Alumni Advice for Religion Majors

In a 2015 survey, we asked religion alumni in the classes of 1990 and after to offer advice to current religion majors.

Here are all their answers, complete with conflicting opinions!

 

Note to current students and recent alumni:

Some of these alumni are willing to be contacted, so if a particular comment and/or  professional affiliation attracts your attention, contact Prof. Morrison to see if she can put you in touch.

“To choose religious studies is equivalent to choosing a path of learning that never really ends with graduation. While you can say this for many majors, I do think that this is most true for this particular major. I think the value of this major is that it can enhance your understanding of human nature in a profound way. That being said, it is important that you understand clearly what you want out of this major. If it is purely interest that drives you to pursue this major, I would continue to refine your narrative around the 'why': What exactly pulls you to study religion, at this particular moment in time in your life. Understanding this will be most helpful not only for your time at Middlebury as a Religion major, but perhaps this will help you think about the next steps after graduating.” (Non-profit consulting ‘98)

“I can't emphasize enough how much the major has helped me think clearly and rationally. When you get to the point in your career when you have to start making decisions, I think the major has helped me a lot and has informed a lot of my understanding and decisions.” (Investment fund founder ‘02)

“Study abroad. Do summer internships. Find a mentor. Those tangible life experiences provide great balance to the overall liberal arts experience.” (Small business owner ‘09)

“Don't stress about your future; while at Middlebury, take advantage of all of the supportive and knowledgeable people around you and build relationships. If the Religion Department feels like the right fit, it probably is.” (Medical school ‘13)

“When people are critical of what you're studying and don't understand how it's applicable to real life, remind them of the huge role religion plays in our world today and that understanding religion is imperative to understanding the world.” (MTS student ‘13)

“If possible, test out what you want to do with either internships or focused volunteer work before you graduate. The clearer your confidence of what your strengths are and what you want to do, the quicker you'll get there.” (Non-profit ‘10)

“My best advice would be to keep an open mind about the different careers to which you can apply your religion background, and to explore different kinds of classes and work opportunities during your years at Midd and the summers in between.” (Peace Corps/TESOL teacher ‘13)

“Minor in a science. :-) ” (Small business owner ‘91)

“A liberal arts degree is as useful as you decide it will be. That said, looking back I wish I had minored in something purely quantitative...though I would not want to exchange either of my actual minors (Spanish, history).” (Small start-up ‘12)

“Do not be afraid to be a religion major because it is not ‘practical.’ What you learn in your classes will translate to so many jobs. Writing is a very important skill.” (Lawyer ‘09)

“Religion, like Philosophy and Classics, is a degree that focuses on Critical Thinking and research skills; a set of skills which lasts a lifetime.” (Small business ‘07)

“I would advise religion majors to combine their studies with another major in the social sciences so that they can better understand how religion shapes different areas of our lives, or the larger world. For the job market, this may help the employer understand the student's breadth of knowledge and how they've applied these studies (sometimes I have to go out of my way to explain my major).” (University study abroad advisor ’07.5)

“I suppose my overall regret is that I didn't know how to define my goals when I was in college, and the earlier you begin to try to define professional-related goals -- first by identifying what brings you the most energy / inspiration -- the more you'll be able to set yourself up for next steps. I would also say: in the pursuit of your goals and dreams, there's plenty of rejection to be had. Don't give up. Keep applying for things, keep refining your ideas. I have only begun to learn this resilience now, and the sooner you can put your ego aside, the more opportunities you'll find.” (Teacher and writer ’03.5)

“I would only say that it's really hard to know in College what field people will want to spend their careers in. Some people prioritize picking something practical that will have a clear career path, but I don't think people need to stress about choosing a major that they know will lead them to their future careers. If you're smart, motivated, and you can communicate, you'll do fine no matter what your major was, and employers will recognize the value you can add. Study what interests you in College, worry about the rest later.” (Environmental business ‘03)

“Study what you are interested in and passionate about and enjoy learning more about.” (Lawyer ’96)

“I was a double major in Psychology and Religion. In the Religion department I prioritized taking classes that were interesting, challenging and with professors from whom I knew I had much to learn. In seeking a career path, I would encourage future religion majors and minors to think about that which they are passionate and pursue a career that speaks in some way to one of those passions. I would also say that there is no "perfect career path." There are many many bumps in the road and it's important to treat those as learning experiences.” (School operations ‘08)

“Study what you love and what interests you most. Jobs will follow.” (Teacher ‘90)

 “If you're thinking about graduate school, take some time off first. Not only is it a healthy break from classes and studying, it broadens your professional perspective and gives you time to make sure that grad school is really the right next step.” (Ph.D. student in religious studies ‘09)

“Keep asking questions. More and more questions.” (English professor ‘98)

“Do what you love. When I first graduated, I was intent on being an academic in a university setting. I wouldn't have loved that though, as I do early childhood education. Your study of religion will add great depth and understanding to whatever career path you choose.” (Teacher ‘08)

“Try new things and don't be afraid of taking risks. Pursue a career upon which religion majors might not stereotypically embark. Sure you'll get some weird looks along the way when people look at your resume, but once you're in the interview, you'll be sure to impress with your thoughtful and thorough responses.” (Data analysis ’03.5)

“Do what you love to do and you will be successful.” (Lawyer ‘93)

“I loved learning about people, places, and history through studying religion. It is always a way you can connect to people in your future work (even if your future work is seemingly unrelated to your religious studies!).” (Nurse/midwife ‘06)

“You might as well study religion because it is the basis for many people's actions and choices worldwide. It is a good way to come out of a liberal arts college with a worldly view point.”  (Physician ‘04)

“Focus completely on a project at hand. The ability to get to a deep level of focus and dedication for a project or task is a more employable skill than anything you learn at a trade school.” (Market research ‘10)

“Let your religion major inspire you to be open-minded: in job searches, in relationships. The major is not limited, and you can tailor your experiences to any job.” (Marketing/PR ‘06)

“Studying religion really just allows you to look at the world through many different perspectives. Shifting your perspective outside the status quo or your inherited world view, even slightly, is a skill that translates to all kinds of fields.” (Ph.D. student in religious studies ‘06)

“Be patient -- it can be tricky finding first jobs and figuring out what you want to do, but the "soft" skills we develop as religion majors are valuable.”  (Business ’11.5)

“Reflect on those aspects of your studies that you enjoy most and explore careers that reward the same skill sets. Be proactive in interviews about explaining not only how your religious studies were personally satisfying but also how they honed your analytic abilities and facility with abstract ideas. Be cognizant that many will have preconceived ideas of what you studied based on their own faith.” (Lawyer ‘98)

“I thought that my background in political science would be the more useful when I applied for a job as a paralegal. As it turned out, my religion major was the one that we talked about the most in my interview. The reading, analyzing, small group discussions, and writing that we did in religion courses are widely-applicable to many careers. And in reviewing stacks of resumes, often it's the more uncommon majors and minors that catch my eye - religion among them. I guess then that my advice is to know that your religion major/minor can be a great selling point on your resume, whatever you want to do next.” (Lawyer ‘09)

“Read ‘What Color is Your Parachute.’” (Teacher ‘11)

“Have an open mind.” (Non-profit ‘05)

“Follow your passions and - a liberal arts education and major in religion is invaluable- especially in this day and age. So many classmates are finding fulfillment in their career paths- be they connected to the field of religion or not, but I would imagine that none regrets the choice of study. Practical it is not- nor should it be- I agree that a Liberal arts education trains you for nothing but prepares you for everything!” (Stay-at-home parent/teacher ‘95)

“I don't consider myself as having done anything striking or notable in terms of my career. I worked in a small Faith Formation program at a church after college and now teach in a small private day school. That said, career has never been a focus in my life (I don't say this as essentially positive or negative, I just have different goals and values. Career ranks somewhat low on my list of values). However, I have found myself participating in various successful enterprises in relationship to my education in Religion. I volunteer running a successful interfaith program at my church called the 30 Hour Famine (a program run by World Vision). Each year, close to 200 young people from a variety of faith backgrounds gather to fast from food for 30 hours, raise money to fight hunger both globally and locally, and learn about social justice. Last year my program raised $49,000 and consistently ranks in the top performing programs in the world. This alone would be a point of pride for me, but because of our program's success, I was flown to World Vision's headquarters this past Fall to discuss our program, meet with the President of World Vision, and run their weekly interfaith service in front of 500+ people which was streamed to every World Vision program in the world. Part of my time there was centered around a discussion of how the predominantly Protestant World Vision might reach out to and include members of other faiths, especially Catholics, in their social justice programs (we have a particularly larger variety of faiths represented in our program than other churches). My education at Middlebury allowed me sensitivity towards religious truths, how they are expressed in language, and insights into how WV might be more ecumenical in the presentation of their materials and programs. Hopefully this results in increased dialogue in World Vision's programs. This was a proud moment for me, and might indeed result in career growth, but that was not my intent in going.” (Teacher ‘11)

“Skills gained in religious studies of critical thinking, clear writing, close reading, and cultural awareness are all marketable to a variety of professions.” (Religious Studies professor ‘03)

“It's almost impossible to imagine a professional path from a religion major. But know that opportunities will fall in your lap. And maybe these will lead to many paths. Explore and question and take things as they come.” (Peace Corps/community health ’11.5)

“Know that it may not be easy or desirable or even possible to connect your studies to future career endeavors, if that's a concern.” (K12 professional development ‘03)

“Emphasize the skills you learned through the degree when applying for jobs outside the field.” (Non-profit ‘07)

“If you are interested in a professional life that includes religion studies, seek out opportunities where religion is tangential to the primary focus; such opportunities are many, while professions at the core of religious studies are few.” (Lawyer ‘95)

“I took religion to learn about people whose backgrounds differ from my own. I can't think of a more important thing to understand about other people.” (Physician ‘93)

“The study of religion is in part a study of human nature, the human experience, and human character. These are immediately applicable to potential employers: understanding what motivates people, how to find common ground, how to turn thought in the action.” (Non-profit development officer ‘00)

“Being a religion major is such a gift and the perfect course of study for a liberal education. The grounding in writing, politics, spirituality, etc. really helps develop a global view that can be beneficial in any field. It is not a limitation in the working world. In the short term, it can feel that way, but taking the long view reveals the opposite.” (Marketing/communications ‘01)

“Before you go into interviews, make sure you are able to articulate how skills you learned during your time at Middlebury translate into the skills needed for the job you are seeking.” (MBA student ‘10)

“Don't think too hard about it. Focus more on getting the most you can out of your studies in the moment, without thinking too much about how it will lead to a career. The best thing you can do is find a topic that interests you and do as well as you can studying it. I managed to find success so far in a career that's pretty different from religious studies, and I didn't feel I was held back by pursuing that initial interest in college. Performing well in something that you find compelling will show through as potential employers or graduate school professors look at your Middlebury education.” (Urban planner ‘06)

“It's social science so critical thinking and understanding the human dynamic is useful always. I've had a very meandering ‘career’ the past ten years. I've never thought I've had a career until this question was asked. Rather, I've looked for things that need to be solved to ease pain, make the world better and have back the skills needed to effect change. Reflection, thought, about this process has been informed by my major. And learning how to synthesize - connect disparate dots - is the new skill of the 21st century. Comparative religion, merging right and left brain thinking, I feel like I got from Middlebury as a religion major very well. But in my experience I had to create. There weren't job opportunities for me readily available that read ‘change the world’. That is something you need to chart and listen to carefully to know what you need to do next. Also divinity school - it's great but you don't have to go! There are other ways to make an impact!” (Global health non-profit ‘02)

“Ha! Have a double major in something more technical...I don't regret my Middlebury path, but I find that many employers want really specific skills and experience (basically want you to have done the exact job before), so my religion degree doesn't mean much to them. If you choose this path and want to do anything other than teach religion, you'll have to gather skills through internships, travel, volunteering, and early jobs that build towards a possible career. The degree is a foundation, but it doesn't stand alone.” (Still figuring it out ‘05)

“I haven't had much luck opening doors for careers with my religion major. With a religion major, you don't fit the mold. People don't seem to know what to think. I think that if you are a religion major because you are curious about the complexity of people and of life, you likely become a stronger person and this is what helped me enter into career opportunities (interviews, networking situations) with integrity and curiosity. As a result I have never had much difficulty finding work... even sometimes in the most unlikely places. Employers can often read character in candidates and this, I believe, is a more important feature than a conventional major.” (Studying counseling psychology ‘02)

“Seek to combine an interest in religion with other skills/disciplines. Employers are looking for individuals with diverse skill sets who can operate across disciplinary boundaries. Whether one's preferred emphasis is politics, law or education a firm understanding of religions in society will make one better at whatever they are doing. If religion is one's primary interest, developing managerial, quantitative/qualitative skills, or an understanding of environmental issues will allow one to be a more effective leader within their faith community.” (Sociology professor ‘93)

“A religion major will actually be invaluable in whatever it is that you do!” (Physician ‘01)

“I'm not sure that I could give general career advice to Religion majors and minors from Middlebury, but I could offer reflections on my own experience. My interest in Religion (and my interest in History) tends towards extreme ideologies that grow out of both theological and secular ideas. I use my interest in and knowledge of such ideas to assist me -- as a film researcher -- in finding appropriate footage to use in documentaries (this has been the case especially since 9/11.) As the film research industry has had a sharp falling-off in available positions over the past 10 years or so (as more and more footage is being made available on the Internet and people can perform the research themselves), I have been lucky to keep a toehold in that industry. Were I to somehow have my same interests and experiences as a 44-year-old but be a 20-something graduating with a Religion major from Midd, I would probably go to grad school, get degrees in Political Science and Criminology (?), and try to get a position in academia, a non-profit, or the U.S. government studying or monitoring extremist groups.” (Stay-at-home dad/film research ‘93)

“Lots of people (my husband the engineering professor included) think religion is a useless major. I think that's BS. My senior thesis about a 12th century monk may not have had a lot of real world applications, but the process of creating that thesis was one that can be applied across a vast array of fields. Also, I think you mostly learn your job skills as you work so the subject of your undergrad major may end up being less relevant than you might expect. A lot of my law school experience has been essentially useless to me since I started practicing law, but the general skills I acquired as an undergrad religion major have been unfailingly relevant and helpful. I also think that there is inherent value in being a person with wide ranging interests and a non-standard background.” (Lawyer ‘06)

“It's a valuable major, always interesting to discuss in an interview.” (Higher education development/fundraising ‘10)

“Don’t assume you know what you want to do in life. Study what you find interesting and figure out what to do with it later. I never had an answer for what I would do with a degree in Religion, but that is what made it rewarding. My decision to pursue religion was about discovering something interesting, and building on it. I would finish a class on Second Temple Judaism and follow it up with a class on the early Christian church, in the hopes of gaining a deeper understanding, not because I thought it would get me somewhere, but because I just wanted to know. Be passionate about what you find interesting, it will lead to weird and interesting places.” (Small business owner ’06.5)

"Secular legal systems and religions are social contracts. Studying the Bible was practice for being an attorney as they involve many of the same skills. The attorney who hired me spent six years in seminary, and used to tell me that he knew I had the skills and the aptitude for the job based on my major and my answer to a similar question he asked during the interview."  (Lawyer ‘01)

“Have another major or be planning to go to graduate school because there are not a lot of obvious jobs for those with degrees in religion.” (Dancer/teacher ‘12)

“Study what truly motivates you and take full advantage of Middlebury's professors and resources. Do not worry about how this will apply to "real life" because what you are learning is more about approaches and processes and can always serve you in the future.” (Executive trainer and int’l business advisor ‘90)

“I think Religion or History or English or any liberal arts major provides an excellent foundation for any future career.” (Higher education development officer ‘97)

Department of Religion

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