A Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science?
The type of bachelor’s degree you pursue is a distinction you’ll likely make early on, but it will affect your entire college experience, and – no exaggeration – most of the rest of your life. Whether you’re destined to spend eight hours or more a day in front of a computer, over an operating table, in a classroom, or on a construction site, the decision you make now is not to be taken lightly. Business or premed? Liberal arts or engineering? There are hundreds of possibilities. That’s why we’ve put together a number of basic questions designed to help you decide which undergraduate major suits you best.
Bachelor of Science, Arts, or Fine Arts?
Are you interested in trying out courses across the humanities and arts, some in sociology, others in ethics and maybe one or two in literature? A Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree allows for quite a bit of personal, creative-oriented discovery.
Does a specific area of the sciences appeal to you? A Bachelor of Science (BS) is focused on fields that require no small amount of technical exactness in their students. Whereas most BA degrees afford students the opportunity for interdisciplinary, humanities-driven work, the BS typically requires intensive lab work, objective exams, and a sort of “baptism by rigor” that filters out students lacking the skills to complete a challenging science degree.
A Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) is often considered to be an advanced professional degree in a creative field, where programs educate artists first and foremost, as opposed to the scholars and interpreters many BA programs produce. Do you want to become a trained singer, designer, actor, or digital media expert? The BFA is likely your best bet. This is a degree that spends less time on general education, and focuses more on the student’s ability to create and perform as professionals in their field.
Majors and Employment Prospects
Your major will dictate the focus of your courses and encompass the majority of your academic coursework. But also consider your long-term career path, lifestyle needs, and earning potential.
According to a Georgetown University study, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degrees typically provide the best opportunities for employment and earnings. Unemployment is higher for graduates with non-technical degrees.
Degrees in law, public policy, and the arts are experiencing unemployment rates that hover around 9-10%. Graduates in fields like education have an unemployment rates of 5%; engineering is at 7%; and the health and the sciences are at 4.8%. Stable or growing occupations are enjoying the best employment opportunities in the worlds of technology, health, and science, according to the study. Graduates in psychology and social work also have relatively low rates unemployment rates at 8.8% because almost half are working in healthcare or education sectors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website is your best resource for discerning the employment and earning prospects of careers in your field.
Field of Study and Job Prospects
You don’t want to consider earning and job prospects alone. Making a lot of money won’t be worth it if you have to sacrifice all your time, abandon your passions, or face constant stress at work. Consider what interests you, while at the same time considering the practical aspects of employability and salary rates. Here are some resources to help you out:
U.S. News and World Report publishes an annual list of best and worst jobs that considers a holistic view on occupations, including employment opportunity, salary, work-life balance, and job security.
Positions in the healthcare industry take four of the top five spots on the Best Jobs in 2013 list. A growing field with a wide range of job prospects are catapulting the career opportunities in healthcare, thanks in large part to increased healthcare demands of an aging population of baby boomers.
Between 2010 and 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that fields such as registered nursing will grow 26%. However, long hours, stressful work conditions, and the physical demands of the job are all factors to consider; not everyone is willing to work overnight, on-call or through the holidays.
Journalism earned the unfortunate title of ‘nation’s worst job’ on the list. While a degree in communications or journalism may very well be an enjoyable way to spend an undergraduate degree, today’s professionals in that field face shrinking budgets, increased competition from online news organizations, the stress of deadlines, weak hiring, low pay, and demanding hours.
The career guidance website CareerCast.com publishes its own best and worst job list according to skills and salaries across 200 professions in a wide variety of industries. Among the best jobs for 2013, most required advanced proficiency in mathematics or in an area of the sciences. The worst positions include military personnel, actors, and oil rig workers – careers that come with a high level of stress, physical and mental demands, relatively low pay and a difficult road for any career advancement.
Consideration of Long-Term Payoff
Long-term career trajectory can be difficult to estimate, at first. Take accounting, for example, which has considerable flexibility and earning potential once you finish your education. Looking at the numbers for job growth and median salary, accounting seems like the perfect career. But it’s actually no walk in the park.
You will also have to invest a lot of time in education. Studying to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is demanding and stressful for many people. So while this education more than pays off – the median annual wage of accountants and auditors is $61,690 – there is an important trade-off in stress and time.
A poll of accountants in the Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association (CABA) found that 82% said they suffered from stress, with 77% citing long working hours as a cause for concern. Over 70% said that their work/life balance was poor, and more than 25% said they drink in excess of the recommended level. So for any career path you consider, don’t just look at the basic data – consider how much time and pressure you can handle during your education and every day on the job. Dig deep with your research because just about every career will have trade-offs to consider.
Take education as another example. While the education requirements for teachers might be less strenuous (and you get generous vacation time as a bonus), on-the-job stress can be a huge issue. One out of every five new teachers leaves the profession within three years, and that percentage jumps to 50% for new teachers in urban areas, according to the Educational Policy Institute. Though there is a high level of demand, due in part to a large number of professionals who are retiring, high stress for relatively low pay and a lack of respect are some of the top reasons why educators leave the field.
A degree is one way to open the doors of opportunity in a specific career or profession. While it is important to find something that you find interesting, it’s wise to ensure your field of study starts you on a path to a rewarding career, and also matches the lifestyle you wish to live.