Under Economic Pressure, Students Choose College Majors Early

Photo (cc) by kevin dooley

Gone are the days when American college students spent a few semesters — or even a few years — in college, exploring different fields of study until they found one that fit. Now college freshmen are anxiously declaring a major far sooner than past generations.

“The shift is being driven by pragmatism, cost and a stubbornly soft job market for college graduates,” The Wall Street Journal said.

Some universities have experienced a significant drop in undeclared first-year students. For instance, at Chicago’s DePaul University, just 16 percent of first-year students were undeclared, down from 31 percent seven years ago. Undeclared freshmen at the University of Denver dropped from 33 percent in 1995-96 to 6 percent now, the WSJ added.

“People don’t go to college anymore to be fulfilled or to gain life perspective; they go to get a great job,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment and marketing at DePaul. “There’s been a shift from hippie culture to corporate culture.”

More students now view their education as a means to get ahead. Eighty-two percent of college freshmen today said their schooling was critical to being “very well off financially,” up from 73 percent in 2006 and just 37 percent in 1971.

The quest for financial security doesn’t always lead where students expect.

In the 10 years between 2002 and 2012, health profession majors experienced a 129 percent increase, while computer and information services fell more than 17 percent, the Brookings Institution reports. Although working in health care seemed to be a smart choice for students a decade ago, some things have changed. Brookings said:

Pay and job security in health fields are not what they used to be, nor are they likely to be again. The rush for security reflected in those college-major statistics may not deliver what at least some of those graduates were probably expecting.

In contrast, there’s been a huge demand for software coders among employers, especially start-ups, but fewer students are now graduating in that field. Brookings recommends that students take a step back and look at the big picture before deciding a course of study.

Today’s students should be wary of picking majors only because they seem to promise a secure life. Instead, pick a major because of personal interest, because it equips people to handle and adapt to inevitable disruptions in the labor market, and because it prepares them for creating jobs (for themselves and others) by founding a firm.

I declared (pre)journalism as my major immediately. When I was a junior, I started having second thoughts about life as a news reporter, but I was so close to finishing college that I stayed with it and graduated.

Looking back, I wish I would have taken a year off between high school and college so I could have really put some thought into what I wanted to do with my life. It’s hard to make such a huge decision when you’re 18 and haven’t experienced much in life.

How did you go about declaring a college major? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
Secret Ways to Save on Netflix
Secret Ways to Save on Netflix

These little-known savings tactics can help whittle down what you pay for your streaming video subscription — every month.

10 Products That Upgrade Your Home for Less Than $45
10 Products That Upgrade Your Home for Less Than $45

Make a fresh start with these affordable Amazon buys.

7 Gadgets Under $60 That Can Boost Your Health
7 Gadgets Under $60 That Can Boost Your Health

These Amazon finds can help ease foot aches, boost energy and even protect your heart.

Big-Ticket Things You Should Never Buy
Big-Ticket Things You Should Never Buy

In this week’s podcast: Are you wasting big money on these common purchases?

Drivers Give These 5 Car Insurers the Highest Marks
Drivers Give These 5 Car Insurers the Highest Marks

One company claimed the top ranking in several categories.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

12 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
12 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.