Posted in College Majors

College Majors

You won’t find a test, a report, or a data table that will help your teen choose the “perfect” college major.  And by perfect, of course, we mean one that your teen is ridiculously passionate about, undoubtedly fulfilling/challenging, and pays a really great stable salary for 30+ years.  There is no such thing!  That’s a unicorn, and you’ll never find it.

But, there are tests, reports, and data tables that can give us tools to help guide our teen into one path or another when they would consider all things being equal.  In other words, if my teen were ridiculously passionate about photography, and found it undoubtedly fulfilling and challenging, we’d still fall off when we assessed salary and career stability.  Of course, if we only chased salary, we’d all be petroleum engineers.  (at which time to market would become flooded and the demand would sink like a rock- taking salary and career stability with it…so….)

Still, I like to look at information.  I think being informed helps us guide our teens.  I like looking at The Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook first.  I have shared that link before, and if it’s not in your “favorites” it should be!

I like looking at job trends (Occupational Outlook Handbook also reports on those), I like to look at my teen’s natural talent alongside their level of grit.  Let’s be honest, it’s not equally easy to push through some majors, and when you’re fighting the 50% college drop out rate, you don’t need to make things harder than they already are.

Zippia wrote a great article earlier this year talking about college majors, but the part I want to share is the list they pulled from US Census Data about unemployment rates.  Unemployment rates are very important for new grads because a grad has only 6 months before their student loan repayment kicks in.  A delay in employment, or underemployment, can cause your teen to consider deferring or defaulting on their loan payment- and that would be a huge mistake.  As you may have heard, new student loan laws make it next to impossible to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy, so those who defer or default, are the “horror stories” you hear about that profile students who borrow $50,000 but owe $200,000 after 10 years.  That kind of craziness happens from unemployment or underemployment in the first few years out of school.  So, immediate employment is very important to managing student loan debt. (in terms of the math).

College Majors with the Highest Unemployment Rates

  1. Composition And Rhetoric
  2. Environmental Science
  3. Anthropology And Archaeology
  4. Drama And Theater Arts
  5. Film Video And Photographic Arts
  6. Mass Media
  7. Fine Arts
  8. Area Ethnic And Civilization Studies
  9. Intercultural And International Studies
  10. Communication Technologies


If you’re sitting there thinking “that’s the list of majors my teen is considering” don’t despair.   There are a lot of ways to do what you love without making it your major.  As an example, when you visit the DOL Occupational Outlook Handbook, you’ll find a “similar occupations” tab next to each career.  This can be a great way to find similar careers or careers that use the same kind of skills.

Least employable major:  Composition and Rhetoric

Instead of fighting against a 20% unemployment rate in that major, there are ways to keep your curriculum full of writing but also add in job skills that will go farther in the job market.

Alternative majors for Composition and Rhetoric

*these links take you to the DOL details page- tons of good info!!!

Technical Writing (demand growth rate:  faster than average)  Technical writers, also called technical communicators, prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily. They also develop, gather, and disseminate technical information through an organization’s communications channels. $70,000 per year.

Public Relations Manager/ Business Communications (demand growth rate: average) Public relations managers plan and direct the creation of material that will maintain or enhance the public image of their employer or client. Fundraising managers coordinate campaigns that bring in donations for their organization.  $100,000+ per year.

College English Teacher or Professor (demand growth rate:  faster than average) Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.  A Master’s Degree would be required.  $75,000 per year.


As you go down this list, you can do what I did.  Check out the occupations at the DOL website, and look for alternative career opportunities that are in the same lane, but just slightly directed toward a goal with a little bit better trajectory.  If you can’t find anything that might be a good alternative, remember that some interests and passions can take their place in your teen’s heart as a hobby instead of a career.  Photography, especially those who enjoy taking portraits,  might be a great side business or weekend hobby, and it could be part of one’s “day job” without being the sole focus of a career.   Jobs that use photography, like crime scene investigator, requires a major in Forensic Science (growth rate: much better than average) but in a different way.  If that’s difficult to stomach, scientific photographers take pictures of microscopic slides and are among the highest paid of the group.

If I can share a short personal story- my brother’s passion in high school was music performance.  He spent every summer marching drum corps and every school year in orchestra and band.  When it came time for college, instead of choosing performance, he chose Music Education.  While it hasn’t been easy to constantly lobby to keep music education programs from budget cuts, he and my sister in law enjoy a comfortable life with summers off.  On occasion, he’ll play drums for a friend’s weekend gig, and he’s taught summer camps since his schedule allows.  This is an example of making a career that allows you to still have a passion but also secures a future.

My other posts you might like:

College Graduation Rates (part 1 of 2)

College Graduation Rates (part 2 of 2)