How Important Is Your College Major?

Posted By Terri Williams on July 31, 2017 at 6:55 am
How Important Is Your College Major?

Increasingly, college is seen as the only path to a successful career. As a result, many students link their hopes and dreams to the attainment of a degree. Increasingly, though, students are finding that their choice of a college major exerts a major impact on their success after graduation.

GenFKD, a financial literacy organization, recently released a report that reveals many millennials are not enjoying the fruits of their academic labor. According to survey respondents:

  • One in five are unemployed or unable to find a full-time job.
  • Only 45% work in a position requiring a degree.
  • 40% said their college degree did not help them find work.

So, it’s probably no surprise that 34% do not think college was worth the investment. But is it possible that these students chose the “wrong” college major? According to a new survey by Course Hero, some college majors are more employable than others:

Grads with these majors were most likely to have a job lined up:

54% Architecture or planning
50% Engineering
48% Business or finance
48% Computer science


However, six months later, grads with these majors were still looking for a job:

29% English or literature
25% Communications
21% Arts
21% Social sciences
20% Political science


A full 36 percent of grads did not think their dream job was related to their college major. Percentages were higher among these majors:

47% History or political science
44% Criminal justice
44% Social sciences
43% Business or finance


Only 16 percent of students said they would choose the same major again, consistent with another report that found college students often second-guess their school and degree choices.

When some students are pursuing majors that don’t lead to gainful employment, while others (some of whom are majoring in in-demand fields) aren’t happy with their choice of major, what’s the solution?

College major choice: Passion versus paycheck?

The popularity of STEM and business majors has led many to pursue degrees in these disciplines, but Jennifer Lee Magas, MA, JD, clinical associate professor of public relations at Pace University, tells GoodCall®, “I’ve seen students miserable in classes they either dislike or struggle with because they feel pigeonholed into a certain major.”

Magas has spent more than 20 years helping students choose a college major, and she thinks making the decision based solely on job demand is a recipe for disaster. “Students who don’t base their choice of major on the job market may find that they’re struggling to get a job in that field, but the extra effort it takes is worth the outcome.”

She believes it’s important for students to pursue their passions. “As they say, choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life; while a bit contrived, the message is true.”

Magas admits it may take time for liberal arts majors to find a well-paying job – and be promoted to the position they want. “Eventually, you’ll have a career that you’ve worked hard for and that gives you satisfaction at the end of each day, and that is worth more than any ‘secure’ job you hate.”

However, she also stresses the importance of aligning a college major with your skillset. “If you’re no good at math, don’t go to school for actuarial science because you hear it has good pay and job security.” In the long run, she says it’s more important to choose a career that accentuates your strengths. “Having polished and excellent skills at something makes you invaluable – it just may take a little longer to get the job that requires those skills.”

Many college students and grads tend to underestimate the importance of developing the skills that employers so desperately need, but the skills gap is costing U.S. companies nearly $ 1 million annually.

Susan Brennan, associate vice president of university career services at Bentley University, tells GoodCall®, “The problem isn’t that students are choosing the wrong major – the issue is that students need to look beyond what major they choose and pair it with relevant experience and skills that will make them marketable and desired by companies.”

Brennan wholeheartedly recommends that students pursue their preferred major, but also advises them to get the competencies and credentials that will appeal to employers. “For example, go ahead and be a philosophy major, but expose yourself to experiences where you can obtain hard skills like coding or data analytics – this will make you a well-rounded candidate for a variety of different jobs.”

That’s smart advice, considering that half of all high-paying jobs require coding skills – even non-IT jobs.

Brennan explains that companies are looking for job candidates who can help them solve problems. A recent report reveals that less than half of college seniors feel “very prepared” for a career, but Brennan says this is because most companies want employees with relevant job experience, and recommends that students pursue internships and co-op opportunities to gain real-world knowledge and practice.

“At the end of the day it boils down to what meaningful and marketable experiences students can point to when applying for a job,” Brennan says. “If your major is the only thing listed on your resume, you’re not going to get the job.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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