Saturday, February 20, 2016

Choosing a Major and Pursuing a Career

I recently put together some links for students who are seeking advice about choosing a major or pursuing a career. Here they are, with my summaries and comments, listed from most to least recent:

1. "The New College Degrees" (2016/02/04): Blog post by economist Alex Tabarrok about students choosing majors (such as psychology) for which there are few jobs, and about the small number of students choosing majors for which there is a greater need.

2. “Salaries of Philosophy Majors Over Time.” (2015/09/04): Daily Nous blog post which compares average salary for philosophy majors to average salary of other humanities majors. However, several caveats are in order: (1) The list only includes humanities degrees—there are many non-humanities degrees with higher expected incomes. (2) The cause of the high expected income for a philosophy degree is probably NOT the philosophy degree itself. It is much more likely that the cause of the high expected income for philosophy majors is that people who are more intelligent and who are from a higher socioeconomic class are both more likely to earn more and more likely to major in philosophy. Majoring in philosophy will probably not itself make you much more intelligent or raise your socioeconomic class.

3. "Economists Offer These 10 Career Tips for Today's Graduates" (2015/05/22): Sensible, data-driven advice on how what factors relevant to pursuing a career after graduation. Many of these can be acted on before you graduate.

4. "Economists Say Millennials Should Consider Careers in Trades" (2015/02/04): NPR story on how learning a trade can be much cheaper than going to college and yet pay more in terms of ability to get a job and expected income. The fact that non-college options exist should help you assess the costs and benefits of paying for your college education, in terms of time, money, and effort.

5. "Your College Major Is a Pretty Good Indication of How Smart You Are" (2015/02/13): Quartz article on how choice of major correlates with measures of intelligence. Intelligence probably causes people to choose certain majors, rather than the majors causing people to have a certain level of intelligence. Philosophy majors do tend to be smarter than the average bear, but this is probably because more intelligent people are more likely to choose philosophy.

6. "A Philosophy Degree Earns More Than an Accounting Degree" (2015/01/30): Yahoo Finance article which ranks humanities degrees in order of expected income. Philosophy is #1. However, the same caveats apply to this article as to the Daily Nous link on philosophy salary given above.

7. "The Social Science Guide to Picking a Career You'll Love" (2014/12/30): Vox article on how to choose a career that will give you greater life satisfaction, according to social science research. One of the pieces of advice is that salary is overrated. This makes sense to me, but at the same time you need to have an accurate understanding of your expected income after graduation and how that relates to your debt and other financial obligations.

8. "A Bit of College Can Be Worse Than None at All" (2014/10/13): Wall Street Journal article on students who fail to finish college, and how they can be worse off than those with no college, because of the debts they rack up and the opportunity cost of having less workplace experience.

9. "Generation Jobless" (2011/11/09): Wall Street Journal article on students who pick easier majors (such as in the humanities and social sciences) even though it's harder to find jobs, and the jobs one can find generally pay less.
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