Consequences of College Majors

Attention high school seniors (and parents of those seniors). By now, you seniors have seen the results of your college applications. You probably have a handful of acceptances and maybe some disappoints too. Regardless, your life is about to take a dramatic developmental step: heading off to college on your own. You’ll be making a lot of independent decisions, decisions that could possibly determine some significant directions in your life. Let’s call one of them a “major” decision.

Choosing a college major can be quite difficult. I started out my freshman year majoring in Business Administration, which was simply a default on my part because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up graduating with a degree in music history and literature, which was essentially a classical liberal arts degree. After many years of moving from job to job, as my life’s circumstances dictated and permitted, I found my wheelhouse here in the world of college counseling and writing. It was a long and winding road, to say the least. I hope that your road won’t be as long or as winding as mine was in order for you to find your wheelhouse work.

While I would be the last person to try to equate happiness and success with certain college majors, there has been some research into which majors might not provide young people with the most optimal platform from which to jump off into the so-called Real World.

The Daily Beast has posted a very interesting article entitled The 13 Most Useless Majors, From Philosophy to Journalism. It references “new research (PDF) from Georgetown University—which drew from two years of census data to determine the prospects for myriad majors—to narrow down our list to more than three dozen popular college majors. We also used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, equally weighing the following categories to determine current and future employment and earnings potential…”

What are those 13 “useless” majors and what’s the bottom line from the Georgetown study?

Here’s how the Daily Beast’s results rounded out for uselessness:

1. Fine Arts

2. Drama and Theatre Arts

3. Film, Video, and Photographic Arts

4. Commercial Art and Graphic Design

5. Architecture

6. Philosophy and Religious Studies

7. English Literature and Language

8. Journalism

9. Anthropology and Archeology

10. Hospitality Management

11. Music

12. History

13. Political Science and Government

And here are some highlights from the Georgetown study:

Not all college degrees are created equal

The question, as we slowly dig out
from under the wreckage left by the
Great Recession, is unavoidable: “Is
college worth it?” Our answer: “Yes,
extensive research, ours included,
finds that a college degree is still
worth it.” A Bachelor’s degree is one
of the best weapons a job seeker can
wield in the fight for employment and
earnings. And staying on campus to
earn a graduate degree provides safe
shelter from the immediate economic
storm, and will pay off with greater
employability and earnings once the
graduate enters the labor market.
Unemployment for students with new
Bachelor’s degrees is an unacceptable
8.9 percent,1 but it’s a catastrophic
22.9 percent for job seekers with a
recent high school diploma—and
an almost unthinkable 31.5 percent
for recent high school dropouts. …

What college graduates earn also depends on what they take.

Median earnings among recent
college graduates vary from $55,000 among
Engineering majors to $30,000 in the Arts, as
well as Psychology and Social Work. In our more
detailed data—which drills into the broad categories
to look at results for more individual, specialized
majors—the variation is even more pronounced,
ranging from $60,000 for Computer Engineering
graduates to $24,000 for Physiology majors.

Majors with high technical, business and healthcare
content tend to earn the most among both recent
and experienced college graduates.

Engineering majors lead both in earnings for recent and
experienced college graduates followed by Computer
and Mathematics majors, and Business majors.
Recent graduates in Healthcare majors start out with
high earnings, but begin to lose ground to Science,
Business and Engineering as college graduates gain
experience and graduate degrees. Graduate school
further differentiates earnings among majors. …

Although differences remain high among majors, graduate education raises earnings across the board.

The average earnings for BA’s
now stands at $48,000 compared with $62,000
for graduate degrees. With the exception the
Arts and Education, earnings for graduate
workers range between $60,000 and $100,000.
It is easy to look at unemployment rates for new
college graduates or hear stories about degreeholders
forced to tend bar and question the wisdom
of investing in higher education when times are
bad. But those questions should last only until you
compare how job seekers with college degrees are
doing compared to those without college degrees.
Today’s best advice, then, is that high school
students who can go on to college should do so—
with one caveat. They should do their homework
before picking a major because, when it comes
to employment prospects and compensation,
not all college degrees are created equal. …


You’ll be dazzled by all the charts and statistics in the Georgetown study. However, I’d like to add my two cents here about choosing a college major. The findings of the study are not cast in concrete. If you have an overwhelming passion for a particular academic or “artistic” area of endeavor, I say that it’s possible to be both happy and successful in life if you follow your heart. Of course there are no guarantees and life, especially these days, can be treacherous. My bottom line, though, is to consult your heart and your parents before you head off into the world of college majors. It will be your major decision.

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