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The Importance of Choosing the Right College Major (2012)
by Scott Rosen

One of the most important academic choices you'll make while in college is your choice of your college major.  Your choice of major can set you on the path your career will take or at least send a signal to future employers about what skills and interest you possess.

*Bad College Majors*

There was a time when a college degree was enough to land you a good job right out of school.  That's no longer true.  Particularly in this challenging economy, employers want employees who are going to add value to their companies as quickly as possible.  That means they want to hire graduates with practical skill sets.

While majors such as art history, political science, women's studies, and anthropology may seem interesting, they won't excite many employers.  This isn't to say there aren't any jobs in these fields or that nobody with a liberal arts background can get a job, but it makes finding gainful employment all the more difficult.

More technically oriented majors offer higher salaries.  For example, math and computer science majors can expect to eventually earn a median salary of $98,000 a year .  On the other hand, drama majors should only anticipate making a paltry $40,000 a year . 

Those who still feel compelled to study less practical subjects should strongly consider minoring in them or at least taking second majors in something more attractive to employers.

*Valuable College Majors*

The following are areas of study which are advisable to study if you're looking to improve your chances of landing a solid job after graduation.

Mathematics and Statistics Majors

Math may be one of the least enjoyed subjects in school.  Many people find it difficult and few find the subject matter truly interesting.  Nevertheless, without math, most of the things we enjoy today wouldn't be possible.  This is where the utility of a math major comes in.  Almost all fields and companies need people with solid mathematical backgrounds (while few really have much need for experts in the works of Shakespeare).

A major in theoretical math can be a difficult path.  When math starts to move away from applied topics to theorems and proofs, the subject matter can become even less accessible to all but the brightest students.  In addition, theoretical math isn't as directly relevant to as many fields as other majors may be.  Nevertheless, this major does send a signal to employers that a prospective employee is particularly bright and could adapt to a number of quantitatively oriented roles.

Students who are looking for a more practical mathematical discipline should consider majoring in statistics.  There are numerous data analysis roles available for which a statistics background is highly desirable.  Even if a student can't handle some of the more advanced components of a statistics major, he or she should consider minoring or take a few classes in the discipline.  Even a solid understanding of basic statistical principles and simple regression can set a student apart from his or her peers.

Hard Science Majors

Majoring in science will also open many doors.Majoring in science will usually help students develop strong math skills while also allowing them to learn an additional, practical discipline.

The physical sciences such as physics and chemistry are usually considered the more difficult sciences, but a solid background in either can put the student on the path to a lucrative career.  Those students interested in these subjects should consider a school with an engineering department.  (It should be noted, however, that in this economy, there has reportedly been a decline in available entry level engineering positions.)

The earth and environmental sciences are often generally good options.  Students should be careful that their discipline does lend itself to a post graduate career.  There is probably a much stronger demand for geologists than astronomers for example.

The life and health sciences can also open up opportunities.  Life sciences are sometimes considered easier because there is less emphasis on math.  They are usually, however, closely tied to chemistry, which is mathematically intensive.

One benefit of majoring in biology, physiology, or related disciplines is that the health care industry is one of the most robust in America.  Even if a student is more interested in the business aspect of this industry, having a good background in the life sciences is sure to be of help.

Computers and Information Technology

Everybody uses computers and many of the fastest growing new businesses are technology oriented.  This makes a major in computer science or information technology a good bet.  It's true that outsourcing has eliminated some domestic positions, but companies are still looking for programmers, database administrators, and tech support people in the United States.  In fact, the tech sector didn't face nearly the same downturn that other industries faced during the recession.

Computer science usually is a combination of the theory behind how a computer works and learning how to program a computer usually using C++ or Java.

Information technology or information systems majors may include a programming component, but the emphasis is usually more focused on business processes and database systems.

If you're looking to develop software, a computer science major is the best choice.  If you're more interested in working with networks, corporate computer systems, and databases, a major in information systems is the better option.

Those students who are most interested in web technology may find components of this program to be helpful.  Some schools may often a web design/development major as well.

Business Administration

Business majors are often given a hard time.  Those who were not business majors can often be resentful because there is a perception that the employment opportunities available to business majors are disproportionately high compared to the difficulty of the college major.

This is not without merit.  Marketing and business management classes are notorious for being far less challenging than courses like organic chemistry.  Nevertheless, many finance and accounting courses can be quite challenging.

The key for a business major is try to limit the number of 'fluff' courses and take advantage of most practical and quantitatively oriented classes.  Even if a person selects a concentration such as marketing, building in technology and quantitative course can open doors in fields such as digital marketing, which require all three skill sets.

Regardless, business majors do to tend to have the most opportunities when it comes to on campus recruiting and job listings for entry level positions.

Note: Not all colleges have business schools or business majors.  If this is true for your college, the best substitute is economics.  Economics can be both interesting and help build logical and quantitative skills.  In colleges without a business curriculum, the economics major often offers course work in finance and accounting.

Freelance Education Writer

Author:
Scott Rosen

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