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Choosing your College Major

College Graduate Unemployment Rates

College Graduate Unemployment Rates from AACU Study

As my children approach college age, the question of college major has come up more than once around the dinner table. Whereas, as a professor years ago, I would tell my students to major in something they really liked, my advice is getting more pragmatic. Yes, major in something you like, but make major in something that’s going to get you a job.

Probably one of the scariest things for my children to do would be to tell me she became an English major. It isn’t that I actually have anything against English majors. On the contrary, I find the English language fascinating; I use it every day. I just don’t know what an English major does besides, umm, English. To be fair, when I was in college, people said the same about Math majors.

I became a Mathematics major because I couldn’t figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. I was a Mechanical Engineering major and, after my first engineering class, it was clear that I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. I had an Environmental Science professor whom I really respected who mentioned one day that he had majored in Math in undergrad. I thought “If he majored in Math and he’s doing this, I can major in math and figure out what I really want to do when I get to graduate school.” Yes, I went on to study Applied Mathematics in graduate school because I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. Of course, it helped that I really enjoyed math and by then I knew I could get a job.

So, my advice to students is still to major in something you enjoy. However, the additional advice is to realize that some majors have a rougher path to gainful employment. If you’re choosing a Liberal Arts major, without a clear career path, you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself not doing what you love after college. (Based on the results of a recent report from Association of American Colleges and Universities,
I’ll add Professional or Preprofessional fields to that list of majors as well.)