How to Pick a College Degree You Won’t Regret
A college degree has become more important than ever in the history of work and employment. Aside from being an absolute requirement for some highly specialized professional roles like doctors and lawyers, it has become one of the most important credentials for nearly every job out there. Quickly vanishing are the days you can rely on experience alone, or work your way up the ladder from the ground up. Now most employers can command job candidates with both the experience AND the college degrees.
For better or worse, I’ve seen a lack of college degree be a complete show stopper for even some of the most talented individuals I know. I’ve known professionals with 20+ years of experience in their field struggle to find new work simply because they didn’t have a college degree. A Bachelor’s degree seems to have become a bare minimum requirement for even the most entry level of professional positions, and in some cases, I’ve even seen Masters degrees wanted at the entry level! Aside from having a strong network of connections who can help you find success in the world of work, a college degree is your next best ticket to success.
But all college degrees are not created equal. Many Universities have capitalized on the higher education boom and offer degree majors for nearly every subject under the sun. Fish & Wildlife Studies, Golf Management, Parapsychology (The study of paranormal and psychic phenomena), Puppetry – the list of “interesting” degree choices seems to go on and on (seriously, I couldn’t believe how many degree choices I was able to find!)
Choosing the right college degree can be a daunting experience with all the choices and difference of opinions out there. It’s even harder when you begin to consider your own skills and preferences, and where they fit into your future plans. Even if you are interested or skilled in a certain field, is there actually demand for people to do that type of work? It may not be a good idea to follow that interest if it will be difficult to get paid steadily to do it!
Fortunately, there are college degrees out there that are highly valued, offer great opportunities for stability and income, and ultimately allow you to find happiness and success in work and life. These are college degrees that open up paths of opportunity into high demand professions that will ALWAYS be needed.
People who pursue these degrees (if they aren’t totally incompetent!) should never find themselves out of work and will often have ample opportunities to transition both laterally and upwards in their careers into specialized roles that suit them best.
Even if you are not necessarily interested or particularly skilled in these areas, it may still be a great idea to pursue them as the interest can blossom and the skills for the work can certainly develop once given the time and effort. Don’t force it if it’s obviously not working out, but don’t be afraid to try it either. You never know how you’ll do until you try!
That being said, let’s dive into some of the best ways to ensure you pick the right college degree for you, and one that will carry you forward to a happy and prosperous career!
How to Pick a College Degree You Won’t Regret
*This post is geared mostly towards undergraduate degrees (Bachelors level), but you can apply many of these tips to the other college degrees as well.
1. Choose A Degree that Leads into High Demand Positions
Many people pursue a degree choice based on jobs that interest them, but often they forget to ask some critical questions.
Does the world need people to do the jobs this degree leads into? How is the demand and growth for this job in the future? What are the barriers to entry for my considered jobs?
These are very important questions everyone needs to ask themselves when choosing a college degree. After all, not all jobs are created equal! You may aspire to be a Candle Maker, or a Broadway Dancer, or an Award Winning Author, but these jobs don’t nearly have the real world demand of other highly sought out professionals such as Doctors, Accountants, or Teachers.
In fact, there are many in-demand positions that people are not often attracted to. The world needs Garbage Collectors, Construction Workers, and Farmers more than a Painters or Musicians. Don’t get me wrong and think I’m hating on the Creative Fields or the Arts, I’m a big supporter of them, but realistically the actual demand for these types of roles is not great.
I’ve always liked Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs TV Series and feel that some of the examples he shows of “dirty jobs” sums this idea up best. Here are jobs that the world absolutely needs, but due to the nature of them, it’s hard to find people to do them. The people doing these jobs probably wouldn’t describe their work as a dream job, but the demand is there and they make a healthy and stable living because of it. (Some of these folks are making very good money!)
So when choosing a degree, make sure you do some research on the demand for the jobs it leads in to!
2. Avoid Niche Degree Choices
Avoid niche degree choices. These types of degrees would be anything that could lock you into one very specific career path.
Some examples include the ones I gave at the start of the blog like Golf Management or Puppetry, but this even goes on to include more realistic degrees such as Hotel Management, Floral Design, Baking, etc. This list can go on and on.
The most important point is that even if you wanted to pursue these specific careers, you would be better served by a more valued and well-rounded degree choice. The Hotel Manager can pursue a Hospitality Management Degree that would educate and train them all different types of Hospitality businesses and not just in Hotels. An aspiring Baker can benefit from the well-rounded approach of a Culinary Arts Degree. Here’s an interesting thought… the Floral Designer can benefit from having a Business Degree so they can learn how to effectively market their services and run their business like a pro!
Degrees that train you for a career where the demand is not great and there are limited job openings is usually not a good choice!
3. Picking a Specialization is Better than a General Degree
One of the realities of working in America is that a “Jack of All Trades” is not the preferred type of employee. What the workforce is really seeking are highly trained specialists in one or two specific areas who also have some general understanding in a broader range of topics, too.
After all, it is much harder for someone to become a master or expert in something versus just being good at many things. Becoming an expert in a particular subject takes a great deal of effort, dedication, training, time spent, and grit to achieve! These individuals are rarer and hard to find!
The same type of principle comes into play when choosing a degree. Employers will almost always value more a degree in a more specialized area of study versus a degree studying that same subject area at the general level. Examples will best describe this.
- A Business Marketing degree is more valuable than a Business Administration degree.
- A degree in Spanish is more valuable than a degree in Language Studies
- Studying Electrical Engineering would be better than just obtaining a General Engineering degree.
- A Science Teaching degree is the better choice versus the more general Educational Studies degree.
The general degrees simply don’t give you a strong enough knowledge of… anything. They simply cover the basics of this and that and this type of training is not particularly beneficial to Businesses. This is often why you see so many Business Administration or Communications majors unemployed, their degrees don’t hold the same strength as others! The specialized degrees, on the other hand, will not only train you with a solid foundation in the general topics, but they will also teach and train you in your specific degree area. This is what employers find most valuable!
All this being said, there is ONE general degree I can think of that is actually a VERY strong degree choice and the exception to this rule. That degree is Computer Science. This is a degree that while fairly general, is such a rigorous degree in an in-demand and highly valued field that people who pursue this degree choice will have MANY opportunities available for them. For the majority of other career choices, make sure you pick your specialization!
4. The More Challenging or Rigorous a Degree, the More Valuable it is Likely to Be
I’ve probably said all degrees are not created equal several times already, but here I go again. The different degree choices out there all have a variety of different courses and requirements, and the requirements can often vary from school to school or state to state, too! That being said, a general rule of thumb is that the more rigorous or challenging a degree is to obtain, the more valuable it is. Whether it be that you need to take more credits to complete it, or the coursework and requirements are more challenging, Employers do know the differences between the harder and easier degrees and will always give more preference to those who have taken the steps to earn the more challenging degrees!
The saying stands, nothing good in life comes easy! People often pursue easier degrees because, well, it’s easier. Unfortunately, the reward at the end was not what they were hoping for. Put the work in for a tougher degree and you’ll be rewarded ten-fold in the long run!
5. Bachelors of Science > Bachelors of Arts
ALWAYS go for a Bachelors of Science Degree!
Some people may wonder what exactly is the difference between a Bachelors of Science (B.S.) and Bachelors of Arts (B.A.) degree, but it’s quite an important one. In my opinion, a Bachelor of Arts degree is a watered down, easy mode, type of degree to earn. More objectively, it is a degree that often requires fewer credits to complete, focuses on obtaining a broad and generalized education, and usually does not have many very challenging or specialized courses. For example, a B.S. in Computer Science may have less rigorous math and science courses than the equivalent B.A. in Computer Science. Check out this comparison from Florida State University and they even highly recommend pursuing the B.S. degree!
The Bachelors of Science degree on the other hand still offers students a general knowledge of their major’s area, but it will also include more credits and more specialized courses that will put students with these degrees a definite step ahead of anyone with a Bachelors of Arts degree.
We discussed that both specialized and more rigorous degrees are the more valuable choice hands down, so the Bachelors of Science is the way to go!
6. Is a College Degree even Necessary? Are Certifications or Alternate Training more Beneficial?
Before deciding to pursue a college degree, it’s important to ask… “Do I absolutely need this degree?”
While a college education is more important than ever, it may still not be the best fit for every type of career. Some careers may be better served by pursuing an Apprenticeship or Union program. You’ll specifically see this the most in blue-collar work and the skilled trades. These are excellent pathways into these careers and many of these programs pay quite well as you train up to the professional level.
Other careers may be better served with professional certifications or licensure programs that are available to pursue. In the business world, the well known Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Project Management Professional (PMP), and Professional in Human Resources (PHR) are all VERY highly valued licensures and certifications to obtain.
These especially come into play when perhaps changing careers or considering a second degree. If you already have a degree, you may be best served by pursuing the appropriate certification rather than another degree. Even without the degree, these certifications carry a ton of weight and value and can open doors into careers for you down the road.
A college degree is a costly and time extensive pursuit, make sure it’s the right resource you need for your chosen career path!
7. If Pursuing Multiple Undergraduate Degrees… Diversify!
This section is mostly for those who are considering pursuing two or three undergraduate majors while enrolled in College. This can often be a smart pursuit as the additional degrees may be within reach with just another term or two of courses. Because you’re taking your general education and core courses in your primary major, you often only need to take some specialized courses in the secondary majors to obtain the degree!
If you do pursue multiple majors… diversify your degree choice. For example, instead of picking something like a B.S. in Marketing and a B.S. in Business Management, you can be better served by degrees in Marketing and Computer Science, or Marketing and Healthcare Management, or Marketing and Psychology.
I once had a friend who did this masterfully and obtained a triple major in Spanish, Psychology, and Criminal Justice. He had job offers flying out the doors from all different directions. By diversifying, you open up MANY more doors of opportunity than you would have otherwise by pursuing degrees in closely related areas.
I’m not completely against pursuing multiple degrees in the same area if you are sure you want to heavily specialize in that one particular area, but you certainly get more opportunities by branching out.
Additional Resources for Job Exploration and Research:
Wondering how to best research job demand and growth? Check out my Job and Career Information Page for some great research tools!
If you’re looking for a list of some of the jobs with the best stability overall, check out my post on “12 Career Paths That Won’t Leave You Unemployed”.
Choosing the Right Degree For You
There are so many possible degree choices you can pursue that the choice can feel overwhelming at time. But considering the time, money, and effort a college degree takes to obtain, it’s a choice that is very important. I hope these guidelines prove useful to help you choose the right degree for your future, and lead you to a college degree you don’t regret earning in the future.
Keep in mind that this list is comprised of general recommendations. There are so many factors you can look at when deciding what degree to choose, including your personal preferences and strengths. The key is to apply these general tips to any degree area you’re looking at to make sure you choose one that is right for you and will be valuable in the long run!
Do you have any thoughts on this topic? What are some things you feel make a degree valuable? Let me know if the comments section below!
– Mr. Happy Work