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Articles / Applying to College / Will COVID-19 Influence Your College Major?

Will COVID-19 Influence Your College Major?

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | June 16, 2020
Will COVID-19 Influence Your College Major?


The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are not going away anytime soon. Even though this specific virus may eventually devolve into a nonfactor, its impact on America and the world at large will remain as an important lesson.

In past articles, I've cited my mantra: "Amid crisis there is opportunity." The current pandemic crisis offers quite valid opportunities for college students, especially those early enough in their collegiate careers to choose or make adjustments to their majors, or, as some colleges refer to them, "programs of emphasis."

Of course, not everyone may be interested in acquiring a degree in a discipline directly related to medical applications. However, you may be surprised to learn that seemingly unrelated areas of study may be a fit for many of the new jobs needed due to the COVID-19 crisis and the changes implemented to better deal with such situations in the future, as explained below.

Most Majors Aren't Set in Stone

Before discussing specific majors, let's take a look at what kinds of influences steer college students toward particular majors. Sources tell us that an estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college with undecided majors, and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation.

That means that between one in five to five out of 10 students start college with no idea about what they want to study to facilitate their life's work. Plus, the majority, about three-quarters, change their minds after a false start or two. With the ever-increasing cost of college being such a central issue today, focusing on critical trends and their implications, such as the fallout from COVID-19, can be a significant early help in deciding on a major.

More fundamentally, what influences do new college students respond to when they choose a major? An interesting Gallup/Strada Education Network survey asked 22,000 US adults to name up to three sources of advice they used in their college major decisions and to rate their helpfulness. The responses were divided into four broad categories:

1. Formal: counselors and the media

2. Informal social network: friends, family and community leaders

3. Informal school-based: college staff and professors, high school teachers and coaches

4. Informal work-based: employers, coworkers, experienced professionals and the military.

The report details that the majority (55 percent) of US adults with at least some college but no more than a bachelor's degree list their informal social network as providing advice about their college major. This is the most often-cited source of advice when choosing a major for the majority of US adults.

One surprising implication of these findings is that the most commonly cited channels of advice in choosing a major are not necessarily rated the most helpful. Put simply, the most valued sources of advice are the least used

The Pandemic Has Influenced These Majors

Perhaps these findings relate to your situation. In any case, let's take a look at some majors that can lead to careers that may prove to be critical in the coming decades because of their relation to public health. From the research I did on this topic, the most helpful source I found asks the question: Which College Majors May be Influenced by the Pandemic?

Matters of public health have been in the forefront of news for most of 2020 so far and promise to remain so almost indefinitely now that so many pandemic consequences have emerged. Speaking about public health, Tulane University Director of Admissions Jeff Schiffman notes that although it's still too early to predict what majors will trend, public health, which was already a fast-growing major, will likely become even more popular.

"Essentially public health is the study of how a disease travels through a population of people," he points out. "A pre-med student might say, 'How do we treat the human body once it's been affected by a disease?', whereas a public health student would say, 'How do we prevent this from spreading in the first place?' Even things like hospital management, but also infectious disease and clinical research–there are just so many different facets to public health."

And that's the good news (without any bad news) about majors that normally might not be thought of as related to the current pandemic circumstances. CollegeExpress offers a comprehensive overview of Possible Majors for Pandemic-Essential Jobs. Here's a sampling from that long list of majors that may become even more pertinent in future years than they are now, as they relate to public health:

- Nursing: Whether a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner or a nursing aide, nurses are right at a patient's bedside providing care and helping save lives.

- Nursing Administration: If bedside manner isn't your thing, nurses always need smart administrators to push the right policies through.

- Medicine: Getting a degree in medicine can lead to a lot of different jobs. Neurologists and respiratory care physicians are just a couple of career possibilities.

- Primary Health Care: If you're more interested in seeing regular patients and creating connections in your work, being a primary care doctor is a great opportunity.

- Emergency Medical Services/Technology: EMS and EMT workers are often the very first line of care when it comes to medical emergencies. This is a great area if you like a fast-paced job.

- Nursing Home Administration: Working in nursing homes can be so rewarding knowing you're making a difference in the latter half of people's lives. This is especially crucial in this situation as older individuals are at a higher risk to contract COVID-19.

- Military Affairs: This major comprises a wide range of military needs, from personnel and veteran needs to methods and organizational concepts. If you want to be a well-rounded military member, this area of study is a good choice.

- Military Leadership: All careers need good leadership. If you have the top leadership skills for a military career, we need you.

- Military Strategic Studies: Military Studies often involves worldwide communications and planning. If you want to do your part for the good of the country and world, here's your chance.

- Military Technologies: This is another great option for tech lovers. The most up-to-date military technology is as important as the people who develop it.

- Accounting/Bookkeeping: Accountants are needed for any career but even more so for retail work to keep the business running smoothly. If you're good with number crunching, try this major.

- Food Service Administration: Food Service Administration helps keep the industry to the best standards while also playing a part in policies like the ones allowing restaurants to remain open in a time of crisis.

- Animal Care Specialist: Animal care doesn't just apply to pets; it applies to domesticated and wild animals too. If you want to know all you can about animals and how to help them, consider specializing in this area.

- Animal Center Management: Animal shelters and wildlife refugee centers aid creatures in times of crisis, and knowing how to manage them could save a lot of animal lives.

- Veterinary Sciences: We can't control when we need medical attention, and neither can our pets. So if you're driven to help animals in need at any time, consider becoming a vet

At first glance, some of these majors hardly seem related to pandemics. If you dig deeper than first impressions, though, you may be able to see the applications. For example, animal-related careers are crucial, even now, since animal-to-human virus transmission has been confirmed. Military-related applications became apparent during the early months of this spring when hospital ships and field medical facilities were deployed to deliver medical care to COVID-19-infected patients.

Bottom line: If you are undecided about which direction your higher education path will take, take a look at the world around you and assess what major trends are underway — even beyond COVID-19 — and how they may play out in the coming years. If you can find a match between one or more of these and your personal interests and motivations, you may be well on your way to discovering a major that will reward you with happiness and success during your life's work.

Share Your Thoughts

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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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