College Majors: What Parents Need to Know

By Jill L. Ferguson


Many parents think their child declaring a major early in their collegiate academic studies will ensure their child graduates in four years. But in 2016, a study from the Education Advisory Board in Washington, D.C. said otherwise. According to Inside Higher Education, “Most students — as many as 80 percent in some surveys — will switch majors at one point during their time in college. According to the report, students who made a final decision as late as the fifth term they were enrolled did not see their time to graduation increase. Even one-quarter of the students who landed on a final major during senior year graduated in four years, the EAB found.”

Now obviously, super technical majors may not be added late in the studies without additional time added to obtain the degree. But an interesting point in the EAB study is that students who switched majors found that to be a positive experience and were more likely to graduate college than students who declared a major from the onset and never switched were.

Lists of college majors are compiled every year and ranked in a variety of ways: best starting salaries, best career prospects, most meaningful major, etc. Two lists of note are from Kiplingerand Forbes. Kiplinger’s list is mostly about the money: starting salary, mid-career salary, job prospects, 10-year career growth; Forbes list reports similar numbers categories but talks about what people say are the most meaningful jobs (based on a PayScale survey of more than 800,000 people).

Kiplinger’s list:

  1. Nursing
  2. Biomedical Engineering
  3. Civil Engineering
  4. Mechanical Engineering
  5. Computer Science
  6. Management Information Systems
  7. Business Administration
  8. Physics
  9. Actuarial Mathematics
  10. Finance

Nursing, for example, has more than 1.9 million job openings annually, which is one reason it made the number one spot for 2017-2018.

Forbes’ list:

  • Pastoral Ministry
  • Medical Laboratory Science
  • Music Therapy
  • Counseling tied with Diagnostic Medical Sonography and Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy

One note on the Forbes’ list is that the first half of the list has starting salaries in the $30,000s; whereas, the lowest starting salary on the Kiplinger list was for Business Administration majors at $48,000.

If money is not a driving factor for your child and he or she is really stumped about choosing a major, Princeton Review recommends, “Make the most of any required general education courses—choose ones that interest you. Talk to professors, advisors, department heads, and other students. Find an internship off campus. Exploring your interests will help you find your best fit major—and maybe even your ideal career.”

Or Loyola University Chicago provides this 35-question quiz to help students narrow down their interests and an undergraduate major: most of all, as parents, it’s up to us to remind our kids that a major is not a lifelong sentence. It is a jumping off or starting point. People’s careers morph and change over time, regardless of their majors.