As anyone who has a child in college right now knows, this is a scary time to be a twenty-something. While the statistics have improved since their lows, a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the unemployment rate for young college grads is still 7.2 percent (it was 5.5 percent in 2007) and the underemployment rate is almost 15 percent (9.6 percent in 2007). Underemployment could mean working at a job below your skill level or working part-time because full-time positions aren’t available.
Does that mean your college grad is on the fast track to move back home? As much as my wife and I would love to have a full nest again, I don’t think it’s generally a good long term solution — for anybody. With so many parents’ retirements under pressure already, the impact of supporting an adult child for a long period of time could be burdensome.
While financial stress isn’t ever 100 percent preventable, there are steps you can take, and a big one is your child’s major. After all, the reality is that your child’s field of study can have a major impact on their employability and income after graduation.
It’s important for us as parents to guide our daughter Abby, but to ultimately give her the freedom and responsibility for making her own decision. Here’s how we’re thinking about the issue — and how we’re encouraging Abby, a college sophomore, to navigate the decision-making process.
Your college major matters
While some students have known exactly what they want to study for years or found their passion early on, a lot of our children are still undecided in their sophomore year, when the clock for choosing a major starts ticking. For some, the temptation to take something relatively easy might be strong.
But when it comes to employment your child’s major matters.
A Georgetown University study found that non-technical majors, like the arts, humanities, and social sciences, have higher unemployment rates than those related to computers and math. However, there’s also a difference between majors that teach students to use technology (like Management of Information Systems) versus those who invent technology (like Computer Science). “Inventing” majors tend to have lower unemployment rates, according to the study.
That doesn’t mean computer science is your only option. The researchers also found that the most stable job market for recent grads were in healthcare and education. Business and engineering also had relatively low unemployment rates.
Of course, this isn’t the only study on the subject, and the results tend to depend on the year and who you ask. Every year, Kiplinger shares their results for the best and worst college majors based on employment trends and salaries. This year’s top ten majors included both Computer Science, Management of Information Systems, and Software Engineering. The bottom ten majors included subjects like Interior Design, Graphic Design, and Culinary Arts.
For all the data, it’s also important to keep in mind that a low unemployment rate and a high average salary still don’t guarantee a well-paying job, a satisfying job, or a job at all. So we’re taking all this information and using it to help Abby to think about what she enjoys and finds interesting — without losing track of the economic forces at work.
For each subject she takes an interest in, we’re encouraging her to explore the possible career paths involved and think about the question, “What can I really do with this major?” It’s a process that has involved her college advisor and research on our own.
These are conversations and thought processes that I strongly encourage you to have, too.
Letting the economics be a guide, not a dictator
I know that these kinds of issues can seem a bit cold for some parents — a lot of us have memories of college being a time of personal and intellectual growth, not just a point on a pre-defined career path.
That’s why it’s really important to me that Abby (and eventually my son Clay) picks a subject that she finds fascinating and hopefully satisfying, one that can open doors for her in the future instead of limiting her options.
Also, speaking as a parent who is spending a tremendous amount of money to provide an education for my kids, I want to make sure that it’s helping to prepare them for a future in which they can build their own independent and happy lives. In our case, this is just a matter of ideals, since we’re footing the bill. But for the numerous college students who are taking loans or paying their own bills, it’s also a matter of necessity: at the end of the day, you don’t want your child to have borrowed their way through a $200,000 education only to get a $25,000 a year job at the end of it.
So, while it can feel a little bit calculating for some, and while it can be hard to get the kids to listen for others, this is one subject that I think we can all agree on in the end. Helping our children choose a major that reduces their odds of having to move back home for an extended time is a win-win for everyone involved.
Written by Bradford Pine with Anna B. Wroblewska
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Written by Bradford Pine
Bradford Pine Wealth Group – New York City Financial Advisors
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