When choosing your major, make sure you pick one that will help, not hinder, your job search after graduation.
While earning a college degree can be a great start in preparing you to pursue a career, the major you choose to study could heavily determine your employment prospects upon graduation.
The popularity and "employability" of a degree changes over time, says Stephanie Kinkaid, program coordinator for the Wackerle Career and Leadership Center at Monmouth College. "With the economy still lagging, students must be prudent when choosing a major," she adds. Degrees that once were popular now have high degrees of unemployment and may no longer be a smart choice, Kinkaid explains.
So before you shell out the cash to go back to school, check out the degrees that you may want to think twice about before pursuing.
Degree to Avoid #1: Information Systems
According to the Georgetown University study, "Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings 2013," the unemployment rate for recent information systems graduates is 14.7 percent. That's almost double the unemployment rate for recent computer science graduates (8.7 percent).
Management information systems students study the use of information systems in businesses and other organizations, according to the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT.
Why the higher unemployment rate for information systems? Many employers feel that a major in information systems places too little emphasis on programming, which is essential in today's world, says Kinkaid.
What makes this degree a better option? Kinkaid says computer science degrees have a richer curriculum than information systems programs. "Employers want candidates with a strong knowledge of databases, business coding, and management, which computer science delivers," Kinkaid explains. These marketable skills may contribute to the 8.7 percent unemployment rate of recent computer science graduates, which is much lower than the rate for graduates with an information systems degree (14.7 percent).
Plus, "as employers search for candidates who can wear many hats, computer science majors have won out over information systems in both opportunities and salary levels," says Kinkaid.
Finally, computer science graduates could easily move into an advanced degree in engineering, so many candidates find this degree more flexible for further education, she adds.
Degree to Avoid #2: Psychology
Psychology grads are not fairing very well in the job market, according to the Georgetown University "Hard Times" study. In fact, the unemployment rate for recent psychology graduates is 9.2 percent.
And that's despite the wide reach of the degree, which, according to the College Board, examines the way humans feel, think, act, and learn.
One reason graduates with a bachelor's degree in psychology are not doing well in the job market is that many jobs in the field require more than just an undergraduate degree, according to Kinkaid.
"A minimum of a master's degree in psychology is often required to work in the clinical psychology field, so unless you plan to pursue an advanced degree, a bachelor's degree in the field may not be enough to find employment," Kinkaid adds.
Students who want a similar degree but with better employment opportunities should look into a degree in social work, says Kinkaid. While the Georgetown "Hard Times" study reports that recent graduates in social work have an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent, which is only slightly lower than that of recent psychology graduates, social work degrees could lead to more possibilities after graduation. Why? Because while a master's in psychology is often required to find a job, a bachelor's degree in social work is usually enough for a recent graduate to obtain an entry-level position working in the social science field, says Kinkaid.
Plus, a social work degree offers the holder a much wider range of opportunities for employment, says Tracy Whitaker, the director of the Center for Workforce Studies and Social Work Practice at the National Association of Social Workers. For example, social workers could be employed in a variety of settings, including health facilities, social service agencies, schools, and even the criminal justice system, and private practice, says Whitaker.
They can also work "across a spectrum of service delivery, from providing direct services to individuals, groups, and families, to leading agencies, developing policies, or working in advocacy," Whitaker adds. Because of this, a social work degree ends up being much more versatile than a psychology degree, which might not allow you to move as easily across settings and into different types of service delivery as your career progresses, Whitaker explains.
Next step: Click to Find the Right Social Work Program.
Degree to Avoid #3: Mass Media
The Georgetown University "Hard Times" study says recent mass media graduates have an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent. According to the College Board, mass communications students explore different forms of mass media - TV, newspapers, the Internet, and film - and how they affect our culture.
While that might sound appealing, the truth is that traditional media is disappearing, says Greenberg, and that has affected the usefulness of degrees like mass media. "We're now operating on a 24/7 news cycle and breaking news is generally found online first," Greenberg explains.
In other words, media is changing so quickly that by the time someone graduates with a degree in this field, their education might actually be outdated, Greenberg explains.
Hospitality management, which also involves communications but at the customer relations level, is a much better option in today's marketplace, says Greenberg. Why? Well, for starters, Greenberg says there are not as many players in this market as with media, so there could be more stability in terms of employment. And with the Georgetown "Hard Times" study reporting a 6.0 percent unemployment rate for recent hospitality management graduates, this major could lead to more job security.
Plus, "unlike media, there's not really a technological substitute for the hospitality industry, so this industry will likely not change either, and will continue to see growth," Greenberg adds. Moreover, Greenberg points out that hospitality covers hotels, restaurants, resorts, casinos, and even golf courses, so even if an entire sector is down due to financial struggles, someone could potentially jump into another sector.
Degree to Avoid #4: Biology
Interested in all the forms of life on our planet from plants to animals? That's what a biology degree is all about, according to the College Board. Unfortunately, that interest hasn't translated well into the job market, as the unemployment rate for recent biology degree graduates is 7.8 percent, according to the Georgetown University "Hard Times" study.
Why the high unemployment numbers? According to Greenberg, the problem with a biology degree is that it might just be too general to be useful. "So it's not so much that the actual demand for a biology degree has decreased, but people who have much more specific skill sets are much likelier to be hired first," says Greenberg.
One exception: if you're planning on continuing on to medical school, a biology degree makes sense, says Greenberg. "However, it may not be the best choice if there are no post-undergraduate education plans, as it is too broad to continue to be marketable," adds Greenberg.
Nursing is an example of a specific degree that involves the study of biology, which is why the demand is higher, says Nancy Brook, a registered nurse and educator at Stanford Hospital and Clinics in California. "Nursing remains a profession that is recession-proof, which makes it very desirable, especially with an ever-changing economy," says Brook.
And the numbers reflect this sentiment - the Georgetown "Hard Times" study reports a low unemployment rate of 4.8 percent for recent nursing graduates.
But what makes the degree so valuable? Brook says the career opportunities for a graduate registered nurse are almost limitless, from working in the emergency room to the maternity ward. And that's without taking into account the opportunities in schools, health departments, summer camps, nursing facilities, and rehab centers, Brooke says.
Plus, Brooke says, "The salaries for nurses have continued to climb as well, making nursing a career in demand for the 21st century for both women and men."
Next step: Click to Find the Right Nursing Program.