Trying to decide on a college major? There’s a lot to take into consideration. Which ones earn the most money? Which ones interest you? Which ones have the kinds of lifestyles you want? Should you pursue a major that is career-oriented, like business management or computer science, or academic-oriented, like the humanities or social sciences? The answers to these questions will set the course for your educational experience and your career.

To answer these questions, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tracked the progress of 9,000 college graduates from the time of their graduation in 1993 to 2003, interviewing them at graduation, in 1994, in 1997, and once more in 2003. What they found was mixed results; whether they are good or bad depends on your priorities. Check out the following results:

1. Career-oriented majors considered their job a career more than their academic-oriented counterparts. This makes sense: people who take a more career-focused major really consider their job their career. Academic majors, by nature, tend to study more abstract, less practical subjects. If you follow me, for career-oriented students, career paths are far more defined than for their academic friends.

2. Career-oriented majors settled into their careers sooner. For the same reasons expressed in number one, career-oriented graduates find and stake their claim in their careers a lot sooner than their academic friends. As of 2003, career guys had been in their current careers for 8 years compared to 6 years for academic guys.

3. Career-oriented majors were more satisfied with their pay… just barely. This isn’t hard to imagine. Career guys have a career path that resembles somewhat of a straight line. These concentrated paths really stand out on resumes and convey discipline and a level head- all good qualities. The career paths of academic-oriented majors can zigzag and meander all over the place. In a job market that rewards specialization and focus, career-oriented majors would naturally take the more satisfying salaries.

However, the gap between career-oriented majors and academic-oriented majors is not as wide as you might think: 68 percent of career-oriented majors were satisfied with their pay compared to 61 percent of academic-oriented majors. This quashes the myth that academic majors receive significantly less satisfactory pay than their career-oriented counterparts. It turns out they’re pretty darn close.

4. Career-oriented majors were not any more satisfied with job security, fringe benefits, etc., than their academic-oriented counterparts. Other than on pay, there was no difference in job satisfaction between career-oriented majors and academic-oriented majors. In some cases, career-oriented majors expressed more satisfaction with other job aspects than career-oriented majors.

Every specific major, it seems, has its tradeoffs. 78 percent of health majors, for example, expressed satisfaction with fringe benefits at work, 89 percent with job security; but only 60 percent of the same group was satisfied with opportunities for promotion.

5. Career-oriented majors underwent fewer career changes. To their credit, career-oriented majors find what they want to do and they stay there. This results in less time-consuming, costly dilly-dallying. 32 percent of career guys switched careers compared to 41 percent of academic guys.

6. Education majors were lowest for pay satisfaction. It’s no secret that public school teachers don’t get paid nearly enough for all the stress they have to handle. This study proves it yet again. If you’re going into a career in education, be prepared to be dissatisfied with your paycheck. At least educators enjoy high job security.

7. Academic-oriented majors went on to acquire more post-graduate education. This probably has something to do with lower pay satisfaction and lack of applicable job skills, but academic-oriented grads tended to go back for higher degrees. Social science majors, for instance, went back for MBAs, master’s of sociology, or master’s of public administration. Biological science grads went on to med school or dental school.

Needless to say, academic-oriented majors, although they do teach you to handle complex, abstract concepts, rarely prepare you to step into the workplace and start working. This, of course, is not to say that this focus has any significant, long-term detrimental effect on graduates. Graduates do fine either way. Want to find out more about specific majors? Check out scores of programs at our online university information site.

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One comment on “Career-Oriented vs. Academic-Oriented Majors: Who Does Better?

  • The career opportunities for a medical school graduate are excellent both practicing medicine and in industry. Please review this quiz for first degree graduates who want to study on an affordable English language medical degree program at a top Chinese University.

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