Saturday, June 16, 2012

REASON 5: You Don't Know What to Major In

Do you offer Leisure Studies?
Once upon a time, college was a place for self-exploration.  Society realized the futility of asking an eighteen-year old to decide on his or her life-long career, and the job market was forgiving if a graduate's major didn't quite match to a specific occupation.  

Unfortunately, times have changed.

Thanks to the rise of specialized majors, such as Human Resource Management and Information Technology, employers can and do expect job applicants to have a precise major that corresponds with the job they are applying for.  Positions that used to be filled by individuals with a general degree, or even no college education, are now being filled by candidates who have specific training for that field.  In today's competitive job market, many employers utilize resume-scanning software that automatically weeds out candidates who lack degrees in specific majors.

So what does this mean for the prospective college student?

The major that you choose when you go to college will dictate the rest of your life.  There are less opportunities for students to cross over into different fields after college, so you must choose wisely.  Many adults who have been laid off in today's economy have faced this harsh reality.  Just to find new jobs, "non-traditional" students are returning to school, spending thousands of dollars retraining themselves.

Yet choosing the right major from the start can be a difficult task.  If you expected college to be an enriching, intellectual experience, you might find that practicality makes studying the liberal arts or social sciences unappealing.  Due to the increasing hostility toward liberal arts, you'll practically be branded with a scarlet letter if you graduate with a liberal arts degree.  Odds are that the job you find with your liberal arts degree, as rewarding as it might be, could have easily been filled by someone without a college degree.

You're still not safe if you choose a degree in the sciences, business, or a specialized field.  Choosing a major based on the money you expect to earn, regardless of your aptitude or interest in the subject, guarantees that you will flunk your classes and/or drop out of school.  Changing your major will be a costly mistake that will set you back for at least one year.  At many universities, you will have to undergo a lengthy application process to switch to a major that is offered in another college, and there is no guarantee that you'll be accepted.

Also, younger students fail to realize that the job market changes.  Majors that paved the way to success in the past might not be as lucrative in the future.  Today there is a surplus of teachers and lawyers, careers that used to guarantee stable employment two decades ago.  Specialized degrees in technology might feature outdated curriculum.  A new innovation might wipe out your entire profession.

Students should especially be wary of "in-demand" majors.  Chances are that if a major promises a lucrative salary, millions of other students will flock to that major.  In as little as four years, there will be a flood of students with degrees in this in-demand field.  Since employers now have their pick of the litter, wages will go down, and jobs in these once "hot" fields will be harder to find.  

Remember, there is no such thing as a job that people will always be in need of.  In a world with a population of over 6 billion people, there are plenty of smart people capable of training for any occupation.  Many of the people you are up against are probably even virtuosos and have been luminaries in their field since pre-school.

So what can you do if you want to pick a major that will guarantee you a stable career?  This conundrum highlights the greatest shortcoming of college.  While colleges promise students occupational success, the mutability of today's job market makes it impossible to select a four-year course of study that will adequately prepare you for tomorrow's job market.  Even if you land a job right after graduation, there are no guarantees that you won't be pushed back to college to retrain (at your own expense).

When it comes to securing their future through higher education, students are out of luck.


  1. So depressing its a trap what other option do we have? Not going to school = no to low paying jobs unless you start a buisness and by chance it becomes succesful you're out of luck if it doesnt

  2. Well, you could travel to Somalia to become a pirate! Arrr!

  3. ten to one the person who started this blog either dropped out or wasted their time on an arts degree (they could have read/painted in their free time for four years). I studied econ at not even a good school and am raking it in.

  4. great article. As someone who graduated with a specialized degree, I often regret not choosing a more broader or general major. Now I am stuck in a specialized field I don't like.