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Choice of Major Does Impact Jobs

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Replies to: Choice of Major Does Impact Jobs

  • Twoin18Twoin18 1682 replies17 threads Senior Member
    It’s interesting to contrast attitudes in the US with those elsewhere. I was just reading an article in the Sunday Times (of London) magazine entitled “At university, studying what you love is what’s most important” (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/magazine/the-sunday-times-magazine/at-university-studying-what-you-love-is-whats-most-important-z7p223xn0 although it’s behind a paywall).

    The advice includes “because [attending university] will never happen again it is essential to pick the right subject — the one that truly gladdens the student’s heart.”

    Some of the assertions made are that “Bankers don’t study banking. Publishers don’t study publishing. Captains of industry don’t study accountancy or marketing. Media superstars don’t do media studies. If you ask anyone involved in recruiting hot-shot future lawyers, accountants or financiers, they will tell you that they want people with vision, imagination and independence of mind, among other things.“

    Put another way “you get more brownie points from prospective employers if you study what you love. They can train you to learn whatever you need to learn once you’ve graduated.”

    It concludes “Degrees exist to grow us as individuals and as a society...It is so important to have a little pile of knowledge about something you really love to cherish for the rest of your life. Everything else follows from that.”

    The author (India Knight) attended Cambridge and perhaps her attitude is less prevalent at some other British universities, but it still seems a very long way away from the sentiments expressed by OP and most people I know in the US.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 79070 replies702 threads Senior Member
    Twoin18 wrote: »
    It’s interesting to contrast attitudes in the US with those elsewhere. I was just reading an article in the Sunday Times (of London) magazine entitled “At university, studying what you love is what’s most important” (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/magazine/the-sunday-times-magazine/at-university-studying-what-you-love-is-whats-most-important-z7p223xn0 although it’s behind a paywall).

    [...]

    It concludes “Degrees exist to grow us as individuals and as a society...It is so important to have a little pile of knowledge about something you really love to cherish for the rest of your life. Everything else follows from that.”

    The author (India Knight) attended Cambridge and perhaps her attitude is less prevalent at some other British universities, but it still seems a very long way away from the sentiments expressed by OP and most people I know in the US.

    That attitude is at least somewhat common on these forums, but that is likely due to the focus on elite or almost elite students (or those with pre-existing useful connections) and highly selective universities, where there are employers who preferentially recruit without being as focused on the specific major. Note also that the families are mostly wealthy, and the few students from non-wealthy families get good financial aid, so there is less short term financial pressure from student loans. Hence, those students at those universities have the "luxury" of studying what they really want while still having reasonable expectations of getting a good job at graduation.

    But it is likely that most college students will encounter employers more focused on specific job skills, and have student loan debt pressure to study something that will make them employable. So it is not surprising that pre-professional majors become more common as one moves down the university selectivity scale in the US.
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  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 3108 replies39 threads Senior Member
    If university were free, or close to it as in much of Europe, of course students might choose to study other majors. Few of us can make a $ 300k investment in a purely intellectual pursuit.
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  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 1139 replies3 threads Senior Member
    edited September 30
    @roycroftmom I wonder about that. I know that our S is studying what he loves. Do you think there are that many students that are focused solely on $$?
    edited September 30
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  • Twoin18Twoin18 1682 replies17 threads Senior Member
    "If university were free, or close to it as in much of Europe, of course students might choose to study other majors."

    That's certainly not the case in England - tuition costs for everyone are GBP9250 per year ($11.5K) and living expenses will roughly double that, while the typical starting salary is far lower than in the US (GBP30K = $37.5K is the median and outside London it's usually lower). It's uncommon for parents to save for college, so most students do take the tuition loans even if their parents can pay out of pocket for living expenses (which in many cases they cannot). So the average student debt is reported to be around GBP50K = $62K (see https://university.which.co.uk/advice/student-finance/how-much-debt-will-i-actually-get-into-by-going-to-university), which is higher than in the US in a country with lower incomes (although with income based repayments in the UK, not all of this debt will be paid back).

    I agree that the difference in attitude is more reflective of elite universities, rather than the "average" student as @ucbalumnus notes. But it is interesting to me that in the US the pressure to do something practical extends even to most elite schools, and there's a tendency to be defensive about the benefits of a liberal arts education. Maybe that is because liberal arts in the US is a broad education, without much of a commitment to a specific major at the beginning, so very few students go in seeking to gain a "little pile of knowledge about something you really love".

    In contrast, many of the STEM subjects do require an early commitment, because of the structured four year course, and given the competitiveness of admissions for subjects like CS, you may even have to demonstrate (or at least pretend) that you "really love" it even in high school.
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  • websensationwebsensation 2119 replies39 threads Senior Member
    edited September 30
    @Twoin18 I tend to share your views, simply because I don't think for many kids like my son there is a straight line from college to a job.

    No question one's major does impact one's likelihood of finding a decent job that pays decent money, whatever the amount may be. Everyone tends to base decisions on their own experiences, so for me, it was very important that the college my kid chose has very good departments across the board because I know from experience there is a great likelihood that my kid will change his mind about what he wants to major. For example, I changed my intended major 5 times in college, going from Physics to Econ to EE to finally English Lit. My kid also changed his intended major once.

    One way I tried to help him build "unique" skill set for whatever he does in future is by helping him develop his language skills in 4 languages by taking advantages of our life situations at the time. For example, when we lived abroad for long time, instead of putting our kid in a Foreign English School like most expats, we embraced the idea of putting our kid into a "native" school where he picked up the language while also picking up English at home.

    I have no idea how much his language skills will help him get a good paying job, but he tells me he enjoys his language classes, and they are only classes in which he can do really well without trying that hard. I already knew he wasn't good in math when he was 6 years old when he had trouble even adding past 10. I don't even know how he made it past Calculus BC and Stats.

    Another skill he seems to be learning at school is to research and put down the research results and his thoughts in relatively logical manner, which I think is important.

    So, for me, very good departments across the board, language skills and good research, listening and communication skills were or are important. After that, I have no idea what specific skills are needed, and that's something I cannot help with and leave up to our kid to decide.
    edited September 30
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  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 3108 replies39 threads Senior Member
    $11k in tuition sounds like a bargain compared to most US private, or even public, universities
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  • websensationwebsensation 2119 replies39 threads Senior Member
    edited September 30
    @Rivet2000 I think a more apt question should be: Would your son pursue that field even if it didn't pay well? If that field pays pretty well and is something he loves, of course, there is no conflict. I think some sort of conflict arises in two cases: 1) the job pays very well but is in a field you don't like or is sort of indifferent; 2) the job pays poorly but is in a field you really like. Note I respect any of the above approaches. Sometimes you have to do what you need to do. I was lucky in that I majored in something I liked and found a career in something that I found interesting and challenging for many years while making good money, until it no longer was challenging or interesting. lol

    edited September 30
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 79070 replies702 threads Senior Member
    I think some sort of conflict arises in two cases: 1) the job pays very well but is in a field you don't like or is sort of indifferent; 2) the job pays poorly but is in a field you really like.

    Some may compromise a bit and choose a second choice (but still desirable) direction that is in demand, while doing the first choice as an "extracurricular" both in college and afterward. For example, if one's passion is performing arts (but is not elite at it), but one is also interested in computing and engineering, it may be a reasonable decision to pursue computing or engineering as a college major and career, while doing performing arts as an "extracurricular", including after entering the labor force in computing or engineering.
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  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 1139 replies3 threads Senior Member
    @websensation That's a good question, and I think I'd say, yes, he would still be studying in the same field. From a young age we have always asked our kids what they were interested in. His answers ranged from spiderman, to garbage truck driver, astronaut, then engineer, and finally CS. His math skills always high, while he only tolerated non-math/science classes. Only now his he realizing the financial implications of his passion.
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  • gwnorthgwnorth 392 replies8 threads Member
    Both my kids have strengths and interests in both STEM and humanities/arts. We have stressed to both of them that they should follow their passions but both have practical streaks which are influencing their post-secondary choices. Neither of them are choosing to major in the humanities/arts, gravitating instead towards STEM pathways.

    DS19, your quintessential high achieving academically focused student, is considering declaring a major in either Theoretical Physics, Pure Math, or a combined degree in both while taking electives in History/Art History/Classics. He almost certainly will go to graduate school. This choice is a definite outlier among his friends, the majority of whom have been steered by their parents towards the more professional and potentially lucrative pathways of CS/Engineering/Medicine.

    DS21 though equally capable, has not been as academically engaged as his brother and while his interests do tend to run more towards the applied, even he is not leaning towards traditional CS or Engineering programs. We attended our local university fair this weekend which helped crystalize his interests a bit. He was not interested in CS programs that offered the currently popular streams of algorithm design/big data/AI. What did catch his eye were interdisciplinary programs incorporating CS and Engineering but not exclusively restricted to those fields like UX Design and computer-human interaction. Even on the engineering side he gravitated towards a few programs that combined various different disciplines rather than focusing on the traditional streams.

    While these pathways may have less defined employment outcomes and may end up being less economically lucrative, they are a better fit for them which to me is more important, a choice which is an anathema to their friends' parents.
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  • roycroftmomroycroftmom 3108 replies39 threads Senior Member
    I really don't think there are many parents who would object to a math or engineering degree over other choices.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5369 replies100 threads Senior Member
    edited September 30
    Our S19 is a strong STEM student at a liberal arts school. He's thinking physics or math for a major. We've told him we're cool with that and they he should take everything else he wants - fill up on literature, history, whatever else floats his boat. It will be the only time in his life he will have the chance to be taught by these professors and to be surrounded by peers who are also interested in those subjects.

    Our D21 is thinking psychology. We are ok with that (even at full pay) but we'd like her to also take enough stats or comp sci to say she's got quantitative experience. We haven't dug deep on this yet but I do think psych majors can marry quantitative skills with their major.
    edited September 30
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  • gwnorthgwnorth 392 replies8 threads Member
    edited October 1
    I really don't think there are many parents who would object to a math or engineering degree over other choices.
    There's math and engineering and then there's math and engineering. Amongst DS19's friends' parents there is a very narrowly defined list of acceptable fields of study. They questioned his initial choice of physics over engineering the most common question being "what's he going to do with that?". Now a few weeks into school he is also considering math but while they would be ok with actuarial science, finance, or accounting, they wouldn't be with the pure math route he is considering (possibly in combination with physics) as they favour practical professional pathways with more certain economic outcomes. In terms of engineering, the disciplines DS21's interested in at present are more niche and I suspect that he most likely will end up going with a program that is more interdisciplinary and that merges both applied arts and sciences rather than the more traditional and established engineering disciplines.

    The point is that even with regards to STEM among my kids' friends families certain fields are considered more acceptable than others. Those with a practical focus and established pathways to employment are preferred over those more academic in nature. Obviously everyone wants what's best for their children but most don't want to see their children struggle financially and many place that as a higher consideration than "fit". I admit that I've struggled with this myself, as financial security is very important to me. Dh and I both hoped that DS19 would ultimately choose engineering over physics. I had a few pangs of regret when he turned down an offer to a very prestigious engineering program in favour of physics at a different school. In retrospect however I think he made the right choice for him and he appears to be blossoming in his choice. Though Dh and I are practical at heart, we are willing to encourage our children in pathways that are a better fit with their interests and personalities rather than focusing strictly on economic outcome, but it's been hard for me at least to see them make those choices. I would never pressure them to pick a field they aren't interested in strictly because of it's potential for financial security but that has't stopped me from wishing that their interests haven't naturally lead that way. I guess that's what I get for encouraging them to be well rounded lol.
    edited October 1
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5369 replies100 threads Senior Member
    edited October 1
    I just looked up the physics major at Bowdoin (where our son is ) and they have all kinds of jobs - research scientist, financial analyst, radar analyst, software engineer, risk management analyst, editor at educational publisher, capital markets associate, data scientist....lots of options for a student studying physics who doesn't want to go to grad school.
    edited October 1
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  • gwnorthgwnorth 392 replies8 threads Member
    @homerdog, nobody is going to hire someone with an undergraduate degree in Physics as a research scientist. As for the rest of those jobs they will be competing with engineering, computer science, finance graduates so while not impossible, they will be facing an uphill battle. I follow the Physics Forums career boards and the common thread running through the posts is that it is significantly more difficult to find employment with an undergrad Physics degree especially if you want to do something related to your degree. Physics programs are really designed for those intending to pursue grad school. Otherwise you're better off doing a more applied degree like engineering, computer science, or finance.
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  • 1NJParent1NJParent 1455 replies35 threads Senior Member
    edited October 2
    gwnorth wrote: »
    As for the rest of those jobs they will be competing with engineering, computer science, finance graduates so while not impossible, they will be facing an uphill battle.
    Not necessarily. Physics education will give a student good training as a generalist in STEM. S/he can probably pick up specialized skills in programming, or finance, or certain fields of engineering relatively easily. S/he is also likely to have stronger problem solving skills than many others trained in their specialized fields.
    edited October 2
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  • websensationwebsensation 2119 replies39 threads Senior Member
    edited October 2
    I think the best situation is if your passion area also pays well. If not, you have to do what you gotta do to make a living. Also, the area you were interested in turns out to have many aspects to it which turns you off, and then you leave. I know one person who was doing PhD at one of top universities in CA but he got tired or disillusioned about having to write many research funding proposals and left the research/academic field. Or you worked so hard in one field and accomplished much, and you no longer want to immerse yourself in that area. Imagine if there were no computers, many smart kids would not have a way to make good money, although I am sure they would have gone into different areas.
    edited October 2
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 79070 replies702 threads Senior Member
    1NJParent wrote: »
    gwnorth wrote: »
    As for the rest of those jobs they will be competing with engineering, computer science, finance graduates so while not impossible, they will be facing an uphill battle.

    Not necessarily. Physics education will give a student good training as a generalist in STEM. S/he can probably pick up specialized skills in programming, or finance, or certain fields of engineering relatively easily. S/he is also likely to have stronger problem solving skills than many others trained in their specialized fields.

    Physics majors do appear to be eligible for a relatively broad range of jobs requiring quantitative skill (including finance, computing, and some kinds of engineering), but may not necessarily be the first choice applicants for some of those jobs.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 5369 replies100 threads Senior Member
    edited October 2
    @gwnorth huh? Those jobs are jobs kids reported to Bowdoin in the last two years. The kids are lying. You can look them up yourself. The website even says the names of the companies. Maybe these kids got the jobs because they came from a top LAC so they certainly have a lot to offer to any company. They know how to write and they are educated widely. It’s also possible that the Bowdoin alumni network did well by them.
    edited October 2
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