Q&A - April 15, 2016

The conventional advice for years has been, “Go to college and get a bachelor’s degree in anything." Well, the rules have changed for first-time job seekers, and this kind of outdated academic advisement is not only ill-informed, it is irresponsible.

Some college degrees are much more valued by employers than others. Certain career fields become over-saturated, yet many colleges continue to produce graduates in these fields by the tens of thousands every year. This is why so many college graduates don’t stand out in the job market—they essentially all look alike, and in most cases, their college credentials don’t match up with employers’ technical expectations.

Q: What advice would you give to a high school graduate about going to college?

The first thing I would tell a high school graduate is “congratulations on completing this phase of your education. I am proud of you for making it this far, but don’t stop now.” National studies consistently show that your future earning potential is far greater with a college degree than without one.

I would then say, “Be a smart shopper when you select your college major.” Don’t just go to any college and hope they will have a suitable major. That is like going to the grocery store without a shopping list. You can wander up and down the aisles and there is no telling what you will leave there with. This is important. It is your future—don’t just leave it up to chance.

“Develop a plan.” Visit with your school counselor or librarian and do some research to select a major that will help you find a good job after graduation—a job that you will enjoy and one that will support you in the future. With just a little bit of research, you will find that college graduates with traditional degrees in liberal arts, fine arts, social sciences, and humanities are among those with the greatest difficulty in locating employment after graduation. While graduates in areas like science, mathematics, engineering, and information technology fare much better in the job market. Likewise, graduates who received special training in relevant technical skill areas while in college are strongly pursued by employers.

Then, I would advise the student to “select your college carefully.” Choose a major first, then select a college that offers that particular major, but be smart about it. Rather than making first contact with the college admissions office, you might be better served by seeking out the college placement office. Rather than asking questions about campus life and student seating at home football games, you should ask questions about job placement rates of graduates and about opportunities for earning industry-based certifications while attending college. Rather than pursuing fraternities and sororities, you should pursue work-related internships and fellowships.

Today’s students need to be wiser consumers when it comes to their education. A little more time and research upfront in selecting a sustainable major and college can save a student a lot of anguish in the job market after graduation.

If you have other questions about going to college, please send them to me at osuit-president@okstate.edu.