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A primary goal for a student after college is to find a job that gets the graduate out of mom and dad’s basement or spare bedroom. A popular notion is that the key to success comes from picking a major that leads to a career where jobs are in-demand.
Maybe not, according to experts.
Career specialists from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Tulsa agree on the list of the top majors for this year. However, the status of the job market shouldn’t always be a student’s focus or reason for selecting a major.
Travis Lightsey Jr., major and career exploration coach at OU, says students should stay true to themselves when choosing their majors.
“In our experience with working with students, it is best that they have an understanding of themselves, including their goals, interests, values and skills, and understand the different options of majors and careers they have,” he says.
Robin Huston, OU career services director, adds that no matter what students choose, they should keep in mind that “employers say the top skills they are looking for include: ability to work on a team, problem-solving skills, written and verbal communication skills, and a strong work ethic.
“The soft skills become more important than the major.”
Some students valuing employment security may be driven to select majors that offer ample job openings. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average worker will have at least 10 different jobs before age 40 and Generation Z graduates will hold 12-15 jobs in their lifetimes.
“We want our students to enjoy what they’re studying,” says Shelly Holly, TU director of career services. “If they are passionate about a field, they’re more likely to succeed in college and in the workplace regardless of what career they end up pursuing.”
Both OU and TU have processes for helping students decide on majors. OU students can meet one-on-one with an exploration coach and take a major and career assessment.
“This also allows students to develop better decision-making skills to be able to understand the implications of their choices in majors and what careers they lead to,” Lightsey says.
According to OU’s Institutional Research and Reporting, the most common majors in 2017 include business, biology, pre-nursing, psychology and engineering with increases in journalism and architecture.
Huston says Oklahoma specifically needs teachers, but that isn’t a major in demand. She also agrees with Lightsey in how students should choose their degrees.
“Viability in the job market is not as important as choosing a major that interests you,” she says. “If you are lucky enough, your strengths and interests fall into a major with a clearer career path [such as] accounting or petroleum engineering.
“However, if you are like many students and you do not know what you want your career to be, studying what interests you and focusing on your strengths is a better option than simply choosing a major for its career path.”
TU’s most common majors vary slightly from OU’s; they include nursing, media studies, computer science, mechanical engineering and biology. These are in line with the expected job market in coming years, according to TU officials.