Gauging job market key to major selection

by Brody Burns

Choose your major wisely. Whether you are on the Van Wilder track, languidly entering your seventh year as an undergrad with little hope of fruition; or you’re on the boy genius plan, anticipating a doctoral degree prior to a legal driver’s license, picking a major is vastly important, at least if money motivates you. That’s the conclusive finding of Anthony P. Carnevale, who serves as the Director of the Georgetown University Center of Education. He found that the particular degree of study has a “major” impact on the earning potential of the individual — pun intended.

In the study, the Center of Education utilized the latest census figures, in addition to U.S. workforce data and no doubt some Criss Angel-style magic, to document earning differences for each collegiate major. What may seem like simple intuition to most was formally acknowledged for the first time, as certain majors were documented to have far greater earning potential in a report titled, “What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors.”

Carnevale discussed the implications of the findings, saying, “The bottom line is that getting a degree matters, but what you take matters more.”

In fact, a correct choice could mean potentially earning 300 percent more annually than an incorrect choice. It doesn’t take a math major to understand the significance of 300 percent. Beyond that initial 300 percent are the implicit benefits, which include having a course set during your collegiate career, working toward a pre-set goal, generally improving the likelihood of graduating in four years and for many, reducing the financial burden of higher education as fewer loans are needed.

The top 10 majors come with little surprise; as eight do involve, in some form, the word engineering. The real surprise is that a major as specific as Petroleum Engineering not only exists, but is also number one on the list, with an annual median earning of $120,000. The rest of the top five, in order, are (with the median income in parentheses): pharmacy / pharmaceutical sciences and administration ($105,000); mathematics and computer sciences ($98,000); aerospace engineering ($87,000); chemical engineering ($86,000).

Meanwhile the bottom 10 earning majors are of no surprise. According to the results, if your major requires you to directly help others in the form of education, social work or serving your community through theology, then don’t expect lofty financial compensation. The depressing fact that teachers are paid marginally remains unchanged. The bottom five in terms of earning are: counseling / psychology ($29,000); early childhood education ($36,000); theology and religious vocations ($38,000); human services and community organizations ($38,000); social work ($39,000).

While some of these majors may not commonly exist at every university, this report has incredible value to college students everywhere. As daunting a task as selecting one’s major is, the financial indications prove the incredible importance of this selection. The report accurately depicts the current market phenomenon based on collegiate majors without any misleading propaganda coming from academic advisors or college professors.

Receiving an unbiased piece of advice regarding the reality of finding a job after graduation, from someone involved with a certain degree program is highly unlikely. There is no spinning the raw figures. They present a true indicator of what is currently occurring and what a specific major can expect in terms of compensation.

It’s a valuable tool for all students, including those who are undecided. I was personally in the undecided major classification for a long time as an undergraduate. It proved to be as valuable to my college education as a set of nipples are to any male: utterly useless. For me there was no value in waiting to declare a major; it only turned into putting off a serious decision. Any documentation that can aid the “major” decision-making process, through using precise quantitative data, is beneficial.

This is not aimed to be an indictment on the current collegiate advising system. However, this exact data, which is a real-time snapshot of the prevailing conditions, should be utilized in charting a course for students. In the process of making a decision, personality tests and reading tea leaves should be left for a later time. Looking into the market forces that each major can anticipate is a sound strategy, while quantifying the degree of Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging (Myers-Briggs Test) of my personality should not be the resounding influencer in the decision making process.

The report also goes into further detail on unemployment levels associated with each major — something incredibly useful to a pool of future job seekers. Currently, the highest unemployment level belongs to the social psychology major at 16 percent, while the major with virtually no unemployment happens to be another engineering major, geological and geophysical engineering.

To those who are in the midst of a dilemma about their major, heeding Carnevale’s advice could be useful. In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post, he wrote the following:

“Self-discovery and democratic ideals are important, but they are no substitute for putting food on the table or supporting a family. For some students, this harsh reality will mean carefully weighing the choice of a major and, perhaps, setting aside passion for realism.”