Choosing Your Major

Published on November 20th, 2012

 

At eighteen years old, you’re old enough to buy cigarettes and to participate in the lottery. You’re not old enough to drink – but that too has its controversies. One thing that you are old enough to do, something that is expected of you sooner or later in a university setting, is to choose a major. The beauty of choosing a major, regardless of your reasons for selecting it, is that you truly believe it will serve you in the future. But the fact of the matter is, very few of us can predict the future. (Except maybe Harold Camping? Oh wait…)

Karen Hernandez, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering on the pre-Medicine track, says family members and personal research steered her toward choosing her major. “I feel like I have a great chance of getting a job in my field,” said Hernandez. “Engineering has a lot of paths and it is still growing.” According to Payscale.com, a website that collects salary and career data, various engineering degrees currently yield the highest starting salaries. Those degrees specified as top earning include aerospace, chemical, computer, and electrical engineering. Besides professions in engineering, college graduates with majors in economics, physics, and computer science are likely to earn a lot of money. Hernandez says ideas of large salaries also influenced her choice of major. She said professional profit is “definitely something you think about. It’s a hard four years, but it’s definitely going to pay off.”

Toppel Career Center advisor Alicia Rodriguez dedicates her time to preparing students for professional success. Her job puts her in a position to monitor the relationship between college majors and employment. Rodriguez has observed that companies hire students for full-time positions in managing social media in a way that incorporates branding and marketing. “We’ve seen social media really explode first on an intern level and now it’s evolved,” said Rodriguez. She projects a continuous increase in jobs for companies interested in social media.

Even monitoring current trends and salaries is not enough to know for sure what will come of the degrees students earn here in college. Of course, statistics show that a college degree makes you more than twice as likely to land a job as an applicant with no college education. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 the unemployment rate among college graduates with educations equal or exceeding a bachelor’s degree was 4.3 percent. But this statistic fails to illustrate how many students find jobs they actually enjoy or that even relate to their college degrees. A junior and advertising major, Sabrina Heath says she will not be hesitant to accept a job outside her major. “I’m not just going to say, ‘You know I have spent four years of my life building up a career in advertising,’” said Heath. “I’m going to do whatever comes to me.” Still, Heath says the international demand for advertising leaves her certain that she can get a job within the field. “The world is always going to need advertisers. You’ve got changing technologies, outsourcing, but it (advertising) won’t be obsolete ever,” said Heath.

Though students seem reluctant to consider the futility of their majors, there is still a chance they could be employed outside their intended field or worse – unemployed. If you apply the national statistic to our campus population, assuming that every undergraduate student will graduate, more than 450 students would be unemployed.

Even in this statistically theoretic scenario, some of the student’s fortunate enough to become employed could find jobs that are either unsatisfying or not related to their college major. Don’t blame it on the times or the state of the economy. Maybe we are simply doomed by the legacy set by the very first student here at the university. That may be overreaching, according to Rodriguez. Rodriguez admits that many people find employment in fields outside their college majors. But according to Rodriguez, a student’s professional success is reflective of the experience they gain through internships, shadowing and research.

Nonetheless, let’s go over some history. The very first student to register at the University of Miami in October 1926 was a nineteen-year-old named Francis Houghtaling. Houghtaling graduated with an A.B. degree on the pre-Medicine track in 1932. He then entered the Florida land development business and in 1952 opened a rental trailer park, according to a December issue of the Palm Beach Post.

In 1926, the university offered seven tracks to freshman students. Students could fulfill general requirements to complete either an A.B. or B.S. degree or take courses tailored to pre-Medicine, Engineering, Business Administration, Pre-Law or Pre-Teaching. Course offerings through the University of Miami in 1926, were admittedly “not impressive” according to the official university history, The University of Miami: A Golden Anniversary History, 1926-1976 found in the University Archives of Richter Library.

There is one notable difference in introductory course work offered during UM’s first academic semester. Physical education was a required course for freshman to graduate in 1926-27. The course description says the class encompassed outdoor sports and activities as well as “corrective work where necessary.” Considering the severity of obesity in this country, maybe students would benefit if the university chose to reinstate this requirement.

So, the university’s first student made a career outside of the field of his college degree but that means little to the measure of his success. A job in a field unrelated to your major may not be too bad. Rodriguez suggests that some employers prefer the diversity of having different educational perspectives represented within their companies. “When you think about marketability it’s not about the major,” said Rodriguez. “It’s everything that you do beyond the major.” Rodriguez suggested that students choose degrees that interest them while making a commitment to gain practical work experience. Demonstrating passion and drive are what makes a great candidate, said Rodriguez.

Ron Henri, a 2011 UM graduate received a B.A. in business administration. “There’s a whole lot school doesn’t teach you,” said Henri. Henri said he had several internships and mentors; he also asked many business professional questions. “The things I was exposed to helped me decide what it was I wanted to get into,” said Henri.  He and several other UM graduates incorporated their own consulting firm last October.

words_chloe herring. illustration_taylor duckett.