Faculty advice column: for the “average student,” sociology might not be most practical way to get a job

Choosing a college major is definitely a charged subject today, particularly when discussing potential earnings. Here is some interesting advice given by a faculty member to an undergraduate interested in sociology:

Anonymous asks, “I’m an undecided freshman. My parents want me to choose a ‘practical major’ like engineering, but I think I would be more passionate about a sociology major. Should I study what my parents want me to study, or should I do what I want?”

Hmmm. You should choose sociology! Or any CHASS major! (Just kidding, sort of, I need to make up for last time.) Honestly, in this current job and economic climate I think it would be foolish to not at least strongly consider the employment prospects of one’s chosen major. That said, employment means doing something at least 40 hours/week for many, many years. The last thing you want to do is choose an area which will be drudgery instead of fulfillment. While engineering is particularly practical for the current job market, that does not mean sociology (or any other major) is impractical. As I mentioned in an earlier column, social sciences are great for developing critical thinking skills and good writing skills. These are most definitely highly-valued skills by many employers.

That said, if you choose a more passion-based major, you really need to invest your passion in it because it probably will not be as easy to find a job as if you had a mechanical engineering degree. Don’t take classes because you were told they were easy. Take them because they have a great professor who will challenge you to think and learn in new ways. Don’t shy away from the classes with 20 page papers — take them and hone your writing skills. Be proactive in working with faculty, researching with faculty, and in building relationships. Work with a local non-profit or government agency that fills your passion and build your job-market skills.

For the average student, sociology may not be as practical as a degree with a more obvious and direct pipeline to employment, but if you put your heart into it, develop your skills, abilities and maturity, you will come out just as employable — if not more so — than if you chose a practical major to which you found you could not truly dedicate yourself.

These are common ideas: certain majors lead more easily to jobs while sociology and other social science majors don’t lead as easily to jobs but students majoring in them can gain valuable skills that employers want.

However, the last paragraph is key here: the suggestion is that sociology students should be more dedicated to their major/field because they will have to overcome the difference in practicality compared to other majors. This is interesting because sociology is often considered an easier major. But, this professor suggests sociology majors should be even more interested and devoted to the major to be able to compete on the job market. Does this mean sociology majors should be higher caliber students?

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