What’s New in ‘22: College Majors and Career Prospects
Students specializing in intersecting areas of academic focus can benefit when applying to selective and highly selective colleges and universities. This article proposes a two-step process for determining a college major leading to viable, lucrative hiring options following graduation.
Step one: evaluate labor force realities. I’ll share how here, so keep reading. Step two: conceptualize two distinct areas of interest to feature as interrelated within the application. Ensure step two aligns with the realities of the research in step one related to future job trajectories. Six specific examples will be showcased.
As hyper-focused, siloed approaches become antiquated, colleges and universities seek to promote more college graduates qualified for interdisciplinary fields. The ability to excel in multiple areas—which should be individuated based on personal interests and talents—is often needed for viable, full-time employment in today’s job market.
Opportunities abound, proportionate to planning. Interestingly, increasingly we’ve seen media discourse questioning whether a college education is worth the time and expense. In truth, it absolutely is an important investment, provided reality checks are in place. College-bound students need to evaluate reliable data in order to be successful in the job market where they will soon compete. Take a look at this graph for an eye-opener about majors that are and are not converting.
For step one of this process, I recommend checking out the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) at https://www.bls.gov for up-to-date data regarding the highest paying and fastest growing careers in the U.S. today. It’s important to for parents, teens, and counselors to become informed. The federal government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook also provides detailed information and can be accessed at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/teachers-guide.htm.
For step two, here are six up-and-coming majors with potential for lucrative job placement after college. Each requires intersecting areas of interest, coursework, and/or other exploration (such as internships) before applying in order to competitively position the application.
1. New Media
More and more colleges in recent years have begun offering courses and majors in what is broadly referred to as “new media”. What does this mean? They combine fine arts areas of focus—communications and journalism, for example, with digital media and design. MIT offers a Comparative Media Studies program, and USC offers a BA in Interactive Entertainment. Students there often combine a liberal arts background with a specialization in various artforms such as filmmaking, writing, and directing.
College degrees in new media prepare students for creative careers in filmmaking, television, animation, social media, e-text and Web publication, graphic design, audio/visual arts, and more. Whereas twenty years ago a simple one-size-fits-all approach worked well for college students interested in careers as creative writers, artists, and designers, today’s technologies redefine the skill sets needed to succeed in the real world of those industries. The wrong major can land students at the bottom of the stack of resumes when hiring time comes.
2. Computer Game Design
Over the past several decades I’ve seen students so obsessed with video games it can only be described as addiction. One sophomore’s parents literally had to take the machine to work with them because he was failing classes to cut school and play compulsively. No surprise, then, that colleges now offer majors in game design for an industry that hit $155 billion in revenue in 2020.
Our culture has adapted gaming protocols for training our military, firefighters, corporate workers, and more. Jobs include game production, software development, design, art, programming, computer graphics, and human-computer interaction. Those who specialize as software engineers also find great jobs in architecture, medicine, law, and other industries using interactive simulation. Computer science combined with parallel disciplines provides a differentiated narrative within a college application. Games are not just for play anymore.
Want to see how Nadia, a student I helped, gained admission to USC’s Computer Science program by writing an essay about her love of game design as related to psychology? Click here: bit.ly/3sVZiZj
- Environmental Studies
People across the globe are awakening to the human impact on our shared natural resources. From energy to water, food, and climate concerns, environmental studies is a major with significance for all of us, and incorporates multiple areas of focus. Interdisciplinary classes at the high school level can include health, agriculture, energy, biodiversity, climate, history, culture, and public policy. Students who stack those interests can apply with a stand-out application, making every day Earth Day and often finding profitable career paths as a result.
Of note, the intersection of arts and sciences is currently trending in highly successful applications. A student I’ve been mentoring recently, Amanda, has been accepted to the University of Washington’s Environmental Studies program. She framed her application with strong scores on exams and lots of course rigor, especially in math and science. But her perceptions were presented in her essays not only through a research lens. They also incorporated vulnerability, with a personal acknowledgment of concerns for the health-related impact on human lives that predicated her decision to pursue this major. She showcased her artistic talent in this haunting self-portrait to make her point. Again: arts and sciences are not in silos anymore. Broad thinkers with diverse ways to think about problems are in high demand.
- Health Information Management
As the American population ages and more and more people live longer, increased numbers of workers are needed to manage information systems related to improve health and manage payments. Intersecting courses here can include biomedical core courses—anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology—along with computer courses, management information systems, and systems analysis and design.
The American Medical Informatics Association projects a need for many more workers in the coming years. Teens who would feel happy in an office environment supporting those in the medical field could find this to be a solid fit. Relatedly, business majors who want to support businesses from any other particular category to which they feel personally connected can feature that angle in their essays to help their application become more memorable.
Want to see how Connor, a student I helped, was offered $346k in merit-based aid by writing an essay about his interest in the intersection of finance and health care? Click here: bit.ly/3hYCB0o
- Homeland Security
Numerous college programs lead to undergraduate degrees focused on this specialization. Interdisciplinary courses offered by schools with Homeland Security programs include critical infrastructure, criminal justice, disaster planning, weapons of mass destruction, political science, and constitutional law. This may be a great option for students who have an interest in police work minus the need for the bulletproof vest.
Some jobs may be with the U.S. government, allowing for great benefits in terms of medical insurance and retirement packages. Other positions may be with subcontracting agencies, but still offer high levels of job stability. How interesting and ironic that our nation’s insecurity can spell job security for teens. By the way—cyber-security, another aspect of this field, employs increasing numbers of college graduates with the degrees and certifications that include computer science, languages and cryptology. Although underemployment rates can be high—at 70% according to the graph at the top of this article—this career pays well, with a 2020 median pay of $104k according to the BLS.
- Biomedical Engineering
For students with a strength in science, this is a powerful pathway to explore— biomedical engineers dwell at the intersection of engineering, biology, medicine, computer science, and technology. Their ability to innovate with knowledge across so many verticals makes them among the highest paid professionals immediately following college. Biomedical engineers address everything from preventing cancer to inventing medical devices, engineering medications, and designing surgical robots. This field has been enjoying an explosive rate of job growth.
Here’s the bottom line about new majors: students need to begin with the end in mind, thinking not just about colleges but about. Envision individuated and self-driven ways to collate and combine multiple areas of interest. In doing this mindfully and successfully, applicants become the only logical choice not only for colleges, but for a future boss looking to hire someone with a unique combination of skills.
A final caveat: employment and income level are not correlated. Education is on the lower end of the underemployment graph at the beginning of this article at 20%, which sounds appealing; however, the starting salary is only $38k/year. By contrast, future psychologists will be in strong demand as predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they enjoyed a national average median pay of $208k/year in 2020.
BY THE WAY: I create regular video content. To view my thoughts on this topic, click here: https://youtu.be/jQZLmhL08Bw. I hope you’ll subscribe to the College Admissions Simplified channel while you’re there, and trust that this information proves helpful for you. Let data drive the way, and to join my mailing list for more tips like these opt in at: https://mentorship.pameladonnelly.com.