College Majors of the Future?

By: Jeff Selingo (LinkedIn)

Kids get asked the question from elementary school to high school: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

If they followed through on their answers into adulthood, we would have a complete surfeit of teachers, firefighters, football players, dancers, doctors, and nurses. Very few of us can predict what we want to do at forty, let alone when we are fourteen. Americans switch jobs, on average, about every four years. That means in a forty-year working life we may have ten jobs, and perhaps half as many different careers.

In some industries, majors matter to the job (take engineering, as an example). But over all, I have found, by talking to employers and educators, that what they want most in their workers is the ability to learn how to learn. In other words, the capability to find the answers to the questions of tomorrow that we cannot envision asking today.

The economy is changing at warp speed. The ten jobs most in demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004. Rather than think about majors of the future, prospective college students should consider the activities that help develop the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce of tomorrow. Focus on these activities and the majors won’t matter as much:

* Focus Less on Classes and More on Faculty. For students, finding passionate, engaged professors is critically important in the first year of college, when it is easy to remain anonymous in large lecture classes Getting to know at least one faculty member well in that first year improves the chances that students will get more from their college experience.

* Dive Into a Research Project. The College of Wooster in Ohio requires that every student complete a major research project before graduation. Several other colleges, including Worcester Polytechnic Institute, do the same. Studies over the years have found that undergraduate research stimulates critical thinking, gives students a better understanding of what they learned from a lecture, allows them to work in situations with uncertain results, and provides a sense of accomplishment.


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