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New studies reveal effect of college major and skill set on employment options


Thursday, May 30, 2013

As you prepare for college one of your most pressing concerns might be what subject to major in. While you have probably been advised to choose a subject you are passionate about, you might also want to factor in future employment prospects as related to that major and to the overall skills you develop in college. Two recent reports offer insight into how these choices have affected the employment possibilities for recent college graduates.

Technical skills in high demand
The study titled "Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings 2013," published by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, revealed that graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degree programs fared significantly better in the job market than those graduating with non-technical degrees. Mathematics majors faced unemployment rates of just 5.9 percent, while the unemployment rate among computer science graduates is around 8.7 percent. Compared to architecture graduates, who are faced with unemployment rates of more than 12 percent, STEM graduates are much more likely to find work after graduation.

Majors that have traditionally seen strong postgraduate employment growth, such as law and public policy, have slowed considerably. The unemployment rate for law graduates is about 9.2 percent, while opportunities for graduates of the arts are similarly sparse. However, in addition to STEM fields, health care has seen robust growth, as evidenced by the 4.8 percent unemployment rate among health and science majors.

The importance of soft skills
As crucial as your choice of major may be, students must also strive to acquire so-called "soft skills," such as communication and problem-solving. According to a recent study published by statistical analysis firm Gallup, there is a strong correlation between these skills and the quality of graduates' perception of their work.

The study revealed that students who gained skills such as collaboration, knowledge construction and self-regulation during their final year of college felt much more strongly about the quality of their work upon entering jobs. Additionally, there was a strong connection between a person's level of education and the development of skills like collaborative problem-solving. Half of college graduates polled stated they developed these skills during their college years, while only 28 percent of those with just a high school diploma said they had developed these skills while in school.

As a college-bound student facing a challenging job market, it is more important than ever for you not only to consider your choice of major carefully, but also to focus on developing the soft skills that are essential for success in the modern workforce.

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