Welcome Back: Picking your major will ultimately determine your happiness

By Eli Talbert / Columnist

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Whether you know the minute you arrive on campus as a freshman or take a few semesters — or years — to figure it out, at some point in your college career, you will have to make the decision that will affect the rest of your life: your major. 

As soon as you choose the major that will be inscribed on your magical ticket to a middle-class lifestyle — a college diploma — your path in life will be unalterably changed. Although you might be among the 62.1 percent of Americans that the New York Federal Reserve estimates are not in a job related to their degree, nothing can take away the pride you’ll feel when you proudly declare that you were a double major in microbiology and philosophy.

It’s important to note, though, that if you fail to major in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field and, subsequently, are not able to find a decent job, by definition you are a slacker unworthy of sympathy. 

According to a May 2013 study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, there were significant differences between unemployment rates by major. The study indicated that recent graduates in engineering had approximately a 7.4 percent unemployment rate whereas holders of a liberal arts degree of psychology — my major — had a whopping 8.8 percent unemployment rate. Quite clearly you should base your entire college career around that astonishing 1.4 percent difference or, even better, steer clear of STEM and major in education or recreation, which had 5.7 percent and 5.2 percent unemployment rates, respectively. 

Conversely, you could try to pick a major based on what employers say they want. In the latest survey conducted by CareerBuilder and CareerRookie.com, hiring managers and human resource professionals said that the top two majors they look for are business, 39 percent, and information sciences and technology, 28 percent. Choose one of these majors and you are sure to get a job. 

Sure, 43 percent of employers aren’t even planning on hiring recent graduates and a quarter do not believe that recent graduates have the right skills to be hired, but that’s irrelevant. This is especially true when a whole 10 percent of that quarter believe it’s because there are not enough people with majors they are looking for. With 2.5 percent of employers in need of graduates with specific majors, there is great opportunity — if only you would choose the correct major.

Some might argue with this position and say that choosing your major based solely on career prospects is short-sighted — being mediocre in a major you don’t like will not guarantee you a job. Do yourself a favor and do not listen to these people, because they are probably history majors planning on going to law school or something else ridiculously out of touch (political science comes to mind).

The point is that somewhere in this great University there is a magical major where, if you just fulfill the basic requirements, you are guaranteed a job. Unfortunately, employers are being particularly cagey and refuse to outright state that magic major. Instead, similarly to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers allude to vague skills, such as being able to work in a team and solve problems, as those they most value. These skills can not be attributed to a single major so, logically, the employers must be speaking in code.

What people really need to realize is that money is all that matters. It is much better to be working a nine-to-five job as an accountant and making six figures than doing what you love for much less. The psychologists who say otherwise in their studies that show spending time with family and friends makes you happier than money are simply trying to justify their degrees. 

I’m sure everyone remembers the legally binding contract with our University that specified the money that would result from completing a degree — the only reason anyone goes to college. In case you didn’t notice, the back of the contract listed the exact starting salary of every major.

With this in mind, choose your major wisely. The wrong major will doom you to be forever unsuccessful. President Obama would be so much more successful if he hadn’t majored in political science, and the wrong major could cause you to also end up in a dead-end job with no chance of promotion and in which half the people you work for hate you. 

You have been warned. 

Write to Eli at ejt26@pitt.edu

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