Practical Majors

Emily Acton, Staff Writer

You’re a senior, applying to colleges and getting your first slap in the face from reality. And, because the American education system rocks, adults expect you to have your entire college education decided and planned by the time you graduate high school. The biggest question: what are you going to major in? You may want to follow your heart and get a degree in Screenwriting, even though your parents want you to get a nice sensible Business degree.

Philip A. Bean, who blogs for the NY Times, recommends three tips when choosing a major: choose one that suits your interests, sharpens your mind, and can take you to your preferred career.

Forbes has a completely different idea. Jenna Goudreau, business writer, published two articles in 2012, about five months apart from each other. The first was “The 15 Most Valuable College Majors,” and the second was “The 10 Worst College Majors.” These articles show the value of ranked college majors in terms of employment rates, salaries, and prospects.

Let’s start with the “most valuable.” Goudreau defined valuable college majors as those that were likely to get a well-paying job right out of school, and those with higher pay and growth opportunities.

Each involves the sciences and mathematics. Biomedical Engineering is allegedly the major that will practically pay for itself, with a median starting salary of $53,800 and a projected growth of 61.7%. Similar figures accompany majors like Biochemistry, Petroleum Engineering, and Statistics.

Then we take a look at the other end of the spectrum. Forbes’ “Worst College Majors” is a list of degrees based on initial unemployment rates and salaries. Anthropology and Archaeology top the list with unemployment rates between 6.2% and 10.5%, and median earnings between $28,000 and $47,000.

One thing Gordeau failed to mention is why these degrees are becoming obsolete. One reason is that no real jobs come directly from that degree. Another problem is the high competition in some areas. A number of artsy students elect to go into Photographic Arts and open their own studio—but so does everyone else. And as far as Physical Fitness goes, everyone uses “personal trainer” as a backup career, especially high school athletes not good enough go pro.

All in all, you now have a few degrees to avoid as well as a few to consider if you pass Chemistry this year. But you’re no closer to choosing a major than an eighth grader… or a kindergartener.