(This is part 8 of Comparison of Top 11 College Search Engines)
When we were visiting colleges with my son, one small liberal arts college pulled the parents aside for a discussion of the Liberal Arts and gainful employment. I don’t think the session was actually called that but it was definitely the idea behind the session. Will my child be able to get a job if she majors in the Liberal Arts?
The interesting part of the session occurred when the professor, of philosophy no less, asked us to raise our hands if we were working in the profession we had majored in as undergraduates. Out of 50 to 75 parents in the room, two parents raised their hands, my husband being one of them. My husband’s major was pharmacy and I think the other person’s was some sort of engineering. I think we all pretty much got the point.
How Important is Your Major?
The role of the major in picking a college is a tricky one. You obviously have to have specific training and qualifications to get jobs in certain professions, engineering and pharmacy being two such professions. However, most people who start off wanting to major in engineering end up graduating in something else. And how important is it to actually major in business to end up working in business? Maybe if you want to be an accountant but what about the rest?
Then there’s the issue of the “best” program for the major, school X or school Y. While it’s true that some companies only send recruiters to a select number of schools this doesn’t mean that your only chance of getting a job is by attending one of those schools. What it means is that it’s really an efficient way for the company to interview a lot of qualified applicants in one place-why wouldn’t they do it?
But that doesn’t mean that students at schools where the companies don’t recruit are out of luck. It just means their path to employment isn’t going to be by signing up for an interview time at the campus career center.
What does all of this mean for selecting colleges by major? Even if students are likely to change majors, they need to pick schools that can provide the necessary academic opportunities. If you want to be a nurse, the school must offer nursing. Furthermore, it should be one that’s appropriately accredited and with a track record of students meeting any state licensing requirements.
Most accrediting organizations will list schools they have accredited. And if the profession requires passing a professional exam, generally you can look up the pass rate for specific schools with the appropriate state agency or board.
Most Students Change Majors
Given the likelihood of students changing majors, a school with lots of majors would seem to be a good idea. However, an increasing number of schools, especially overcrowded state institutions, make it difficult to switch majors after you’ve enrolled. It doesn’t matter if the school has just about every major under the sun if students are locked out of them after the first year.
Another approach is to look at schools that make it easy to customize your major. This can be done with an actual custom major with a plan of study approved by a specific department. Or it can be done through independent study classes at the upper division level. Then there is the question of availability of and support for students pursuing internships. Since many internships don’t require specific majors, it’s another way for students to explore career possibilities outside of their major.
Unfortunately, none of the college search websites allow you to search by accrediting organization or licensing passing rates. Users can’t search based on the percentage of students accepted into law or business school. Nor is there any way to find out the average number of internships a student completes before graduating.
How to Search Colleges by Major
But you can search for colleges by majors so you need to understand how to get the most out of the feature. If you’re interested in fields that require some sort of licensure, search for a specific major. Don’t just look for nursing, search for registered nurses.
If you want to study a specific language, search for the language as well area studies for the region the language is spoken in. They may not offer a major in the language but it may provide enough courses for your interest.
Understand that just because the major shows up as available, it doesn’t mean that there is an entire department devoted to just that major. Environment Studies may fall under Biology or Sports Management under Business or Recreational Studies. This isn’t necessarily good or bad–it depends what type of experience you’re looking for.
Knowing the percentage of undergraduates in a major can also provide useful information. You would expect the majors with the most students to have some sort of effect on campus. This could include the orientation of pre-requisite classes, number of classes and seats available for popular classes, opportunities for mentoring by faculty, and competition for internships and research positions.
Almost all colleges search websites allow users to search by major. Of eleven major search engines, only one did not. Another only allowed users to enter only one major for searching. Five of the websites allowed the user to require both majors to be offered at a school.
Just to get an idea how the results compared, I search for Registered Nurses and African Studies. I couldn’t do this on My College Options since it only uses the general major categories. CollegeXpress had some of the more specific majors but not all of. I could only search on Nursing and African Languages and Literature. Among the four remaining schools that let you specify both majors, the search results ranged from 15 to 53. There wasn’t a single school common to all four lists. However, there were nine schools that appeared on at least three of the lists. Therefore, when looking for schools by major, you probably want to use more than one college search website.
College Search Websites Search by Major Feature
or More Majors
|Require Both||Nursing and African Studies|
|College Reality Check||not an option|
|My College Options||yes||yes||~|