If you love history, by all means major in history.
The catch? Make an informed decision and take into consideration job prospects in the field you’re looking to major in, says Mary Ghilani, career services director at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, Penn.
Employment after graduation depends on many factors, not least of which is the wording on a diploma. And since the National Center for Education Statistics projects that nearly 1.8 million students will graduate college this year, there are plenty of degrees on the verge of sinking.
A recent study by Georgetown University pinpointed the healthcare and education as the industries with the lowest unemployment rates. Architecture majors face the highest unemployment rate, which at 13.9 percent is notably higher than the national average of 8.1 percent.
Those in the arts field are facing an 11.1 percent unemployment rate.
But the job hunt doesn’t have to be a downward march. Finding a dream career might mean pushing hard and taking a few risks.
Ghilani, whose book “Working in Your Major: How to Find a Job When You Graduate” (Praeger, 2012) is released this July, says the college major is an important launching point in a person’s life, but it’s not an end-all. Instead, she says a solid educational foundation is key.
Luzerne County Community College is home to 7,000 freshmen and sophomores. About 50 percent of graduates go straight into the workforce, Ghilani says. Standard protocol at the career services center at Luzerne includes doing an interest inventory along with a conversation about possible occupations after graduation.
For those graduating with a bleak employment outlook for their industry, Ghilani encourages students to look outside the box. “We had a work study student who was a photography major – what could be a parent’s nightmare – and, in addition to traditional jobs, he found an ad for a position with an online pet supply company looking for a photographer.”
For recent University of Pennsylvania graduate Emily Mitnick, choosing an undergraduate degree in art history at Northwestern University wasn’t a hard choice. And it led her to the path she really wanted: architecture.
“I wanted to do art history because I figured that college was really the only opportunity to do something just because I loved it,” Mitnick says. The Philadelphia native also made sure she had a well-rounded education, loading up on science classes when she thought she was going for pre-med, and taking several philosophy and English classes.
When senior year came around, Mitnick decided she wanted to go into city planning. Art history made for a nice segue way into architecture, and she says she’s never regretted her decision.
“I was raised to go after a career that really excited me,” Mitnick says. “Even if I had to take an unpaid internship or work as a waitress on the side, I would have done it since art history really excited me.”
Patrick Combs, a speaker and author of “Major in Success: Make College Easier, Fire up Your Dreams, and Get a Very Cool Job” (Ten Speed Press, 2000), says that, with a few expections, what someone majors in rarely matters.
“What matters is doing what I call the ‘unassigned homework’ that advances your career while still in college. Internships, study abroad programs, running a student organization; these are some of the biggest career-builders,” Combs says.
Mary Jo Thomas, a first year nursing student at Luzerne, went back to school at 30 in order to gain more job stability. She had previously spent eight years managing restaurants.
“I feel like people definitely need to be choosy about what’s actually going to get them a job, you can’t really say you’re going to go after a ‘fun’ degree anymore,” Thomas says.
Realistically, she says, if you want to secure a job, you’ve got to look at what jobs are available in the field.
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