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How Important Is Declaring a College Major?


How Important Is A College Major?

Did you agonize over your college major, setting the course of your life at age 17 and based on what your parents wanted?

This might depress or encourage you, depending on what you picked.

Turns out, only 27 percent of graduates from four-year colleges end up in jobs connected to their college majors, according to a 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Now, North Carolina State University in Raleigh is trying to help students connect with their future careers. This fall, the university is offering workshops to help 30 juniors and seniors “design their lives ... for what the world needs more of" as inspired by a popular class at the Design School at Stanford University in California.

At North Carolina State, three college deans will teach the workshops, offering expertise in humanities, business management and design.

“I would say first, don’t worry that you don’t have everything that other people seem to have," says Jeff Braden, who will teach the humanities portion. "I think that there is a real tendency among people of our undergraduates’ generation to think everyone else has it all figured out. And they don’t.”

Watching on social media, many young people think others are doing better than they are, Braden says.

“On Facebook, you only see what I put up there," he explains. "You don’t see all the private things,” which might not be as rosy.

Braden suggests that students who are trying to suss out careers in growth sectors, look at work that cannot be done by machines or computers.

He also suggests jobs that deal with questions that are a “little fuzzy,” meaning those that require critical analysis or creativity that machines cannot yet solve.

Annette Ranft, the North Carolina State business management dean, says students should think beyond their first jobs after college. Unlike their grandparents, today’s college graduates are not likely to stay in a job for their entire lives, or even more than five years. She said she hopes students will look toward “lifelong professional goals.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years that workers stayed on a job was 4.2 years in January 2016. That was down from 4.6 years in 2014.

“The day of someone working at the same job for his or her entire life are over,” Braden said.

According to a Gallup survey in June, 51 percent of Americans would change at least one of their educational decisions, including their degree, institution or major. (Read our report: Many Americans regret their College Choices)

The research, a collaboration between Gallup and Strada Education Network, found that 36 percent of Americans say they would change their field of study, while 28 percent said they would choose a different school or university.

Twelve percent said they would get a different type of degree.

What about liberal arts majors?

As careers in STEM, science - technology, engineering and mathematics - have taken the world by storm, students of liberal arts - literature, psychology, political science, philosophy and sociology - have worried about where they will fit into the job world.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that engineering majors garner the highest average salary after graduation, $92,000. The major with the lowest annual salary was visual and performing arts, $50,700.

But liberal arts majors need not worry, says a report by the jobs website Monster.com.

Liberal arts majors bring needed skills to jobs in technology, marketing and business operations, among others, it says.

“That's because your studies have taught you how to think critically, research thoroughly, and write well, all of which are skills any employer will value,” the Monster.com report says.

Braden says that parents worry about their students majoring in liberal arts or humanities. He asks worried parents what their major was in college.

"I majored in English, but now I’m in sales,” Braden says, repeating the parent before responding. “OK, thank you, you just proved my point."

Did you have a hard time choosing your major? Please share your suggestion in the Comments here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!

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