If going back to school is on your horizon, great. Just be aware that not every degree can put you on the path to a career you desire.
Are you thinking of going back to school, but want to make sure the degree you earn is one that can help breathe life into your career, rather than kill it?
That's smart thinking. College is a big investment of time and money, so it's important to choose a major that will give you a good shot at a return on that investment.
But how do you know if your major is a good choice or a bad move?
"Right now, in this economy, getting a degree that gives you skills that employers want is vital because there are too many people out of work, so the competition for jobs is fierce," says Susan Heathfield, a career expert and writer of About.com's Guide to Human Resources.
We should also be clear that we're speaking to you adult learners - moms, dads, and professionals with family and work obligations. For you, going back to school is probably about getting a promotion or finding a new, exciting career that pays the mortgage or rent.
So to help you think twice about the degree you may want to pursue, we studied up on a few majors that might be career poison. We also pulled the unemployment rates associated with those degree holders from a 2012 report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce called "Hard Times: Not all College Degrees Are Created Equal."
But don't worry; it's not all doom and gloom. We also got the skinny on good alternative choices. Keep reading to learn more about what we uncovered.
Opportunity Killer #1: Liberal Arts
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 9.2 percent*
Don't get us wrong, we love the liberal arts. Studying a broad palette of subjects including everything from literature to philosophy, to history and even sociology sounds like a dream. Unfortunately, employers live - and hire - in reality, and may not see a liberal arts degree in the same divine light as the ancient Greeks did.
"I don't think the majority of [liberal arts grads] are going to be employable because they don't come out of those degrees with any marketable skills," says Heathfield. "But even worse than that, they spend the money to go four years to college and then get a job that pays $30,000 a year with no upward prospects."
What to Earn Instead: Bachelor's in Elementary Education
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 4.8 percent*
A more promising option may be a bachelor's in elementary education. "There are always going to be schools and we'll always need teachers for them. Also, in the coming decade, because of an aging population, there will be a lot of retiring teachers and therefore openings," says Heathfield. However, she cautions that the jobs will be regional, so potential teachers might have to be willing to relocate to where the jobs are.
Opportunity Killer #2: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 10.8 percent*
Can you remember the last time you saw a "Wanted" ad that said: "Looking for a really smart person who can solve why I exist"? Neither can we - and we're guessing even Plato could recognize the need for practical skills. It seems like today's employers certainly do, too. Which is why the majors of philosophy and religious studies made our list.
"For philosophy, you need a higher degree to do anything. As for religious studies, in America, and especially in Europe, religious institutions are losing followers. So I'm not high on this degree," says Heathfield.
What to Earn Instead: Bachelor's in Communications
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 7.4 percent*
Heathfield is big on the job possibilities for those with social media skills and the ability to communicate a company's vision to consumers, so a bachelor's in communications could be a good pick. The trick is to stay focused on current trends in marketing and social media, she says.
Opportunity Killer #3: Information Systems
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 11.7 percent*
Quick, what exactly do information systems majors study? Not sure? Neither are most employers, says Heathfield. That's not to say this degree doesn't build good skills; it's just that if you're interested in computer technology, it's best to earn a degree that is easily understood, like a bachelor's in computer science or computer engineering, says Heathfield.
"I'm not exactly sure what someone would do with [an information systems] degree in the current world," Heathfield says. "In the early days, the roles of various programmers, software developers, and network administrators were more distinct, but not anymore. Now the degree to have is computer science or computer engineering."
What to Earn Instead: Bachelor's in Computer Science
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 7.8 percent*
Heathfield has this degree at the top of her list for today's college student.
Here's why: "People with a degree in computer science or computer engineering will be in high demand for years to come," says Heathfield. "Every industry needs these people, not just the high-tech industry, so it's also very versatile."
Opportunity Killer #4: Architecture
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 13.9 percent*
There are few things as inspirational as a beautiful building or home. That said, thanks to the massive hit the housing and commercial real estate industries took in the past decade, this degree may not lead to a good job outlook.
Consider the fact that it got the highest unemployment rate among the degrees examined in the Georgetown study.
"This is a tough major that usually requires five years of study instead of four, and I don't expect housing to come back for many years," says Heathfield. "Not enough to put this degree in demand." Although she acknowledges that architects do also work outside the housing industry, she still isn't big on this degree.
What to Earn Instead: Bachelor's in Engineering
Unemployment Rate for Recent College Graduates: 7.3 percent (electrical engineering), 8.1 percent (civil engineering), and 8.6 (mechanical engineering)*
A bachelor's in engineering, particularly electrical engineering, is another top pick of Heathfield's, mainly because of its demand in computer technology. "There will be a lot of well-paying jobs for these graduates for a long time to come," she says.
*All unemployment figures per the 2012 report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce called "Hard Times: Not all College Degrees Are Created Equal." The report defines "recent college graduates" as degree holders of 22-26 years of age.
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