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College Students Overestimate Importance of Major Selection for Job Prospects

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While the majority of college students in a recent survey believe their major selection is a key determinant of future job prospects, only 50 percent of employers analyzed in the study specified a major requirement for job listings. Why? Employers are increasingly focusing on job skills, according to Handshake, a career community that connects students and graduates with employers across the United States.

The survey, conducted by Propeller Insights on behalf of Handshake, polled 1,004 U.S. college students mostly between the ages of 16 and 24 about their majors and career expectations, and analyzed hiring data from employers using the Handshake Premium platform.

Among the findings:

  • 61 percent of students feel pressured to choose a major that they believe will result in a high-paying job;
  • Men were 53 percent more likely than women to choose a major for its earning potential, while women were 27 percent more likely than men to be influenced by academic passion;
  • 63 percent of students would take the first job they were offered because they need the money;
  • Women were more likely than men to be concerned about a recession impacting their job prospects, and more likely to try to "get a job quickly" once out of college;
  • Nearly four times more men than women major in engineering (20 percent vs. 6 percent);
  • Engineering students ranked "relevant skills" as the most important factor in finding a job, while all other majors prioritized "prior internship/job experience";
  • Students in humanities majors were the only group in which the majority of respondents did not feel pressured to choose a major that would result in a high-paying job; and
  • Humanities students were also the only group in which the majority listed "satisfying work" (as opposed to "pay") as the primary driver when looking for and choosing a job.

"The overemphasis on the relationship between major and career prospects is outdated and needs to be reevaluated," commented Christine Cruzvergara, vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake, in a statement. "To succeed in finding meaningful and satisfying careers post-graduation, students should shift to developing a new mindset. They should focus on developing skills including the ability to synthesize information, think critically, and communicate well, which will serve them both in college and beyond."

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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