"What's your major?" It's a question that gets to the heart of why you're enrolled in college and what you hope to do there. For many students, it's a difficult question to answer.
Researchers say nearly a third of college students switch majors at least once within three years. Some find the coursework too difficult, and others find they're just not inspired by the classes they're sitting through every day.
When you're choosing a major — whether it's your first or an alternative — most students ask others for help. Researchers say we most commonly reach out to advisors, parents, friends, and our families for help.
There is a better way.
Only you know what major fits your proficiencies and interests. Additionally, only you can do research that's meaningful for your present and your future.
Focusing on your career is a smart move. By reviewing the career paths associated with the majors you're considering, you can decide if your coursework will blossom into a job that pays well, offers security, and gives you a good shot at happiness.
We've sifted through the data and have nine suggestions for fruitful careers in 2023. They include:
Read on to find out more about each major. You just might find the focus you've been searching for.
Is a Business Degree Right for You?
Among all of the majors available to college students, business is the most popular. The National Center for Education Statistics says 387,900 out of the 2,000,000 bachelor's degrees conferred in the 2019/2020 academic year were in business. That's a large proportion of students engrossed in business basics all day long.
That popularity could be due, in part, to the low rigor associated with some business programs. A writer for The New York Times
suggested — way back in 2011 — that business is the "default major," as most students who enroll spend less time studying outside of class than those participating in other majors. Instead, they're looking for ways to network and connect with influential peers. That way, they reason, they'll be sure to get a job right out of school.
Some students may also choose a business degree due to versatility. Officials say the average person will change jobs 15 times over the course of their career. Some shift career paths altogether. A foundation in business lets you tackle a wide variety of positions without heading back to school to brush up on your skills.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects data on employment, wages, and job outlooks for a variety of industries, including business. These are a few careers highlighted by the BLS:
Marketing and sales manager: At the low end of the salary scale, you'll make about $57,000 per year. At the high end, you'll make about $187,000. Your work will help consumers feel compelled to buy products from your company.
Compensation specialist: At the low end, you'll make about $38,000 per year. At the high end, you'll make about $98,000. You'll help your company give employees enticing benefits so that they won't hunt for new jobs.
Insurance underwriter: At the low end, you'll make close to $39,000 per year. At the high end, you'll make about $117,000 per year. You'll help develop packages to protect your company from risk while delivering value to your customers.
Purchasing manager: At the low end, you'll make about $61,000 per year. At the high end, you'll make about $173,000 per year. You'll ensure your company pays a fair price for goods and services.
You can also work as a sales representative, helping companies to increase market share. Many business majors go into management positions at their companies, helping to guide the careers of new employees.
Is Criminal Justice Right for You?
Crime rates across the country are dropping. The Pew Research Center says violent crime rates tumbled 49% between 1993 and 2019 in the U.S., and since then, surveys from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show no recent increase.
However, as victims of crime can attest, when someone does something awful, we want them caught. We also want them punished to some degree. Take home a criminal justice degree, and you'll ensure both things happen. Choose the right path, and you'll have both job security and a healthy paycheck.
As a criminal justice major, you'll take courses on:
You'll emerge with skills that help you spot people breaking the law, and you'll know quite a bit about how to talk with people to convince them to stop misbehaving.
Criminal justice degrees are often associated with police jobs, and according to the BLS, about 68,500 openings for police and detectives are projected each year, on average, over the decade. You'll make about $66,000 per year in law enforcement.
But in this field, your benefits are also a factor to consider on top of your take-home pay.
Almost every state has a pension plan for police officers and public servants. In most cases, you'll automatically set aside part of your salary, and you'll agree to work for a specific period of time. In return, you'll get a paycheck for the rest of your life, and that check might be substantial.
In Arizona, for example, you'll pay up to 8.41% of your paycheck into the pool, and you'll agree to work for five years. In return, you'll take home about 63% of your average salary in retirement. You'll also have Social Security coverage on top of that.
Almost every state has a similar plan, researchers say. You may have a small paycheck as you work the beat, but you could retire and stop working altogether at a relatively young age.
If you don't want to deal with the risks that come with working patrol, you could take a job as a probation officer or correctional officer. You'll make about $60,000 per year, says the BLS, and you'll work in prisons or within the criminal justice system. The work is hard, but you'll know you're keeping your community safe.
Is Computer Science Right for You?
Computers have altered the way we live, work, and play. Behind every amazing computer invention is a person with an idea and the skills to bring it to life. Major in computer science, and you could become the next trailblazer.
As a computer science major, you'll work with — you guessed it — computers. You'll probably have the opportunity to narrow your focus to the type of technology that interests you most. At Stanford University, for example, you can choose one of these concentration areas after you declare your major:
The BLS reports that jobs in computer science will grow by 15% between 2021 and 2031, which is the fastest growth rate among all occupations. Students looking for majors associated with good jobs that will be easy to find should flock to this major.
Even so, analysts say that the number of people choosing this major has flatlined since 2005. If you choose this field, you might face little competition for the jobs you want, and many are available.
Companies are desperate for people with degrees and talent, so it's not uncommon to get signing bonuses for choosing a specific company. Some also offer stock options to new employees. If the company you work for hits it big on the stock market, you could walk away with a tidy nest egg.
Is Economics Right for You?
As an economics major, you'll learn more than how to count money. You'll delve into the concepts that underlie our economy. You'll understand how financial problems appear, and you'll develop skills to guide policy to avoid future crises.
As a graduate with a bachelor's degree, you're fully prepared to work with money. Plus, your problem-solving and analysis skills could give you a leg up in a competitive job market. Analysts say students with a bachelor's degree in economics can work as:
Market research experts
These roles will allow you to work for banks, financial institutions, or government agencies. Your salary will vary widely depending on where you work and the responsibilities you hold, but your educational background will prepare you to succeed in these environments.
Your salary will grow along with your expertise. The American Economic Association says economics majors tend to earn $66,100 in the start of their career, but by the middle of their careers, they're taking home $146,400 per year.
Head back to school for another two years of learning, and you'll emerge with a master's degree in economics. Then, you can work as an economist, which is where the interesting work comes in.
The BLS says that economist positions will grow 6% between 2021 and 2031, and most will make about $105,000 per year. You'll work full-time, and you’ll probably work in an office with other economists.
Is Education Right for You?
If you can read this sentence, you owe a teacher your gratitude. Take a similar job, and you can repay the favor. You'll do more than give back to your community as an education major. Few people are choosing this educational emphasis, meaning jobs are plentiful.
According to an analysis from Inside Higher Ed, colleges have seen a 30% decline in education majors between 2008 and 2019. Further, most students that choose an education major hope to work in elementary schools. Meanwhile, there's a real need for teachers that focus on:
High school math
High school science
Foreign language and bilingual instruction
Enroll in an education program, and you'll learn how to prepare lesson plans, grade papers, and shape young minds. You'll also prepare to take your state's license exam so that you can start work as soon as possible.
The BLS says jobs for teachers will rise 7% between 2021 and 2031. You could focus on:
In most cases, you'll have summers off to rest and relax. You might also have state retirement plans to draw from later in life.
Is Engineering Right for You?
In surveys, engineers cite the ability to change the world for the better as a top motivating factor in their work. They use their skills to build machines, adjust systems, manipulate data, and more to help their communities improve.
It might sound cliché, but this is a career with a lot of power and is in high demand.
After you choose engineering as your major, you have yet more decisions to make. Engineering is a large and diverse field, and most colleges offer the opportunity to focus on one particular field, so you can learn the specific skills you'll need on the job. At Cornell University, for example, 14 engineering majors and 20 minors are available to undergraduates.
According to the BLS, salaries and demand can vary widely for each job title:
Civil engineers make about $83,000 per year, and more than 32,000 new jobs are expected by 2026.
Overall, the BLS says that engineers make more than twice the median wage for all workers. As the data suggests, you'll need to choose your specialty carefully to ensure that you pick a fruitful focus that employers really want.
In surveys, more than 83% of engineers say their work is interesting. Only 32.8% said an advanced engineering degree was necessary for career advancement and higher pay.
Is a History Degree Right for You?
You might be surprised to see this entry in our recommendations. Over the last several years, history degrees have become less common to pursue and sometimes even looked down upon.
After all, this isn't a career-track educational focus. It's a classic liberal arts choice, and that could lead you to think that it won't land you a job. The data tells a different story.
History has become an unpopular choice among students. Analysts suggest that the number of history majors dropped 20% between 2014 and 2017. Even in 2014, the number of majors was nowhere near the high in the late 1990s.
Studies suggest that people with these skills are in high demand by employers, irrespective of industry. If you have them, you can work almost anywhere and expect decent pay and advancement opportunities.
History majors also emerge with so-called soft skills, such as:
The BLS says people with bachelor's degrees in history make a median salary of about $60,000 per year. They work in fields like:
Postal service administration
That data suggests you could do almost anything with a history degree. If versatility in a changing job market is crucial to you, this could be the right major to focus on.
Is Nursing Right for You?
Many jobs in the health care industry require a doctoral degree. Nursing is different. Some of the most rewarding and lucrative nursing jobs could be yours with a bachelor's degree, and you won't need on-the-job training to pull down big salaries and interesting cases.
Choosing nursing means focusing on a career:
That is in demand. The demand for nurses is expected to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031, says the BLS. Nurses make, on average, $77,600 per year with their bachelor's degree.
You can build on. If you do pursue an advanced degree and become a nurse practitioner (NP), you'll earn a higher salary. NPs make about $102,000 per year, according to surveys. Those who pull down this high wage are happy with it, but nurses at the low end of the scale often wish they made more.
You're sure to love. Most nurses love their jobs, as studies suggest it's one of the top jobs in health care and one of the best, period.
To land your first job, you'll need to pass all your classes, which isn't always easy. Nursing programs are rigorous, and it isn't uncommon for nurses to clock in very long hours as they study anatomy, physiology, and other crucial topics. You'll also need to pass your state's licensing exam, which isn't easy for all nurses.
Hospitals. You might focus on a specific part of the facility, such as the nursery, or you might be in a new spot every day.
Nursing homes. You'll ensure doctors’ orders are followed while caring for vulnerable patients.
Schools. You'll address minor problems and administer medications to young students.
Communities. As a community health nurse, you'll work in a government-owned clinic, and your patient caseload might be different every day.
Pick the right part of the country where nursing shortages are acute, and you could land a signing bonus in addition to negotiating for a higher salary.
Is Oceanography Right for You?
You could study something like biology and delve into cell structure, animal classifications, and anatomy. Or you could choose a specialized science focus and emerge with skills you can put on the market right now. Oceanography is one of those specialized science degrees.
As an oceanography major, you'll learn about:
The habitat. You'll discover how to identify the flora and fauna that make up the bottom of the ocean floor.
The past. You'll find out how the ocean has changed throughout history.
The future. You'll learn how climate change and other issues put sensitive areas at risk.
The solution. You'll head to far-off places and help scientists conduct research.
The fundamentals. During your coursework, you'll develop a solid background in both math and science.
Oceanographers can and often do tackle jobs in the research realm. For example, you could obtain a doctoral degree and conduct your research while you teach college students.
There are plenty of other industries that need oceanographers. Oil drilling companies and some landscape developers need your help and expertise to do their work every day.
The BLS doesn't keep records about oceanographers as thoroughly as data collected about other fields. Still, the geoscientist bucket, which includes oceanographers, is expected to grow by 5% by 2031, with median salaries at $83,680. You'll start that work with a bachelor's degree.
Bear in mind that oceanographers tend to do their best work near oceans. If you prefer to live in the middle of the country rather than on the coastline, this might not be the best option for you.
Learn Even More Online
We've given you a lot to think about with this list. To make a smart decision, you'll need to understand even more.
Job availability varies from location to location, and salaries can vary too. Use Joblist
to help make sense of it all.
Tap in the job title you want, and see how many jobs there are in a location of your choice. See how salaries shake out in different cities and states. Run as many searches as you'd like. Best part? There's no fee involved. So get started today!