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Make the Right Choice: Tips for Selecting a College Major

Oct 26, 2010

A recent survey by CareerBuilder found that more than a third of today's workers wish they'd chosen a different college major. Don't end up with the same regrets! Check out these tips for finding the right college major.

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Job Hunt

Many Graduates Still Struggling to Find Work

The good news: A little over half of respondents in a recent CareerBuilder survey said that they had found a job in their preferred career path within a year of finishing their college degree. The bad news: Nearly 1 in 5 still haven't found work in a field related to their degree. Furthermore, over 25% of respondents said that the job market in their field had worsened since they graduated.

The problem isn't just limited to recent graduates. Among survey respondents who had graduated from college at least ten years ago, 27% said they are no longer working in a field related to their degree. Of those who are, 21% said it took them more than three years to find a job in their desired career path, and 12% said it took over five years.

The struggle to find jobs in their fields has led many college graduates to regret their choice of major - 36%, according to CareerBuilder. In fact, 13% of the respondents in the CareerBuilder survey reported plans to go back to school to gain more marketable skills.

For many students, the prospect of having to go back to school a second time is probably very dismaying - and expensive. If you still haven't chosen a major or degree program, try these tips to help you make the right choice:

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1. Do Your Research

Not everyone goes to college just to learn job skills. But for the purposes of this article, let's assume that you're looking for a major that will make you employable. So one of the first things you should consider is what fields are getting the most job offers for their graduates.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 2010 graduates in accounting received more job offers than any other major. Business and computer / information science came in at a close second and third. But couldn't this change by the time you graduate? Sure, but historical patterns suggest it won't change much. According to NACE, these figures are consistent with student surveys going back even before the recession.

The bottom line: Vocational fields like accounting, business and computer science are a good bet for getting a job.

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2. Establish Your Goals

Okay, so maybe business, accounting and computers aren't for you. No need to worry - even 40% of 2010 art students had some kind of job offer by graduation according to NACE. If you can find a viable career path that suits your skills, you can choose your major accordingly.

If you're not sure what that path might be, check out the free Skills Profiler on the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop website. The DOL also offers a more detailed, but still free, Ability Profiler through the Occupational Information Network (O*Net).

As you're researching possible career paths, keep employment rates in mind. The fact is, there are more jobs in some fields than others. Health care, for example, is one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a good place to look for current and projected employment rates while you're considering different careers.

Need more help figuring out your career path? Don't miss our upcoming article on career planning for college students.

New Horizons

3. Career, Meet Major

Now that you know what you want to do after graduation, you can start figuring out the best major or degree program to help you meet that goal. For some people, it will be pretty straightforward. (Like to build things? Get your degree in engineering.) But many students will need to do a little more research to be sure they're making the right choice.

Your first stop should be the career services office at your current or prospective school. Your career services officers can offer you the expertise of years of learning how to translate a college degree into a career. They can also connect you with alumni in your desired field who might have some advice on what they studied - or wish they had.

You should also check out online resources such as the College Board's Major and Career Profiles. These websites match up hundreds of different careers with college majors.

All this research may seem like a lot of work, but when you're one of the 56% of graduates who have jobs in their fields within a year of finishing school, it'll all be worth it.

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