How do you choose a college major? Based on my own experiences and the job search experiences of several women I know, picking a major based on the classes you like isn’t a good method. And you have a good chance of ending up un- or under-employed. Unfortunately, this method of picking your major based on favorite classes is most likely to be recommended to good students, the kids who have worked the hardest. And, unfortunately, because girls are more likely to be model students, this probably happens to a greater number of women than men.
Colleges and universities should do a better job educating the students about what kinds of majors lead to which jobs.I ran across that advice as way to compare colleges (not majors) but unfortunately I can’t remember where. But you can also use it to compare majors.
The easiest way would be if college and universities would publish exactly what kind of job opportunities were offered to their recent graduates. Unfortunately, this often isn’t tracked. It’s starting to become more common, but you’re probably going to have to dig for the information.
At presentations for specific majors, you might see a slide with logos of some recognizable companies, but you won’t know if that represents job offers to one or twenty graduates. And you won’t know if it was in the last year or the last decade. You’re probably going to have to get the information directly from the career office itself, which is often designated for current students. In my experience, it took making an appointment with a career office.
Several years after I graduated, I found myself wondering just how hard I had tried to find a job before going to graduate school. Then I talked with a friend who went through a similar experience and remembered some of the steps I attempted, and came across notes and letters I wrote during my search.
But the most telling data was the current numbers I was able to get from my university.
Last year, the university had an overall “placement rate” of 85%, meaning that at graduation 85% either had a job or knew where they were going to go to graduate school. The 85% was the sum of 70% job placement and 15% graduate school.
For those who graduated in chemistry, however, the numbers were a bit different.
Chemistry majors had an overall placement rate of 68%, the sum of 56% going to graduate school and 12% employment.
That means that a very few students, maybe 1-3 with a department that size, were able to get a job, and the jobs may have been low pay lab technician jobs. The fact is there are only a limited number of jobs available for science and math professors, and very few other jobs those degrees train you for. But maybe the colleges and their departments are afraid to admit the actual results even to themselves.
If I were picking my major again, based on my husband’s experience as an engineer, here are some things I would try to find out.
- What are the graduates from this school, with this major, doing after graduation this year and last year, and possibly the previous five years? Did they get a job? Are they going to graduate school? And specifically where are they employed or in school? If no one you talk to can answer those questions for most of the students (not just one or two examples), then at the very least the students aren’t getting any help at the university or college in lining up their next steps.
- What do students in those majors do during their summers? Are alternate co-op semesters possible? Because I would heavily favor departments who set up co-ops or in the very least were actively helping their students find summer internships.
I place a big emphasis on what the department is doing for the students, because that’s one of the reasons you’re going to college, to make connections.
What about you? Was it easy to find a job in your major with your degree?
UPDATE: To get you started, the webpage for the Center for On-line Education has some excellent information for several majors such as salary ranges and unemployment rates for several areas of study. Click on different programs to get more detail, including multiple job descriptions for each degrees, salary ranges, and salaries for specific positions.
Articles in this series, How to choose a college major
- You’re majoring in what? – How to choose a college major Part 1 Your college major is what? It’s not just English majors. Did you know you can’t get a decent job with a chemistry degree? A biology degree? A math degree?
- College Majors – How to choose a college major Part 2 Is a STEM degree in science a good choice for a college major? What jobs can you get if your college major is in science?
- Employment Numbers – How to choose a college major Part 3 How do you choose a college major? Questions for college career centers. The numbers for STEM science college degrees might surprise you.