The best application of Universal Japanese.

Kayla Zimmerman remembers freshman year of college as the year of all work and no play. The Ohio native was taking a full plate of biology and pre-med courses at New York University, with her mind set on a very stable career course as a heart surgeon. But halfway through her sophomore year, Zimmerman changed her major to something much less traditional: anthropology and Irish studies. And now, on the brink of graduating with this unusual major, Zimmerman’s path forward is much less clear than it was three years ago.

Life after graduation is becoming more and more daunting for members of Gen Y, whose entrance to the workforce means inheriting a tight job market and a flagging economy. These emerging adults are encouraged to carve out as big a space as possible in their desired career whilst still in school, by way of interning and networking, to ease the transition into the real world. But what about students who are graduating with degrees so obscure or specific that they have even more limited options than someone with, say, an English degree, that stereotypical “what are you doing with your life” pursuit? Has studying based on pure interest rather than applicability really just left members of Gen Y with nowhere to turn?

Zimmerman, like many members of Gen Y, thinks that it is far better to pursue a major for passion than simply for the sake of a career path. “Before applying for school my dream was to be a heart surgeon,” the 21-year-old says. “But it got to the point where I realized that I liked the idea of being a doctor, but not actually being one.” She decided on anthropology out of a broad, general interest, and on Irish out of a random class selection that led to a deep connection with the material. She even joined an Irish folk singing group to help improve her pronunciation.

What did Zimmerman’s parents think of her switch from syringes to sláinte? “Being a doctor was a family dream, so my mom was a little down. But she got over it pretty fast. My parents don’t really have a say in my education, but they were happy if I was happy.” But despite how happy she has been over the past several years, Zimmerman is quick to admit that she does not have a set plan for after graduation, though she is currently thinking of going into some kind of forensics. She has never held an internship related to her major, opting instead to tutor at America Reads.

Jack*, a representative for popular intern-matching site Barefoot Student, says that this is less than ideal. “The best internship, regardless of major, is one that fits into your long term career goals,” he says. “Even if you do have an offbeat major you still want to keep one eye on a future job.” Zimmerman, for example, could try her hand at a travel agency, museum or PR firm; Jack points out a recent listing on Barefoot Student for an internship with Irish Voice newspaper, promoting the brand and managing their research databases. Internships like this are useful in that they relate to a specific set of interests but still incorporate more general and transferrable job skills.

But sometimes grads who have managed to find internships like this are still unlucky in finding a similar crossbreed as a career. Caroline Cohen, a Pennsylvania native who is preparing to graduate from York College of Pennsylvania, is entering the real world armed with a degree in Universal Japanese. “It’s a very well-rounded study of one particular thing,” Cohen says of her major. “I studied history, business, literature, math, everything, but as it pertains to Japan and Japanese culture.” Cohen has held two jobs this past year: one as a paid receptionist at a Japanese hair salon, and one as an unpaid analysis assistant at a business firm. Neither have offered her full-time hours after graduation.

“I sort of knew that I was going to learn extra things that I wasn’t going to be able to apply to a job,” Cohen says. “There aren’t any jobs that encompass everything that I want to do. But no one really has that. I’m just happy I got to study things I was interested in while still picking up skills I can apply to careers.” Cohen plans to return home in January and resume her part-time job as a caterer while she looks for work.

Lindsey Pollak, global spokesperson for career-connector site LinkedIn and author of Getting From College To Career, says that relevant internships and work can be found for even the most obscure majors if one only knows where to look. She advises taking steps as simple as web searching “email” or “newsletter” combined with a certain industry, or setting up a news alert using keywords common to a certain industry, in order to keep up with the industry news and any openings. The wait for something relevant to land in your inbox will be worth it if they lead to a job that is great instead of good.

And a wait there will be, according to a November interactive article by the Wall Street Journal.  The article allows users to search for a broad range of majors and informs them of the unemployment rate and potential earnings for those graduating with them. Intercultural and International Studies, the closest approximation to Zimmerman’s and Cohen’s majors, yields a 6.6% unemployment rate. Archaeology is a 6.9%. Linguistics is a 10.2%. And liberal arts, a canopy term for many different majors, has an unemployment rate of 7.6%. Medical professions, on the other hand, yields a 3% unemployment rate.

But despite sometimes-bleak statistics and uncorrelated internships, there are Gen Y-ers who are making their passions into careers. For Allison Schieler, a 21-year-old who graduated last year with a dance degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, it doesn’t matter that her major has only taught her one marketable skill. Dancing is all she wants to do, and she is committed to making it work. For financial stability, she teaches numerous styles of dance and acrobatics at a local dance studio, and she’s also been commissioned to create a new piece for LaGuardia Performing Arts High School. The rest of her time is spent auditioning and performing throughout the city. Schieler says that much of her guidance in where to go after graduation came from her instructors at Tisch, many of whom had faced the same decision at one point or another. She says she is glad she felt comfortable going to them when life felt overwhelming, and she now feels comfortable dreaming of and working toward joining Cirque du Soleil as a dancer, contortionist, or acrobat. “For a recent graduate, I am definitely doing well,” she says, “but there is so much more I hope to achieve!”

And Emily Wallace, a junior at Goucher College in Maryland with the ambiguous major “homeostasis and equilibrium,” has started carving her niche early, aware of how difficult using her major could be after graduation. “I don’t want to end up just working in retail,” the 19-year-old Colorado native says. “I want to go into alternative medicine. I’ve been teaching yoga classes and studying acupuncture. I’m going to try really hard to make something work.”

All but gone are the days of core-class majors with set career paths, as colleges offer an ever-expanding list of majors to Gen Y-ers with a real passion to pursue them. Some students, like Zimmerman and Cohen, acknowledge that the classes they took out of interest will likely not figure into their ultimate career paths. Others, like Schieler and Wallace, are following their majors through to careers, no matter how niche. But one thing that they all have in common is that no one sees their college years as time wasted simply because of an unusual choice in major.

*did not wish to use last name