When you’re spending thousands of dollars per year on a college education, the last thing you want is to feel like you’re wasting your money on the wrong degree. But how do you know whether you’re headed in the right direction? Better still, how can you avoid choosing a major that won’t offer solid career options upon graduation?
A Look at Current and Future Trends
Generally speaking, there has been a flight from general liberal arts degrees in favor of functional degrees. Whereas a liberal arts degree offers limited career choices, graduates of a computer, science or STEM-related degree tend to have more satisfactory career options with better pay.
Roughly one-third to one-half of the college courses you take will be specialized for your major, according to the College Board. So you want to make sure you’re not wasting your time!
Make every course count by having a strategy. Your major can prepare you for a specific trade or career, for an advanced degree or for a wide range of career options. Rather than choosing liberal arts just because you don’t know what career you want, start taking steps to narrow your choices.
A good place to start exploring potential careers is O*Net online (www.onetonline.org), a free interactive application from the U.S. Labor Department. The database contains information on jobs, with detailed descriptions, skills and education required, regional prevailing wage and future job perspectives. It also offers self-assessment Career Exploration Tools for anyone looking to find or change careers.
Choosing a Profession
Despite the improving U.S. job market, many Americans are still struggling to find work. Do yourself a favor and avoid any career that’s considered a dying profession.
Be aware of any outside factors that could impact the job market, such as the overall economy, an oversaturated market with too many people possessing similar job skills, and environment issues.
For instance, one Kiplinger article names tile setting as one of the worst jobs you could pursue, suggesting instead a career solar photovoltaic (solar panel) installation. The growing use of vinyl and rubber flooring, along with an increased interest in green technology, spell opportunity for skilled labor in these growing fields.
That Degree Is Important
The challenges will be particularly apparent for job seekers with limited education. The same Kiplinger’s article notes that jobs calling for only a high school education ranked among the worst jobs, while their picks for the best jobs require at least an associate’s degree.
Bottom line: The higher your degree, and the more specialized your training in a field with bright prospects for future earnings, the greater your opportunities.
What to Do Next
If you still don’t know what major to choose, go undeclared when you first enter college. Take your general education courses, and figure out what appeals to you. Consider a double major or a major-minor combination if more than one career path looks promising.
You can even create your own major if your college doesn’t have an exact fit for your needs. And remember, you can always change your major later, but doing so will incur additional costs and delay your time to graduation.
Selecting a major is a big step forward on your way to getting a job in the future. Take time to do your research so you can make a more informed decision. Your future self, and your wallet, will thank you.