Advice for Choosing a College Major

By: Mr. Wade

Statisticians will harp on the fact that historically, people who go to college earn significantly more over their lifetimes than those who do not attend. These statistics go back decades, but are they as true today as they were in 1970? That question is up for debate as many college graduates are burdened by debt, and total student loan debt passes one trillion dollars. Is a four year degree worth possibly decades of debt? Are all degrees equal? How can students today be smart about college, graduate, and succeed in life?

Earning Potential Varies Greatly Among Majors

If you're going to spend a lot of money going to college - especially if you're going into debt - it's a good idea to evaluate the future earning potential for the degree programs you're considering. To do this, you'll need to look at the skills you'll be gaining and the economic value of those skills.

General Knowledge vs. Specific Skills

To earn money, you need a marketable, niche skill in a particular industry. Getting an accounting degree will lead to a well paying job. Getting a computer science degree will lead to a high paying job. Getting an engineering degree will lead to a specific job that's important to a local economy. Teaching degrees lead to decently paying, secure jobs in public schools. What do all these degrees have in common? They are preparing you for a SPECIFIC job, and they are teaching specific skills. Many majors provide only general knowledge rather than specific skills, and those majors often don't lead to well paying jobs because the economy values skills over knowledge. Someone who majors in Family and Consumer Science at Clemson University, for example, will gain some general knowledge about nutrition, food safety, etc., but he/she won't gain any skills that will translate easily into a job. That person will most likely go on to secretarial work, food service jobs, or to grad school.

Universities Create Majors

Universities are really just huge businesses - they exist to make money. It's economically beneficial for them to offer all sorts of majors, whether they are useful to the student or not. The school gets its tuition money, and in a business sense, that's all it cares about. It's up to the individual to use their major/degree to earn a living.

Most Students Don't Know What to Do

The trouble here is that most students don't know what professional career path they want to do, so choosing one become a difficult decision. One can find drawbacks to just about all of them - accounting is super boring. I know several accountants, and every single one hates accounting. It's an incredibly boring job from what I've heard. Young people don't like the idea of committing to a career they will loathe for the rest of their lives.

The Value of STEM Fields

Chances are you have seen an article online detailing the value of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and medicine. These are the fields that are valuable to the current economy. As far a technology goes, I heard recently that it's really hard to get a job unless you have some coding (computer programming) skills which can involve JavaScript, html/CSS, or knowledge of relational databases. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the population knows nothing about these subjects. Most American's don't even know what JavaScript is much less what a relational database is. But these are technologies almost everyone uses on a daily basis. It's incredible to me that so many people are so ignorant about the very things they use every single day. 

Be Wise

When choosing a major, try to find a professional degree program, even if it’s in something you don’t really love. If you can tolerate it, do it for a while, and then go work for yourself. That seems to be most peoples’ goal these days.