High school seniors preparing for college and the task of choosing a major may be more aware now than ever before about the repercussions of choosing one field of study over another. Sure, the economy is looking like it could rebound this year, but all of those who lost their jobs in the crisis - many of whom have quite a bit more experience to boast than a recent college graduate - will be causing more competitiveness on the job market for years to come.
Should you sacrifice where your interests are for what you think may be a more secure, safe major? An opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week says "no." Obviously you need to exhibit some marketable skills to land a job post-graduation, but many of those skills are things you're able to pick up on your own. (The article gives the example of computer science majors. Many of the things you'll learn as a computer science major could be obsolete in the real world by the time you graduate, as those technologies are typically very fast-paced and ever-changing.)
It's also probably not a good idea to go into a field you have no interest in just because your parents think that major will land you an impressive salary later on. If you don't have a knack for a particular field of study, chances are greater that you won't do well in your core classes, and potentially even flunk out of school. You really won't be making that great salary if "college dropout" is a part of your resume. If you're interested in English, go for it. You'd be surprised to learn the premium employers place on good writing and communication skills. And if you're at the University of Texas at Austin, the course "The English Major in the Workplace" will offer you tips on building a resume, interviewing, and networking - skills that are important in all fields of study.
On the other side is the idea of "careerism," or that intense desire to succeed professionally. Schools are beginning to see this as a good thing, introducing ways to improve their graduates' chances when they're ready to start looking for jobs and to help those students worried about what they're going to do with their degrees. An article in the New York Times recently discussed ways colleges were adapting to a difficult economy by making drastic changes to their curricula. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has gotten rid of its philosophy major; Michigan State University did the same with American studies and classics. Declining enrollments in those fields suggested the students, at those schools, not administrators, were looking to more practical majors that would make them more marketable job candidates.
If you're able to, dabble a bit. You may not even know what you want to major in as soon as you get on campus. Reflect on where you'd like to see yourself after college, and what your goals are while you're in college. For some a high-paying major may be just the ticket. Others may not be left-brained enough to become engineers and computer technicians. It's fine to take some time to think about what you'd like to spend the next two to four years doing.
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