks, 2010, p.143).


Brooks, K. (2010). You majored in what?: Designing your path from college to career. New York, NY: Penguin Random House

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. Retrieved from https://nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx

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