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Jan 19, 2019
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A look at majors: profitable vs. popular

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Rita Bocchinfuso-Cohen, director of Career Services, said students choose some majors because of their desire to help people. Photo Esteban Cortez

Certain majors considered popular in college are not always the most profitable, but Fresno State advisers recommend students focus on fit rather than dollars.

Dr. K.C. Chen, chair of the finance and business law department, said the difference between a popular major and a profitable one is that profitable majors are degrees with high salary rates and job growth.

“You have to look at the average employee salary of graduates with a certain major,” he said. “Some will get you six figures, many will not.”

On campus, some of the most popular majors are psychology, communications, criminology and nursing. According to Fresno State’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness, about 15 percent of the university’s students are psychology and criminology majors alone.

Rita Bocchinfuso-Cohen, director of Career Services, said many students choose these majors because of their desire to help others in their future careers. Others may choose them because of the perceived ease of the program.

Chen said that profitable majors tend to have more strenuous requirements.

Degrees like engineering, finance, and computer science are considered profitable majors by Chen. A communications degree requires the minimum 120 units to graduate. An engineering degree often requires at least ten more units.

The additional requirements of profitable majors are often worth it for certain people, Chen said.

“Some of the popular majors, if you look at the statistics, their average salaries are very low,” he said. “But lots of students choose those majors, and they don’t realize that. And then they graduate, and they can’t find a good job.”

When it comes to choosing a major, students are often directed to Student Success Services, where they speak with academic advisers about degree prerequisites and general education requirements.

Though advisers counsel students with popular majors, they do not offer information about which majors are most profitable.

“What we do is general education advising, helping students with academic petitions, students in academic difficulty and the like,” said Maxine McDonald, associate vice president of Student Success Services.

She said that when it comes to job availability and salary rates, academic advisers “don’t get to that level of advisement.”

Career Services helps students learn about which degrees are most lucrative.

Through testing and counseling, undeclared and unsure students can find a major and career path that best suits them. Here they can ask questions about the job market and industry growth.

“Any of the industry and career information, that’s what our career counselors here do,” Bocchinfuso-Cohen said.

Students often come in looking for profitable degree options but the search is often fruitless since the job market is always fluctuating, she said.

“Industries improve, and industries decline with the economy,” Bocchinfuso-Cohen said. “A few years back, there was a nursing shortage and a bunch of people went into nursing because the outlook was that it was going to be expanding and increasing. And now they’re just not hiring.”

Bocchinfuso-Cohen said the best advice she can give is to choose a major based neither on popularity nor profitableness, but on what fits each individual’s passions and skill sets.

“If you’re choosing a major you don’t actually like and you’re just looking at the dollar signs and the job opportunities you’re projecting will be there when you graduate, it can be a rude awakening to graduate and see that the job outlook has changed in the time you’re graduating,” she said. “Just study what you’re interested in. That’s what I try to emphasize.”

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