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By Dr. Laura Palmer Noone, CEO, University of the Potomac

When of the perils of being the CEO of a college is that everyone thinks you are an expert in all things related to higher education.  Recently, at a neighborhood barbeque, a couple approached me to ask what major their son should pursue.  (Their son had been struggling to ‘find himself’ for some time and the weary parents were nearing the end of their emotional and financial rope.)  But they were also concerned whether college would be ‘worth it’ in the current economic climate.  Could he get a job after college?

Of course, choosing the right degree and major is a highly personal thing and it depends heavily on your skills and interests. I always encourage people to find something that will bring them a sense of joy, purpose, and passion, but sometimes that isn’t so easy to determine.  And sometimes you just have to be a bit practical about it as well.

The next part of this post may be a bit controversial, but if the end goal is to be marketable and employable, then the major really does matter.  A recent study conducted by the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce entitled Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings sheds a very bright light on this fact.  The study found the risk of unemployment among recent college graduates depends on their major.  For example, the study show that majors in liberal art have an 11.1% unemployment rate, as compared to a business major at 7.4%.  In fact, the study found that education, healthcare, business and professional services industries have been the most stable employers for recent college graduates.

Not surprisingly, the study also found that majors that are more closely aligned with particular occupations and industries tend to experience lower unemployment rates.  What a college graduate will earn definitely depends on what they take for courses.

Now back to that question of whether it is worth it.  We have all heard the horror stories of recent college graduates with mountains of debt who are still unemployed.  It is true that unemployment among students with new bachelor’s degrees is high – 8.9%  But it is important to know that unemployment among those with just a high school diploma is 22.9% and is a whopping 31.5% for recent high school dropouts.  Is college worth it?  You bet, but choose your major wisely.

Now can I get back to the barbeque please?

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