“But what do I do with a ____ degree?”

14 Jun

I saw this really interesting and interactive chart/diagram today, and I found it to be worth sharing.  A sociologist from UNC went through and compiled the data for the 45 most common occupational outcomes for the 42 most common college majors.  (I recommend reading the article – it’s pretty short! – for the complete methodology and parameters.)

It’s not a “sexy” study that tells you which majors will automatically lead to the highest salaries (or doom you to a low-paying career), but he makes a convincing argument, that it is probably a better, more realistic look at the connection (or perhaps, lack thereof) between college majors and occupations.

One thing that this chart immediately brought to mind is something that I’ve heard from one of Indiana University’s deans (an economist) who I have heard speak on a couple of occassions.  He has pointed out that based on jobs data, nearly half of the jobs that will exist in twenty years do not yet exist.

That’s kind of an incredible statistic if you think about it.  It also gives credence to the liberal arts approach (at least in part), that you should try to develop general skills (i.e. critical thinking, writing/speaking/communicating, the ability to learn, etc.) and then be able to use and apply those skills in a variety of contexts.  Trying to find a direct link from specific major to specific occupation may not be the most effective approach (though it certainly does work for some occupations – this chart helps show that).

Again, check out the chart here (same as above).

On a side note, but related to liberal arts schools, this pretty awesome list poking fun at liberal arts schools came out on buzzfeed the other day.  Check it out here.  It’s a “you know you went to a liberal arts school if…” list.

Having gone to a liberal arts university, I can vouch for this list and say that it was pretty spot on in most ways.  A few corrections that I would immediately point out: #8 – you actually found out that nearly everyone on campus was an athlete; #9 – DPU knows how to party; #27 – see previous.


Posted by on June 14, 2013 in Advice, Media/Movies/TV, sociology


Tags: , , , , , ,

2 responses to ““But what do I do with a ____ degree?”

  1. Buddy

    June 16, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    That was a very interesting chart. He makes a good point that a college education gives you many different opportunities and I agree with you that college teaches you how to think. This guy might believe that not having a dominant career path is good thing, but I disagree.

    I find it disconcerting that many majors have no practical application. The majority of the time they lead you to professions that require little if any knowledge of that major. Sure, you have lots of opportunities, but only as a result of there not being a defined career for that major besides getting a grad degree in something else that you could have just earned a bachelors in. So, of course, people are going to have to accept any paying job resulting in a wide variety of occupations. That is contrary to a dominant career path major, where you have less risk. If you don’t like the dominant career path, you can choose all the other opportunities that a non dominant career path major is limited to. In that sense, the non dominant career path majors provide you with less opportunities.

    College, especially a liberal arts college, does teach you how to think, but do you really need 4 years and 100-150k in debt to learn how to think? Does it really help you do jobs that require no knowledge of your major? Not to mention all of the lost potential income over 4 years.

    In conclusion, I believe more practical majors and technical degrees are a much better decision especially when you consider the return on the investment. If a high school kid asked me what to major in college, I would recommend computer science, engineering, education, nursing, and accounting. I would also recommend trade occupations.



    • trokspot

      June 17, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      I think you are on board with that buzzfeed list #28 (#collegeisoverrated).

      You make some good comments, and it’s a really interesting and complex issue. I think we both agree that there has been quite a bit of “degree inflation” over time, where it’s really difficult to get a good job with just a high school degree and it is becoming more and more “necessary” to go on and get a masters or specialty degree beyond just a bachelors to get many jobs.

      I’ve noticed more and more that people who went to depauw have to go on and pay additional money to get a degree and certified to become nurses, or get a teaching license. I find both of those ridiculous that you drop 4 years of expensive undergrad and can’t get certified in two really mainstream/applicable occupations (that is somewhat specific to DPU in that they don’t offer those).

      However, you still need the degree as a “signal” to future employers as a means of legitimacy, regardless of whether that degree really has any “practical application”. There’s a book that came out recently (I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’d like to soon) by a sociologist at IU called “Paying for the Party”. I believe that one of the main points is what you are getting at – a lot of college education isn’t really all that applicable or really necessary for many jobs. It’s essentially a way to provide the legitimacy of a degree and opportunities for good jobs to those who can afford to pay for it (it can actually act as a barrier to class mobility – you can’t afford it, you don’t get a good job).

      I think that something will have to give in higher education. I think that 2 year colleges will become more common and accepted as legitimate – both as a direct entry into the work force with specific skill sets and occupational training in mind, and also as a head start to knock out requirements for 4 year universities before people transfer in (you can save a huge chunk of money doing it that way).

      Also I can see more vocational/specialized training “schools” or programs that directly apply to specific jobs/occupations (this may or may not be through 2 year/community colleges), or maybe even some kind of “apprentice” type programs.

      I think that the jobs data and interview with employers and stuff right now show overwhelmingly that the most important thing when looking for a job is to have had internships on your resume from college. This trumps your major (in most cases). So I think that is the take away currently – major in whatever (for the most part), but make sure you get an intership or two and you will probably be fine.

      There’s a lot more to get into, as this is a huge complex issue, but just a few thoughts here.



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