Interests, Not Jobs, Key in Choosing College Major

Chicago Tribune
August 12, 2010

By Carolyn Bigda

A college major doesn’t always determine a career.

But in a tight job market, it may be tempting to pick a course of study that gives you a better chance of landing a job after graduation.

“Parents have always been concerned about the marketplace for their kids’ college degrees,” said Steven Roy Goodman, a college admissions adviser. “Now, even students are feeling that way.”

Still, Goodman and other career advisers caution against selecting a major based on the current economy.

“You have to acknowledge these pressures,” said Joseph Testani, associate director of the career development center at University of Richmond in Virginia, “but also remember that your first job out of college is not your last.”

Following the market

A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that students who majored in accounting, business administration, computer science, engineering and math were the most likely to get job offers after graduation.

Emily Mosquera, 23, received a master’s degree in accounting from University of Mississippi in May.

“I know so many friends that graduated last year and are still looking for jobs. But pretty much all the people in my class were handed a job, more or less,” she said.

Mosquera, however, points out that she has always liked math better than writing, so enrolling in the business school, and later focusing on accounting, was a natural fit.

Study things you like

What if you don’t particularly like accounting? Or you’re stronger at writing than math? Career advisers warn that picking a college major solely for its job prospects can backfire.

“If you’re not good at it, you’re not going to do well academically,” said Christine Richardson, director of career services at Cazenovia College in upstate New York.

The better option, Richardson said, is to study what interests you.

“Pay attention to the courses you particularly like. What do you like to learn about?” she said.

Blending the two

Granted, getting a job, any job, with, say, a medieval studies degree could prove challenging today.

The solution is to brainstorm early on how to apply your degree. Start by visiting the career services center at your university.

“One of the things we do is direct students to alumni in the field or alumni who had the same major but now work in another industry,” said Mike Caldwell, associate director of internships and employment counseling at Grinnell College in Iowa.

As Caldwell points out, you will have many skills, from analytical to writing abilities, that employers from across industries want.

The key is to think ahead about which jobs would also let you capitalize on your interests. And the earlier you start, the more opportunities you’ll have to build practical experience through an internship or part-time job.

Keep a long-term perspective and remind parents to do the same. Given that college tuition, room and board now runs as much as $50,000 per year, parents may put pressure on college-bound children to pursue degrees in industries with good job growth.

But that kind of thinking can be risky, said Goodman, the college admissions adviser.

“Kids do better when they like what they do,” he said. “No economy lasts forever.”

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