Did Your Major Matter?

My friend, Steve, wrote this post for the blog today. I think the piece addresses an issue that many of us unemployed 20-somethings have faced.

In a survey of college graduates from the classes of 2006 – 2011, researchers at Rutgers University confirmed that the unemployment forecasts are particularly dismal for today’s newest degree holders.

The study also revealed that half of the graduates surveyed took jobs that did not require a four-year degree, while 62% believed they would require more education in order to pursue their chosen career path – another 18% weren’t sure. Clearly there is a mismatch between the skills colleges teach to students and the talent employers demand of them.

Although the study highlights some troubling facts for young workers, it sheds light on the cause of this disconnect between what fresh grads are supplying and what employers need.

When asked to reflect on their undergraduate careers, 48% of recent grads said they wish they had been more careful when selecting their major. If, as this study seems to suggest, major selection is a strong determinant of job hunting success in the post-graduation world, then that leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that students make one of the most important decisions of their lives in the third or fourth semester of the undergraduate careers.

To make matters worse, many colleges encourage students to sign up for exotic majors and people are impressed when you tell them you are a “Latin American Studies” major.

As a young sophomore, filled with academic ambition and world changing vision, it seemed like a wonderful idea to major in Latin American studies – not to mention the professor was kind and enthusiastic.

The major allows you to sound so intellectual and unconcerned with mundane things such as a 9-5 job post graduation.You imagine that you will be in some exotic corner of South America studying indigenous groups, untouched by modern society.

Shockingly, most employers do not want to hear all about the history of Central America or send you on an all expenses paid trip to South America to “research.”

So what about you? Are you in a career that relates to your college major?


5 responses to “Did Your Major Matter?

  • Anjanie

    I deliberate chose an open-ended humanities degree, in Spanish with Management studies, Spanish because I love it and Management to help me find a job.
    So far just the fact of having a degree has helped me in getting a foot in the door.

    Now that I’m pursuing writing I wish I’d taken a course in Journalism or even English, but that’s all in hindsight. I do take a lot of short courses at an adult education college to learn skills that I can put on my CV. Every job seeker is having a tough time at the moment, regardless of their subject, all we can do is persevere and wish them good luck!


  • the20spot

    I, thankfully, did find a career in my major (marketing). I was lucky enough to find a firm to intern with, which provided me with my last 3 credits to graduate. Shortly after my internship, they offered me part time, and about 6 months later, full time. It’s been a little over 2 years now, which is crazy to me!

    I’m thankful because I really do use a lot of what I learned in school. And, no offense to anyone out there, but it makes me feel like I didn’t waste my time in school, ya know? However, coming into the job, the area of marketing I thought I wanted to be in is completely different now that I’ve had on the job training and real life experience. I think that’s necessary, because learning out of a book and learning hands on are so completely different. Plus, most of us choose our major at 18. By the time we’re done and in our career, we’re completely different people!

  • Kyle

    I’m actually really happy with how “useful” my major ended up being. I chose Computer Science because I love computers, games and technology and now I’m in software engineering – and I love it! Definitely a useful major.

  • missdisplaced

    “Clearly there is a mismatch between the skills colleges teach to students and the talent employers demand of them.”

    I don’t think that is exactly the problem, but rather that they don’t know WHAT to teach that will be needed in this economy. For instance, we were told that there is a huge “nursing shortage,” yet I know many graduating nurses who are out $100,000 in student loans and can’t get a job because the hospitals aren’t hiring. Same goes with engineering, IT, and aerospace.

    The fact is: No one is hiring. U.S. companies have figured out how to get one person to do the work of three for one low wage. They are raking in money on their bottom line because of it and aren’t likely to change anytime soon.

  • Tori

    What I tell my students (and what I believe) is that it’s not about the major – it’s about the skills. I have two degrees in history and while I’m not reading books and researching and producing papers with cutting edge historical theories, I DO use my degrees – or, at least, the skills I learned while pursuing them – every day at my job.

    My vote is ALWAYS to major in what you love. The rest will come naturally. And if it doesn’t, we can just blame the economy.

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