What is the purpose of college – to get an education in a field you love or to prepare yourself for a career? For some students, the two objectives are not mutually exclusive, but for many they are. A common question from graduates is, “What can I do with a liberal arts degree?” And eventually they realize they can do just about anything, but you have to know how to sell your skills to employers. The path of a philosophy major, for example, is often less defined than that of an IT or business student.
A recent survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reveals that this year’s graduates are looking at rosier pay offers than last year’s graduates. The average salary offer for the class of 2011 is $50,034, a 3.5 percent increase over last year. Perhaps even more exciting for new job seekers is the uptick in hiring that graduates can expect. Compared with 2010, 13.5 percent more employers will hire new graduates this year. After years of sluggish college hiring, news touting higher salaries and more robust offers should give seniors more to look forward to. (You should still take this last semester of study seriously. You don’t want a bad case of senioritis to wreck your GPA.)
Of the seven jobs expected to garner the most offers this year, four will have an initial offer higher than the average graduate’s.
You’ll also notice that these jobs typically come from degrees that have a clear path: accounting, finance and business. That’s not to say studying one of these fields will guarantee you a job offer or a high salary upon graduation, but they seem to be in demand at the moment.
Another interesting find in the survey is who will be doing the hiring.
- 67.5 percent of offers will come from services employers.
- 23.9 percent of offers will come from manufacturing employers.
- 8.6 percent of offers will come from government or nonprofit employers.
Services employers include just about any organization that doesn’t fall under nonprofit, government or manufacturing. Advertising, banking, engineering, insurance, real estate, health care and many other fields fit within the services category.
On a related note, Steve Blank, a retired engineering lecturer, says he is concerned that today’s students are not adequately prepared for the job market. Why? Because their degrees are too narrow. What’s interesting is that the NACE survey shows the most offers and highest salaries going to students with concentrations that aren’t interdisciplinary. For example, an accounting concentration probably doesn’t require the same diverse courses that an English or education degree does. Yet, graduates with the latter degrees aren’t receiving the high-paying offers of the former.
Blank does raise a good point if you consider the recent economic crisis, however. If you were so focused on investment and didn’t study other topics or develop other transferable skills, you could have found yourself in a very unpleasant job market two years ago. Does that justify a less vertical (or “silo” style) education, as Blank suggests?
Whatever you decide to study, at least the hiring outlook is improving for graduates. Entering the “real world” is scary enough without the fear of not finding a job.
Do you think students should study a degree with a clear career path versus one with softer skills? Or do you think the economy is so unpredictable that you should focus on studying what you want and not what might land you a job? Let us know.