Ahhh, it’s that time again. Late summer. When sweltering temperatures have peaked at unbearable levels, and 85 degrees feels inexplicably, but pleasantly, cool. When kids begin to savor every bit of summer as it comes closer to a close. When back-to-school jingles sing from television and radio commercials. And when thousands of 18 year-olds begin college careers with wide-eyed and contagious optimism for their futures.
But this fall, enthusiasm from many incoming freshmen is notably subdued. The typically exhilarating start to college has been tamed by a tanking economy, quibbling governmental leadership and bleak job prospects. To make matters worse, disheartening figures that accompanied commencement this spring provide little encouragement. Both employment rates and starting salaries of those who graduated in 2009 and 2010 are significantly lower than graduates in 2006 and 2007. What’s more, roughly half of the jobs landed by these new graduates even require a college degree.
To add to the frustration, debates over the kind of majors students pursue continue to rage. While 2009 figures from the Labor Department confirm that higher education results in higher salaries, it is increasingly difficult to ascertain the most lucrative majors. If now, more than ever, it’s not what you know, but who you know, many students – and their parents – are asking: does it even matter what major you choose?
In short, yes and no. If a six-figure salary is the sole motivation for earning a degree, then there are certain fields with unquestionable promise. For example, engineering is consistently lauded as one of the most lucrative majors, and frequently wins three or more slots on top ten lists. According to an article released by CNBC this week, computer science has also established a reputation for gainful employability. Many believe that in coming years, computer science will only become more rewarding.
But what about those who aren’t science-oriented brainiacs, who don’t want to spend a significant amount of time holed up in labs? While special degrees are required for certain occupations, the lines between professions are becoming increasingly blurred. Many liberal arts majors are pursuing careers in business, and with substantial success. A recent survey of young business professionals, those who majored in history were earning just as much as those who majored in business administration or management.
But many parents still worry that pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into higher education could be for naught. To quiet the worrying minds of parents whose children wish to pursue non-career oriented majors, Zac Bissonnette, author of the book Debt Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents wrote in The New York Times, “Don’t think that you are doomed to a life of poverty if you pick the wrong major.” Bissonnette argues that those who study what they are passionate about tend to have higher GPA’s, they also avoid being pigeon-holed by job training that may prove irrelevant in an ever-changing job market. Most importantly, though, Bissonnette beseeches students, and their parents, to follow their interests because it will result in richer mind development and a better experience all around.
What do you think? Does one’s college major directly determine employability? What’s more important – training for a job or studying one’s passion?