Not all college majors are created equal
I have this game I play when I meet college students.
“What’s your major?” I ask.
The student might say, “English,” “psychology,” “political science” or “engineering.”
And then, in my mind, after factoring in some other information, I say to myself “job” or “no job,” depending on the major.
An English major with no internships or any plan of what she might do with the major to earn a living? No job.
A political science major with no internships that could lead to a specific job opportunity? No job, I think.
Engineering major with three relevant internships in the engineering field? Ding. Ding. We have a winner. Job.
Certainly a college degree is the ticket to many jobs. The unemployment rate for people with only a recent high school diploma is 22.9 percent, and it’s an astonishing 31.5 percent among recent high school dropouts. Nonetheless, the lack of career planning before a school is chosen, a major is selected and debt is borrowed is shocking to me. Not enough students — and their families who are also taking on student loans — are asking what their college major is worth in the workforce.
For years, long before the Great Recession and today’s almost 9 percent unemployment rate among new college graduates, I’ve been begging students and their parents to consider the fallout from their choice to borrow heavily to attend a school when the student has no clue about the expected career opportunities of a chosen major.
Too many students aren’t sure what job they could get after four, five or even six years of studying a certain major and racking up education loans. Many aren’t getting on-the-job training while they are in school or during their semester or summer breaks. As a result, questions about employment opportunities or what type of job they have the skills to attain are met with blank stares or the typical, “I don’t know.”
And don’t get me started on people who borrow heavily to get an advanced degree without really knowing whether it will lead to a fatter paycheck that can easily service the debt. In some cases it will, but for some academic disciplines, the salary bump isn’t as much as people expect.