- Most students place "outsized importance on college majors," finds a recent survey from Handshake, a career services platform for college students. While 81.5% of surveyed students said their majors are key to future job opportunities, only 50% of employers using the company's premium service listed a certain major as a requirement in job posts.
- Students' views on college majors are "outdated," Christine Cruzvergara, Handshake's vice president of higher education and student success, said in a statement. Instead they should "focus on developing skills including the ability to synthesize information, think critically, and communicate well."
- Students from all majors except engineering ranked "prior internship/job experience" as the No. 1 factor in landing a job. Engineering students selected "relevant skills" as their top factor.
Even though some employers aren't taking much stock in majors, they still have a big impact on lifetime earnings.
Students who earn a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, for instance, can expect median lifetime earnings of more than $3.6 million, while the typical theology major can expect to earn less than half of that amount, according to data analyzed by Douglas Webber, a Temple University economics professor.
That said, more companies are placing their focus on skills rather than college majors when vetting candidates.
"The new world of work is about skills, not necessarily degrees," said JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon in a statement earlier this year announcing a $350 million, five-year global initiative to help community colleges and nontraditional career pathways.
"We must remove the stigma of a community college and career education, look for opportunities to upskill or reskill workers, and give those who have been left behind the chance to compete for well-paying careers today and tomorrow," he said.
In response to the tight talent market, some employers have gone even further, prioritizing so-called "soft skills" over technical skills. They've placed a premium on abilities that are applicable across job functions and industries, such as critical thinking, communication and attention to detail, and organizational skills — especially for entry-level professional candidates.
In turn, colleges are teaming up with companies that offer students badges for soft skills. Education Design Lab helps institutions offer such badges by providing them with a tool kit, including lessons and performance assessment tools, that they can adapt to their needs.
However, there's no guarantee a potential employer will accept or be familiar with such a credential. To that end, several credential providers have partnered to help develop a common language for describing badges and determining their value.