A college education may be on your agenda, but with the experts divided on whether all majors are created equal, how should you choose?
With unemployment high and financial security low, students are increasingly worried about their professional lives before they’ve even started their first college classes. Mindful of what has been described as the worst job market in 25 years, on top of an average student loan debt of $30,000 or more, many students feel pressure to select a major that they believe will land them a stable career and pay back that debt as soon as possible. Students with degrees in fields such as health care, nursing, accounting, engineering, science, computer science and economics report lower rates of unemployment while those with degrees in finance, journalism, and graphic design have had a tougher road to travel. Yet, career experts still say that students should major in whatever area most interests them, even if it’s a less specialized field such as English or sociology. Students who don’t delve into subjects they’re most passionate about ultimately hurt their chances of a successful, and satisfying, career in the long run.
“It’s a delicate balancing act,” explains career advisor Carol Porter. “You have to measure your interests, skills, abilities and personality, while still considering the job market. Engineering is a great major and career path, but you may not even make it to the degree, let alone do well in the career if you greatly struggle with advanced math. On the other hand, if your interests lead to a more obscure major, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful, but you have to understand what type of fields may be receptive to the skillset that degree offers. Still, the market can change very quickly and a ‘hot’ major today may not be so hot tomorrow, which is why it’s important to be able to be good and happy in your field.”
“What you make depends a lot on what you take,” says Anthony Carnevale, Ph.D, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “Most young people in college can take whatever interests them, without thinking what it can really do for them.”
So how should you make the right decision?
While thinking about potential majors isn’t out of line, most experts agree that students should give themselves time. Try a diverse set of classes in the first year or two of school to see what really appeals to you.
“I declared a major freshman year, but ended up switching after I realized I had absolutely no interest in the upper level major classes I would need to take,” said recent college grad Justin Walls. “I figured that was a bad sign. Unfortunately because I declared so early and mixed in so many major requirements with my general classes, it cost me an extra semester. I should have waited.
But don’t wait too long
College officials tend to agree that students should wait before they make a decision that has the potential to affect the rest of their scholastic and professional lives, they shouldn’t wait too long. College is expensive and wasting too much time could lead to even more expenses and costs.
Research and Ask
If you see a job you think you’d like to do, find a person who does it and ask what type of education and skills they needed to get there. Also as you visit colleges, or even ager you select one, ask questions about individual majors, visit the career development department, look at the class list in the course catalog and learn as much as you can about different majors before you commit.
Make Sure You’re Passionate
After researching various fields of study, it’s likely that one will stand out as especially appealing. Experts say follow that path even if you’re unsure where it might lead.
“Internships, jobs, networking, the ability to market a degree and how you prepare can sometimes be more important than any particular field of study,” said recruiter Evan Edwards. “It’s not always just the major, especially as you get further into your career and get more experience.”
Consider STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, & Math)
“What society rewards in economic terms has moved away from the softer majors,” said Carnevale. “It’s become about how much math you do.”
Be Aware of the Exceptions to the Rules
Fields such as engineering, medicine, physical therapy, and nursing demand that workers possess a specific skillset which often means these majors and fields of study must be jumped into immediately and carefully planned from day one.