Major Choices

Statistics show that two-thirds of college seniors graduated with student loans in 2010, carrying an average of $25,250 in debt. In addition, due to The Great Recession and its aftereffects, these same students now face a 9.1% unemployment rate, the highest in recent history. With all this in mind, it is glaringly obvious that students must think through all of the options of their major, and decide whether the degree they are working toward will be profitable in a tough economy.

Some careers, such as one in Human Resources or Nursing, will always be recession proof. After all, businesses will always need HR services and nurses will always be in demand. But what if you want to study art or creative writing? What if you are of a more scholastic bent and you want to delve into philosophy or history? Is it feasible to go into a career, such as teaching, that you know will be low-paying?

When faced with these questions, students must take an honest assessment of what their long-term goals are. What do you envision yourself doing for the long haul? Will your chosen profession be sufficient, or will you have to have a part-time job (or two) to make ends meet? This is where the threshing process begins in terms of choosing an appropriate major and minor in college.

While many view the current economy and job market as the proverbial death knell of Liberal Arts degrees, others argue that a liberal arts education “teaches students how to be creative, critical thinkers, gives them a broad base of historical knowledge to rely upon when solving problems and […] equips them with the told to continue assimilating new knowledge throughout the courses of their lives.”

Michael Crow, a science policy analyst and president of Arizona State University, wrote in a recent article, “The objective of public universities should not be to produce predetermined numbers of particular types of majors but, rather, to focus on how to produce individuals who are capable of learning anything over the course of their lifetimes. Every college student should acquire literacy in science and technology as well as the humanities and social sciences.”

So what to do if a liberal arts is in your future? If it is your intention to pursue a degree in the arts, such as art, drama, or creative writing (among others), then it may behoove you to major in marketing or business, and minor in your chosen field. This way, you will be prepared to market yourself when you are out of school. Additionally, you will have a back-up career that you can fall back into, for the times when living off of love and art doesn’t suffice.

If your studies are taking a more scholastic route, then be prepared to go straight into graduate school.  While it is possible to get a job at a university, museum, or what have you, it is becoming increasingly common for such careers to demand a minimum of a Master’s degree for consideration. Remember: the bleak job market has made it easy for employers to be choosy and only hire the best of the best, so be sure to stay in contention with your peers.

Finally, consider the seemingly no-win situation of choosing a career with a record of low pay, such as teaching or social work. Obviously, society will always need these professions, and it is unlikely that the pay will ever change substantially, so the best advice to these students is to become as qualified for your position as you can be, in order to ensure job security and advancement within your field. Whether this means getting additional certifications, or going for your Master’s, the key is to stay ahead of the curve at all times.

Many students have opted to ride out the recent economic storm by entering college, seeing this as a surefire way of gaining some sort of stability in their lives. And regardless of worries of a wasted college degree, the reality is that education is never a waste, and will always benefit you in some way. However, with a little planning and forethought, you can be sure to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak, as you enter the professional world.

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