Survey: Most grads would change majors if they could redo college

Dive Brief: 

  • Although most college graduates say their degree was worth the money, nearly two-thirds (61%) of them would change their major if they could do it again, according to a new survey from BestColleges of 817 college graduates. 
  • While about one-third of Gen Xers and baby boomers would change their majors to a field that aligned better with their passions, 31% of millennials would select one that they think could open the door to better job prospects. 
  • The survey comes as colleges are baking more career-relevant skills into the curriculum and addressing concerns about the value they provide to students. 

Dive Insight: 

Nearly 31% of millennials, who this survey considers as those between ages 24 and 39, said they would change their majors to access better job opportunities, compared to 26% of Gen Xers and 19% of boomers. 

Younger Americans may want better career opportunities because real wages have been mostly flat over the past few decades even though the inflation-adjusted cost of college has surged, the report’s authors note. 

Millennials also have 41% less wealth than did adults their age in 1989, according to a report last year from New America, a left-leaning think tank. That suggests they could have more difficulty paying for their children’s college education, owning a home and saving for retirement. 

Additionally, more than a quarter (27%) of millennials say their undergraduate experience didn’t teach them skills they regularly use in their current jobs, compared to 23% of Gen Xers and 12% of baby boomers. 

That tracks with the experiences of executives and hiring managers, who have bemoaned a lack of college graduates with the skills necessary for their entry-level jobs, such as critical thinking, self-motivation and written communication. 

In response, colleges have been incorporating more hands-on learning into the curriculum and increasing their focus on teaching job-ready skills. Some institutions, such as BYU-Pathway Worldwide, have been embedding certifications into degree programs so that students have a credential even if they stop-out before they finish their education. 

A growing number of students are also choosing majors with a direct link to the job market, such as business and computer science. “[T]he old rules still apply,” Martin Van Der Werf, co-author of a recent report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce about the value of a degree from a liberal arts college. “Where students go to school, and what they major in, matters more than just about anything else.” 

Even so, 82% of surveyed college graduates said they thought their educational investment was worth it. That share was higher for graduates who make more than $80,000 a year (86%) and lower for those who make less than $40,000 (74%). 

Around 40% of graduates ranked learning soft skills as the most valuable benefit of their college experience. Other popular choices included personal enrichment and learning hard skills. 

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