In Part 2 of our series on the crisis and opportunity facing college students, we’ll talk about 10 questions every college student must ask before choosing their major. The McKinsey & Company Voice of the Graduate report shows that the major and college that university students choose can have a significant impact on their happiness, financial situation, and health.
For instance, the McKinsey report shows that graduates who majored in liberal, visual and performing arts at four-year colleges fare the worst among all majors: they tend to be lower paid, deeper in debt, less prepared for the workforce, and less happily employed than the average college graduate. In addition, many of them regret the major they chose – 41% of visual and performing arts majors and 39% of language, literature and social science majors wish they had chosen a different major. But having regrets about your major or college doesn’t just apply to liberal, visual and performing arts majors – in fact, McKinsey reports that 38% of all college students at the Top 100 4-year colleges say if they could do it over again, they would choose either a different major.
One of the biggest drivers behind this regret is the difficulty students in certain majors have getting full-time jobs in their desired fields. According to McKinsey, only 37% of language, literature and social science majors and 42% of visual and performing arts majors reported having full-time jobs in a field related to their major. In contrast, 78% of health majors and 62% of accounting, economics and finance majors were fully employed in those fields upon graduating.
Where are these college graduates that can’t land jobs in their desired field working? Increasingly, they are working in the retail and hospitality fields – McKinsey estimates that of the 1.7 million students who graduated from college this year, about 120,000 of them are working as waiters, cashiers and salespeople, because that’s the only work they could find. This trend is consistent with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finding that 10 percent of cashiers, 15 percent of waiters and waitresses, and 25 percent of retail salespeople have a college degree.
To help address this problem for current and incoming college students, every student (with the help of their parents and/or a career consultant) must ask, research and answer these 10 questions before choosing a major:
- Does my university offer a strong, renowned academic program and career services for this major?
- What industries hire my major, and what percentage of grads in my major get hired in these industries?
- What percentage of recent grads from my university and major have full-time jobs in these industries?
- What is the outlook for jobs in these industries? Are the industries growing, shrinking or stable?
- Who are the companies or organizations in my industry that hire college graduates?
- What are the most common entry-level positions that these companies hire?
- What are the required skills, experiences and qualifications to get these entry-level positions?
- How many college graduates do these companies typically hire each year?
- What is the average starting salary for this position, and what should I expect to be earning in 5 years?
- Is this salary sufficient to support myself and pay off my student debt?
If students do their homework on the majors they are interested in, they will be more prepared for the job market after college, more confident in their choice of major, and happier with their major and college degree upon graduation. We’d love to hear your thoughts – what else can college students do to make better informed decisions about their major?