I remember being excited about high school graduation for about 5 minutes—then the questions started. Where are you going to college? What are you going to major in? What kind of job are you going to get with that major? Will you make enough money to support yourself with that degree?
Good grief. My 17-year-old mind was spinning. I had a hard enough time deciding what movie to see on Friday night, more less deciding what the entire rest of my life would look like. Honestly, how do we expect any 17- or 18-year old to understand the weight of a college education or the importance of selecting the right degree program?
Thankfully, according to most experts, choosing the right degree program is not the beginning or end of a respectable career.
According to a blog post on LinkedIn.com, employers are more focused on skills that can be acquired with almost any college degree. The blog cited a study conducted by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., that analyzed the market value of the 25 most cited skills listed by alumni of each college in their LinkedIn profiles.
“What it demonstrated was that skill development, not your undergraduate major or the college you choose, is most critical to your earnings potential.”
The blog writer, Jeff Selingo, New York Times bestselling author and higher education strategist, said students should focus on finding a major that will challenge them to work hard and present opportunities to learn from the best professors and mentors.
“No one can predict what the job market will look like in two or four years,” he said. “Avoid majors that are narrow in their focus or that seem to appeal to the latest job trends, unless they are focused on fixing things (engineers, welders, electricians) or fixing people (nurses, physical therapists).”
In a blog post on CareerBuilder.com, Marie Artim, vice president for talent acquisition with Enterprise Holdings Inc. said she’s not necessarily looking for people who opted for a business or management career track in college. She said she’s more concerned with the goals, skills and experiences of each person.
“We really look for people that are interested in learning to run a business, they’re entrepreneurial in nature, they want to deal with people,” Artim said. “It’s a training program, so it allows us to really kind of open that up at the top and welcome all different backgrounds and majors.”
Artim said “soft skills,” such as teamwork, customer service, project management, leadership, multitasking and critical thinking are abilities she looks for that can be developed in any major. She said being able to communicate those skills is one of the most important things when applying for any job.
“Practice and really spend some time getting help understanding how best to articulate those transferable skills,” she said. “That’s what we find the most, is that the history major doesn’t know how to articulate the things they’ve done that would be good for them in a world like ours because they don’t know how to connect the dots.”
Matthew Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, a labor market analytics company in Boston, said students should connect early with their college career center to find out what skills are in demand. He also said an internship will go a long way in demonstrating the skills you have acquired.
"If you want to be able to convince employers when you graduate that you've got those kinds of skills, it's good to be able to put them on your resume," he says. "It's even better to be able to say that I've done that work with those skills."