Students select majors that promise job security

Caroline Goldstein

A recent survey done by KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm, shows that the struggles in the job market are affecting which majors undergraduates choose to study.

The survey notes that “as a result of the economic downturn, university students rate job security at a potential employer ahead of pay and benefits.” 

Departments that have grown at Villanova over the past several years include communication, economics, environmental science, biochemistry, chemical engineering and civil engineering.

According to statistics on career placement of Villanova’s Class of ’09, published by the University’s Career Services Office, 86 percent of business students had full-time employment after graduation, 73 percent of engineering students and 92 percent of nursing students. The rate for liberal arts students was 48 percent and for science students it was 36 percent. 

However, students in the liberal arts and in the sciences have much higher rates, 38 percent and 61 percent, respectively, of going to full-time graduate school. 

Salaries are also of concern to students looking for jobs and choosing majors in today’s economy. 

Average starting salaries for Villanova’s Class of ’09 for the sciences, business, engineering and nursing were $46,424, $51,390, $55,806 and $53,277, respectively. 

The average starting salary for liberal arts  students was $38,699.

Nancy Dudak, director of Career Services, noted that arts majors “catch up very quickly” in terms of salaries.

“The salaries in these areas are likely above average, but I think that job demand and security are more important factors,” said Barry Selinsky, chair of the University’s biochemistry department. “I think that many students are willing to sacrifice money for security.”

Selinsky’s department is one which has had a significant increase in enrollment. 

When the program began in 2006, there were six students majoring in biochemistry. 

Now there are 84 students, with 35 more expected in the fall when the Class of ’14 arrives.

The University’s department of geography and the environment has also seen increased enrollment since it began in the fall of 2007.

job market which could make students more apt to study environmental science, he added.

Economics has become a popular major, in part due to interest in the current economy, said Wen Mao, chair of the economics department.

Some majors, such as computer science, are increasing in size nationwide, according to a study conducted by the Computing Research Association. 

The study, called the Taulbee Survey, says that enrollment in computer science has increased by 5.5 percent in the past year and is expected to continue growing.

It also cites the U.S. Department of Labor as predicting that jobs in the computer science field will see a 21 percent increase in the next eight years.

Eric Grimson, chair of the Computing Research Association, is quoted in the study as saying, “The ability to earn high salaries and receive good job opportunities undoubtedly plays an important role as students decide to major in computer science.”

Some students are pursuing post-graduate studies instead of looking for a job in the current market. 

“Some 69 percent [of students] said they are now more likely to study for a post-graduate degree than to look for a job immediately after graduation,” according to the KPMG survey.

In the past, some students may have turned down job offers in hopes of a better offer, but now, Dudak said, that is not the case.

 “Most students take a job when it’s offered to them,” Dudak said.

Students are getting only one or two job offers now, Dudak said, as opposed to four or five offers several years ago.

When it comes to a salary, both Dudak and Selinsky believe that money should not be a student’s top concern when choosing a major.

“I think students are smart enough to know it’s not all about the money,” Dudak said. 

She believes that if a student does what he or she likes, the money will follow.

“I always advise students to major in subjects that they are passionate about,” Selinsky said. “The last thing I would advise a student would be to abandon a dream just to pursue a major that might have a better chance of leading to a job.”