Selecting a Major

Is it better to do a major that falls within Liberal Arts for a Bachelors Degree and then do something more specific for a Masters or do the more specific major for a Bachelors?

For example, for people who are interested in subject areas such as Sports Management, Human Resources or Business, should they pursue one of these for an undergraduate degree or instead select a major that would be found within Arts&Sciences?

It depends on many things.

  • Money available.
  • Intended career direction.
  • College eliteness and whether it matters to employers of interest.

If you are seeking a Master’s degree, the will probably look for relevant Undergraduate courses.

Doing a liberal arts major as an undergrad may give you more flexibility in future career and educational choices. But less short term certainty.

Doing a career specific major gives you more certainty if you are really sure about what you want to do. Many students change over those 4 years.

Personally I am in favor of a longer term view for many students, with a more generalist liberal arts education. But in these days of high tuition and loans, and if you are sure of what you want to do and think it won’t change, it also makes sense to consider the narrower vocational career focus.

In other words, it depends!

The idea used to be, in the long run, majoring in history, say, then doing MBA for business- as an example- meant making a better living in the long run than majoring in business as an undergrad. I don’t know if that is true anymore.


There was also a time when employers paid for MBAs and the tuition was reasonable. Few employers do so anymore, and cost at top MBA programs is over $100k/year.

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Of course, that may have been in an earlier age when any bachelor’s degree (at relatively low cost compared to today) had a good chance of leading to a good job from where one can get an employer-subsidized MBA.

First of all, few colleges offer these majors because they’re really light in content (yes, even a Wharton business degree). There simply aren’t enough major-specific courses to fill all four years. If you’re interested in one of those areas, it’s perfectly fine to select a major within A&S that can accommodate the specific set of courses that help you differentiate yourself in one of those specific areas.

I would add that for career-specific degrees I am a big fan of community colleges, and many of the associates degrees can transfer to a four year. This also reduces costs. This may not be the path the OP is interested in but it can work well. In my state AA degree holders have priority registration and other benefits when transferring to a four year state school.


There is actually a very short timeframe in human history when a large chunk of young adults had the luxury of spending a few years pursuing “the life of the mind”. A lot of this was because states were willing to highly subsidized the cost. That has been reverting the past few decades.

I don’t think most employer-subsidized MBAs allow the workers to take two full years off for the MBA right? They have to work while getting it. I did the standard engr undergrad and MBA grad but that was in the early 90s before eMBA and other online classes were there. Most were there for a career change so left their companies and entered full-time.

There are part time and weekend MBA programs that are presumably marketed toward the employer-subsidized market or those who want to complete an MBA while working.

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That may have bern true prior to 2009, @1NJParent , but now business-oriented courses flourish at the most selective colleges in the country, often styled as “financial engineering” or " operations research". They are highly quantitative, rigorous, and very marketable. A Wharton business degree is most clearly not ‘lite’

I actually don’t consider “financial engineering” or “op research” to be a business major, because they only focus on a particular aspect of “business”. These majors, at least when offered by schools near metro NYC (e.g. Princeton, Columbia), are mostly designed for students interested in quantitative finance. The courses (option/derivative theory, optimization, etc.) are really math courses with applications in finance. Such degrees from “lesser” schools won’t be so marketable. Wharton is certainly in a different category for a business major. However, there’re still few core business courses and the quality of the electives is what makes it better.

There is the added impact of computer filtering and algorithms used in sorting resumes now. Many larger employers will only filter for key majors, which does not favor traditional liberal arts majors. The resume may be great but never seen by an actual person if it doesnt pass through the online screen.

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note the section on business:
8 College Majors With Great Job Prospects | Best Colleges | US News

On this list, business administration is #17 and American studies is #11. Engineering and Nursing are highest.

Best jobs for business grads; Best Jobs for Graduates With a Business Degree (

You can google the other career paths you are considering.

Or even better, check out the websites of any future employer you wish to work for, and see who they are hiring under job openings/requirements. The results will be far more illuminating than magazine lists.

I graduated many, many years ago, and even then the saying was that business majors are a dime a dozen. Some things never change, I guess. However, I know quite a few business majors who did very well with that as their undergraduate major. I agree that screening software makes things tough for certain majors. My kids were encouraged to go into STEM majors (high school guidance counselors) … my STEM major kid has had a much tougher road to hoe in his career than my liberal arts kid, though. I am a fan of doing what interests the student. Heck, my D’s major is Medicine, Health & Society, and she has a great job that is not “medical.”

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As an example, how do you know whether it would be a good idea to pursue a MBA?

As an example, I don’t understand why a Philosophy Major would offer flexibility.

Also, for Masters Degrees, is it usually necessary to have a Bachelors in a specific major or does it depend on the Masters Degree?

STEM majors include biology and chemistry, which tend to have rather poor major-related job prospects compared to many other majors.

Note that science and math are also liberal arts.