Today, more than ever, choosing a college major can be a tremendous challenge.
We live in a time when technology is moving faster than we can keep up, and the workforce can change tomorrow. With all of the talk of AI, unemployment, and the lack of an unsure future, it can be confusing for any parent or student to make college critical decisions today.
Liberal Arts Students
Not everyone loves science, math or technology. Students who are interested in following a more traditional path or want to focus on liberal arts are often forced to question if they should ignore their innate interests and pursue a safer major. Some of these safer majors can include healthcare, computer science, engineering, or other roles within the STEM field.
The total amount of outstanding student loans has reached an all-time this year, coming in at $1.41 trillion, according to the credit reporting agency Experian, and shared by Investopedia.
In fact, that’s a 6% increase from last year, and a massive 33% spike since 2014. Five years ago, the total college debt was $1.06 trillion.
Given the rising cost of higher education, it is no surprise that many students move toward occupations that will require technical skills.
And, in doing so, many students who are not interested in the technology world will most likely find themselves quite unhappy when they are working in a field in which they hold no interest. In turn, this can affect their mental and health as well as the company’s bottom line.
Pair a liberal arts degree with a certification or trade
For students to receive a return on their college investment (which should be at the front and center of conversations today), aspiring liberal arts majors who pursue an additional certification might find a significant win. When students pair a hard-skills trade with classes that encourage them to think, debate, solve problems and have critical discussions, they learn soft skills. When they add a trade to their degree, they can also have a sense toward a more concrete path.
My colleague, Brandon Busteed, who also writes for Forbes, wrote an article entitled: “Long Live The English Major—If It’s Paired With An Industry-Recognized Credential.”
His team at University Partners and Quest Research conducted a national survey of 2,000 adults living in the States, and they asked the following question:
Imagine you are a hiring manager for a top employer. Which candidate would you hire among the following recent graduates?
- A graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English
- A graduate with a bachelor’s degree in English and an industry-recognized designation in cybersecurity
- A graduate with a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity
61% of those who participated in the study, noted that an English major with an industry-recognized credential would be the top candidate of choice.
What does this mean?
This new reality indicates that liberal arts students should carefully plan their college experience in a way that results in the development of industry-relevant skills sought by employers.
Also, by planning this career path, students can learn about small businesses and learn about entrepreneurship at the same time.
With a little bit of research, and some self-motivation, liberal arts majors can create their education in a way that provides for a stronger outlook on the future.
Participate in industry-relevant internships
Taking the time to plan an internship experience strategically is essential in adding value to a liberal arts education. Through internships, students can gain real-world experience while developing a valuable set of transferable skills in the process.
For example, an English major could leverage their writing abilities into an internship with a public relations firm. This experience can help them learn hard skills such as how to write pitches, create proposals, and learning how to connect and reach out to journalists the right way.
Network online and at school
College-age students should build strong professional relationships with their professors and peers.
Also, they should move their digital lives from a personal one to a professional presence before college.
Students who use LinkedIn early (before graduation) have a much better chance of landing work when they have a strong network already in place. Rather than sending resumes out to the world after graduation, they should build a conducive network of professionals before the big day.
Creating a network early is a critical early step, and is one of the smartest actions a college student can take prior to applying for jobs.
Professors and career centers can also help connect students with potential opportunities. Liberal arts majors should take advantage of the resources they are given at school, and network by making their career interests known. If students produce quality work, a professor is more likely to give them a reference or recommend the student to someone in their network who is in the market for young talent.
Create an online portfolio
A well-designed and carefully curated online portfolio could be what sets the liberal arts major apart from a sea of job applicants.
For example, if going by the PR example above, students can create writing samples, share successful pitches, create multi-media projects, practice writing blog posts, and create guest articles. This way, students can create a strong picture that shows their talent, self-motivation, and skills to potential employers.
Through the use of an online portfolio, liberal arts majors can set themselves apart from job candidates who rely solely on social media to market themselves online.
Most importantly, research the job market
In order to avoid post-college shock, liberal arts majors must take time to research the future job market before they choose their major. Before attending any university, parents and students should have extensive knowledge of their college’s ROI, potential employment, growth in the industry, and future opportunities.
Students and parents should also look for the following factors such as projected competition, average salaries, and the cost of living.
In-depth knowledge of the job market will help students choose opportunities that teach them the skills that are sought out by professional recruiters and hiring managers—hopefully today, tomorrow, and as we come upon the new decade in a short few weeks.