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Articles / Applying to College / College Majors: A Major Decision

College Majors: A Major Decision

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | April 26, 2012
College Majors: A Major Decision

Attention high school seniors (and parents of those seniors). By now, you seniors have seen the results of your college applications. You probably have a handful of acceptances and maybe some disappoints too. Regardless, your life is about to take a dramatic developmental step: heading off to college on your own. You'll be making a lot of independent decisions, decisions that could possibly determine some significant directions in your life. Let's call one of them a "major" decision.

Choosing a college major can be quite difficult. I started out my freshman year majoring in Business Administration, which was simply a default on my part because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up graduating with a degree in music history and literature, which was essentially a classical liberal arts degree. After many years of moving from job to job, as my life's circumstances dictated and permitted, I found my wheelhouse here in the world of college counseling and writing. It was a long and winding road, to say the least. I hope that your road won't be as long or as winding as mine was in order for you to find your wheelhouse work.

While I would be the last person to try to equate happiness and success with certain college majors, there has been some research into which majors might not provide young people with the most optimal platform from which to jump off into the so-called Real World.

The Daily Beast has posted a very interesting article entitled The 13 Most Useless Majors, From Philosophy to Journalism. It references "new research (PDF) from Georgetown University—which drew from two years of census data to determine the prospects for myriad majors—to narrow down our list to more than three dozen popular college majors. We also used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, equally weighing the following categories to determine current and future employment and earnings potential..."

What are those 13 "useless" majors and what's the bottom line from the Georgetown study?

Here's how the Daily Beast's results rounded out for uselessness:

1. Fine Arts

2. Drama and Theatre Arts

3. Film, Video, and Photographic Arts

4. Commercial Art and Graphic Design

5. Architecture

6. Philosophy and Religious Studies

7. English Literature and Language

8. Journalism

9. Anthropology and Archeology

10. Hospitality Management

11. Music

12. History

13. Political Science and Government

And here are some highlights from the Georgetown study:

Not all college degrees are created equal

The question, as we slowly dig out

from under the wreckage left by the

Great Recession, is unavoidable: “Is

college worth it?" Our answer: “Yes,

extensive research, ours included,

finds that a college degree is still

worth it." A Bachelor's degree is one

of the best weapons a job seeker can

wield in the fight for employment and

earnings. And staying on campus to

earn a graduate degree provides safe

shelter from the immediate economic

storm, and will pay off with greater

employability and earnings once the

graduate enters the labor market.

Unemployment for students with new

Bachelor's degrees is an unacceptable

8.9 percent,1 but it's a catastrophic

22.9 percent for job seekers with a

recent high school diploma—and

an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent

for recent high school dropouts. ...

What college graduates earn also depends on what they take.

Median earnings among recent

college graduates vary from $55,000 among

Engineering majors to $30,000 in the Arts, as

well as Psychology and Social Work. In our more

detailed data—which drills into the broad categories

to look at results for more individual, specialized

majors—the variation is even more pronounced,

ranging from $60,000 for Computer Engineering

graduates to $24,000 for Physiology majors.

Majors with high technical, business and healthcare

content tend to earn the most among both recent

and experienced college graduates.

Engineering majors lead both in earnings for recent and

experienced college graduates followed by Computer

and Mathematics majors, and Business majors.

Recent graduates in Healthcare majors start out with

high earnings, but begin to lose ground to Science,

Business and Engineering as college graduates gain

experience and graduate degrees. Graduate school

further differentiates earnings among majors. ...

Although differences remain high among majors, graduate education raises earnings across the board.

The average earnings for BA's

now stands at $48,000 compared with $62,000

for graduate degrees. With the exception the

Arts and Education, earnings for graduate

workers range between $60,000 and $100,000.

It is easy to look at unemployment rates for new

college graduates or hear stories about degreeholders

forced to tend bar and question the wisdom

of investing in higher education when times are

bad. But those questions should last only until you

compare how job seekers with college degrees are

doing compared to those without college degrees.

Today's best advice, then, is that high school

students who can go on to college should do so—

with one caveat. They should do their homework

before picking a major because, when it comes

to employment prospects and compensation,

not all college degrees are created equal. ...


You'll be dazzled by all the charts and statistics in the Georgetown study. However, I'd like to add my two cents here about choosing a college major. The findings of the study are not cast in concrete. If you have an overwhelming passion for a particular academic or "artistic" area of endeavor, I say that it's possible to be both happy and successful in life if you follow your heart. Of course there are no guarantees and life, especially these days, can be treacherous. My bottom line, though, is to consult your heart and your parents before you head off into the world of college majors. It will be your major decision.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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