If you've struggled to choose a major, worried about finding a job after graduation, or are unsure if taking out hefty student loans is worth the investment, you aren't alone. Fortunately, research is being conducted to help you make informed decisions as you embark on your college career.
The Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University outlined the results of the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey Estimates in a 2012 report that described the financial returns and unemployment rates for various college majors. If you happen to be studying one of the top-earning majors, congratulations! But if your major falls on the low end of the salary and job-prospect scale, it may be time to rethink your future.
[Explore some hot majors with bright futures.]
Outlook: Not So Good.
Professions in the arts and humanities bear the brunt of an economy run aground.
The collapse of the housing market led to the highest rate of unemployment among majors discussed in the report, 13.9 percent, for recent architecture grads. If you're in this area of study—and worried about your employment prospects—make out a list of the pros and cons of a switch to engineering. You just might find a new path to consider.
But if you have a passion for architecture and can't imagine a future doing anything else, there's a silver lining: scholarship opportunities. The American Architecture Foundation offers grants and scholarships to architecture students.
According to the report, anthropology and archeology majors bottomed out with a meager median salary of $28,000 for recent grads and an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent, and graduates with majors in film, video and photographic arts, fine arts, and religious studies faced higher unemployment rates and earned a paltry median salary of $30,000.
[Find out more about visual arts scholarships.]
The U.S. Department of State offers scholarship programs for students of all levels interested in cultural and language experiences. You're a creative and motivated person; that's what got you into the arts in the first place. Use those qualities to your advantage and you may find support in unexpected places. Do some digging in your local arts community and you will likely find ways to pursue your artistic endeavors, in and out of the classroom. Many community organizations will also sponsor exchanges and exhibitions for local artists.
[Learn which majors have the best return on investment.]
Not surprisingly, the report states majors with high scientific and technical content had the best job placement and salary prospects. According to the report, engineering majors had a 3.4 percent unemployment rate and the highest earnings for recent grads, an average of $55,000.
If you are thinking about earning a degree related to engineering, math, or computers, there are plenty of scholarships available from the Society of Women Engineers, IBM, and Honeywell. The Society for Science and the Public and Intel also both support competitive programs for high school students interested in science and technology.
If you're considering a major in science and technology you'd better be passionate about this field. Yes, the job prospects are great, but that comes at the price of many long weekends in the library and late nights in the lab. Degree programs in science and technology can be highly competitive and challenging, and workers in these fields are often expected to complete a higher degree to stay competitive in the field.
If you have no interest in a career in science and technology, you may find your calling in the fields of education, health care, or business.
According to the report, earning a bachelor's degree in education and healthcare is more valuable than a degree in architecture, humanities, journalism, computers, social science, arts, or business, as far as job placement is concerned. Recent graduates with healthcare degrees see a 5.4 percent unemployment rate and the third-highest median salary, $43,000.
Two large organizations that recognize the sunny outlook for students in these fields are the National Education Association and the National Science Foundation. They fund several scholarship programs for students majoring in education and the sciences.
If you have a sharp mind for decision-making and leadership and love working with people, a business degree can channel those qualities into a stable and rewarding career. Management information systems and statistics is a technology-oriented business major with a rapidly rebounding job market. With this degree, you can look forward to a 4.4 percent unemployment rate and high earnings, like the reported $74,000 enjoyed by experienced grads.
Unsure where to start your business scholarship search? The United Negro College Fund, the Government Finance Officers Association, Future Farmers of America, and Women in Public Finance offer generous scholarships for business-related majors.
While economic factors may weigh heavily on your mind when choosing your career path, it's important to choose a major that fits your interests as well as your budget. Striking a balance between personal fulfillment and financial security can be difficult to maneuver, but doing so can lead you to land a rewarding career in which you'll excel.
Angela Frisk holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities and is a former scholarship recipient. She joined Scholarship America in 2012.