What’s in a major?

Are the low-paying majors really worth it? “That which we call an art major by any other name would be unemployed the same?”

I believe William Shakespeare once said that in regards to the multitude of majors out there for college students to bask in. But it seems that students enjoy basking in the majors that do not end up very fruitful.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am truly torn on this subject. On one hand, I feel that too many students flock to majors without any regards to how much their future career field pays. Just look at how many sociology and psychology majors there are. The Princeton Review ranks psychology the third most popular major in the country, yet it ranks 873rd on StudentsReview (an aggregate major salary ranker on the Internet). With an average 10-year income of only $65,000 to $70,000, it ranks as one of the worst majors (speaking strictly financially).

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Or take education, with a starting average salary of $37,000, assuming you can even land a job as an educator out of college. It seems frivolous to invest so much time and money into a major that, in the end, has a low return on investment.

On the other hand, sociologists, teachers and English literature majors all make our world what it is. If there were not any art history majors graduating each year, our culture as a whole would be lacking. Every major makes the world a better place and to question those who are pursuing what they are passionate about is just backwards.

Besides, if you are a business or IT major, are you in it because it is something you are passionate about? Or is it because you feel it is the safest major to get a job with? If you picked the latter, you might want to look in the mirror before looking down on others for their major choices.

So where can I meet in the middle with this issue? There is an idea out there being brainstormed among top economists that involves a simple ‘major catalog’ for freshman students.

The idea is to provide every incoming freshman with an information brochure showing all majors that their college of interest offers. This is already the norm, but with the new system, the average income out of college along with the ‘10-year average salary’ for each major would be provided. In theory, this will provide the information that economists feel is most relevant to choosing a major.

Again, I am torn. This brings up a huge issue of students flocking to the high-paying major and not following their passions. At the same time, I feel students deserve to be aware of what they are getting into and make that decision for themselves. Being provided financial information that is relevant is a great idea, but it should not make or break someone’s decision.

So I ask of you two things. One, be more open-minded the next time you wish to stereotype the ‘unemployed art majors’ around campus. And two, think of what your major means to you. Is it what you are truly passionate about? Is it a field in which you could work your entire life and still find enjoyment in it? And most importantly, is it a field in which you could be living off an awful salary but still love every second of it? If you answered yes to any of these, I applaud your passion. For many, though, it might be high time to look over your long-term goals and find what you really want to do in college, not what society has told you you should do.


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