There have been a lot of articles in various newspapers and magazines over the past few months that question the value of a college degree. These articles cite the rising costs of an education and then compare this to the dismal job prospects for new graduates.
Often the articles then go on to discuss different majors, pointing out which college majors offer the best job prospects and sometimes comparing average salaries for jobs in those majors. No real surprises here. Engineering–chemical, mechanical, computer et. al– is almost always mentioned as a major where a student can get a job and make good money.
My guess is that engineering is chosen because it is one of the few undergraduate majors left where a student is employable upon receiving a bachelor’s degree. Back when I attended college, there were lots of majors where a bachelor’s degree was all that was required for certain professions. Today, many professions require a master’s degree or higher. Speech therapists and occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree. To become a physical therapist, it is now required that students have a DPT–a doctor of physical therapy. In fact, there is no longer a “physical therapy” undergraduate degree since you won’t be a physical therapist at the end of four years. There are a few different undergraduate majors that will give you the needed classes to apply to grad school. And while a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) is still an undergraduate major, some of the graduate specialties that required a master’s are creeping up as well. I was just informed by one of my clients that a Nurse Practitioner, formerly a master’s degree program, is in the process of becoming a doctorate degree as well.
The articles that try to parse one major versus another don’t seem to get that students aren’t choosing Engineering over an English major because of the future job market. It is more that certain students are suited to engineering and others are more suited to the Humanities, Social Sciences etc. And, comparing the salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree in English is misleading since most students with an English or history major will go on to graduate school.
The Daily Beast had a blog titled “20 Most Useless College Majors” which listed, among others, music and chemistry. A perfect example of why you can’t compare majors by the salaries of those with undergraduate degrees alone. I would not call either of these majors “useless”.
In my humble opinion, a college degree is still the worth it. Even if you aren’t ready for the job market with a bachelor’s degree alone, the chances are good that you will have learned how to write and think critically, expanded your knowledge in many areas and learned how to problem solve.