Results from the latest study by ACT found that 1/3 of college freshmen are choosing a major that's a 'poor' fit for their interests. Although the study of more than 1.2 million 2013 high school graduates also found that another 1/3 are choosing a major that's a good fit for their interests, I do worry for the four million freshmen across the country that are only making their college experience harder by choosing a major that doesn't fit their interests.
When I was a student at Saint Louis University (I graduated in 2010), I met too many students who were majoring in things like biology, chemistry, and biochemistry but hated their majors. They were only majoring in these things because they were told at one point that there were jobs in these fields. They may have only been majoring in these things because they were pre-med, and were opting for a major that seemed complimentary to medicine (pre-med itself isn't a major). However, there's no requirement that if you're pre-med you need to major in biology or chemistry. Some may say that majoring in the sciences is better because it prepares you better for medical school, but statistics show that as long as you meet the requirements for entry and keep your grades up, a pre-med philosophy student isn't any less prepared for medical school than a pre-med biology or pre-med chemistry student.
Spend that Time on Something You Like!
The pre-med example is just one that illustrates my ultimate point: your major doesn't necessarily determine your job prospects or how employable you'll be once you graduate. If people can get into medical school without needing to study a hard science, then people don't necessarily need this degree or that degree to get a job. Granted, some fields do require a specific degree. You're not likely to get an engineering job without an engineering degree, and you're not likely to be a physical therapists without studying physical therapy, but for the most part companies with open positions aren't going to focus on the major. So, why not spend the four years majoring in something you like? Four years is a long time to spend studying something you aren't interested in only to prepare yourself for something that you might not be interested in either.
At SLU, I doubled majored in international studies and political science with a double minor in communication and Russian. It's a mouthful. I just tell people I studied in political science. After I graduated, I took a temporary job making cold calls. Next, I became a freelance writer writing about everything from recruiting to nitrogen tire inflation, from government trends and initiatives to small business technology. After that, I started my own content marketing agency. That didn't end up working for me, which was fine because I hated having to convince potential clients over and over again that they couldn't talk about themselves on their company blogs and that the needed to create content that potential customers would like, not just stuff that advertised and made a sales pitch. I like content marketing when it works well. I hate it when it's not working well and now you have to evangelize and give advice. But, they aren't paying you for that advice and they didn't ask for it in the first place. Because they didn't ask for it, it's unlikely they'll implement it.
I digress, but within that whole story I didn't really need or rely on my political science degree. None of my clients cared I had the degree. The telemarketing job overlooked the fact that I didn't have business degree, even though everyone else they hired with me had one. I didn't need a degree, let alone one in political science, to become a freelance writer or to become an entrepreneur. I have the professional background that I have because I was a good writer, spending three years at SLU writing for the college newspaper and having a few journalism internships to boot. At this point in my life (I turn 26 in January and I only graduated three years ago), no one is going to care about my major no matter what I choose to do with my life. Yes, they will care that I got a college degree, but employers care about the fact that I got the degree and they care about the skills that I have. Since major won't matter, even as soon as three years out of higher education (of course, major makes a difference if you want a masters and/or PhD), then choose something you're interested in.
Then Why Do Employers Specify Majors on Their Job Postings?
They do it because they need a way to weed out bad applicants and to deter them from applying, although a requirement like 'four-year degree in marketing" rarely stops anybody. The average job seeker spends 76 seconds looking at a job description, with much of that time typically spent reviewing job title, compensation, and location. If you think that's bad, then consider that the average hiring manager spends six seconds on a resume. Four of those six seconds are spent looking at four main parts of the resume:
- Job titles (42% restrict their hiring based on previous job titles, and these are just the hiring managers that don't have a problem filling an open position)
- Companies You Worked At
- Start/End Dates
This means that, on average, the hiring manager is spending one second looking your educational background. This is one-third of the time spent looking at your work history. Even if majors were designed to deter people or to encourage certain people to apply, it's not something hiring managers are really spending time evaluating, even when they do look at education. They have other things in mind when looking for the perfect candidate (besides, you know, finding perfect person with everything the employer wants).
Trust me, as someone who has covered the recruiting industry for a year-and-a-half, they don't care about degrees and college majors all that much. They're not good indicators of success in the position, and are hardly ever used as factors to decide on one candidate over another. As the research has shown, employers are worrying about having college graduates who are ready for the workforce and who can write a sentence without spelling and grammatical errors. They're more focused on filling positions with people who can do the job and don't need a lot of training to do it. Studying history, philosophy, anthropology, or another "useless" subject isn't going to hurt your chances of getting to this point than studying something "more practical." Granted, employers are also worrying about things that are outside of your control, like only hiring people who have the same exact job title on their resume, but you also need to be spending time in college developing skills through internships and extra-curricular activities. Simply getting the degree isn't enough and won't necessarily prepare you adequately for the workplace.
If You Want a Practical Degree that Gets You a Job, Then Go to a Trade School
If all you're after is the security that you'll be employable and jobs in your field once you get out, then go to a trade school. Study something like auto repair, veterinary assisting, medial billing & coding, or nursing. These are practical jobs that are never going away, and attending a trade school ensures that everything you do there will have to do with whatever trade you choose to study. You don't have to make room for three semesters of theology or four semesters of foreign language at a trade school. Plus, you finish faster and have to do fewer papers and exams to do it. Why spend four years getting a job when you can do the same thing at a trade school at two, and for much cheaper too? Better yet, there's a lot of jobs that don't even need a college degree. If you're just after earning money, then there are plenty of ways to do that without spending the time and money to go to fancy university in the first place.
College is supposed to be about more than getting a job. College is also supposed to be about exposing yourself to new things, developing your critical thinking skills, meeting new people, and being able to do things that you might not be able to do outside of college. College should be fun, and fun doesn't have to exclude your classes. I got a degree in political science and have turned out just fine in the real world. You don't necessarily need to get a degree in a field that you plan to work in. You really need to get the degree, and get a lot more skills and experience on top of that.