Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Picking College Degree A Major Decision

    Picking a degree can be life-changing.

    For the 975 incoming freshmen predicted by Admissions Director Melore Nielsen to begin at Seattle University this year, that decision could determine their futures.

    But how much does a student’s chosen major actually affect their future, particularly their income?

    According to a recent study conducted by Georgetown University, quite a bit.

    The disparity between the degrees with the highest and lowest associated earnings is dramatic. For those choosing to study petroleum engineering, the highest grossing undergraduate degree, their starting median income could fall anywhere between $82,000 and $189,000. Compare these expected earnings to those of a student who chooses to major in something like psychology or theatre, who are lucky to expect half as much annually, and pursuing a degree in the liberal arts seems iffy.

    This poses obvious difficulties for an educational institution like Seattle U, where the liberal arts are fundamental to the core education, and where the College of Arts and Sciences boasts the largest enrollment.

    To freshmen like Ashlan Runyan, however, the decision to choose a major isn’t just about getting a job. An incoming English major at Seattle U, Runyan has decided to study liberal arts despite dismal financial predictions.

    Runyan has wanted to be a writer since she was a child, and it seemed natural for her to study English in college.

    “It always made the most sense to me,” Runyan said. “You read books, study books, write books. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I can’t let go of English. ”

    While Runyan admitted that she worries about her financial future, she also explained that money didn’t form the foundation of the kind of life she wants to live.

    “The end goal for me has never been to have a big house or live an affluent lifestyle,” Runyan said. “I’ve known people who live that way and it doesn’t seem to me like it’s any more fulfilling than any other way of living. That’s not the most important thing to me.”

    But future income isn’t the only thing that freshman pursuing non-technical degrees have to consider. According to The Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative based out of the Brookings Institution, the national volume of student loans increased 77 percent from 2002 to 2012.
    Though aid has increased with the price of tuition, students still graduate with an average debt of $25,000 and, according to another study conducted by Georgetown University, an average unemployment rate of eight percent among recent graduates.

    The rising cost of living in a place like Seattle also makes the low expected earnings associated with a degree in the liberal arts even more of a challenge. One need only look around Capitol Hill to see that the area, saturated with new construction projects, caters toward high-income residents. According to the Seattle Times, individual rent prices on the Hill in the last two years alone have increased by over $400, and all signs point towards further increases in the future.

    Runyan says she isn’t ignorant of the facts, but she also isn’t intimidated by them and couldn’t imagine spending four years of her life studying something she didn’t care about.

    “I think the things that you want right now, those are important, they have value,” she said. “You shouldn’t write them off because people are telling you your head is in the clouds. Or that, you know, you’re going to be poor one day. Today I’m not. Today I’m doing what I care about. I think people get too bogged down in five-year plans.”

    James Vivé, the assistant director of Career Services and the liaison with the College of Arts and Sciences, had similar things to say about students’ decisions in choosing a degree. Vivé said that much of the work that Career Services does for students is specifically tailored to their individual desires and talents, and that their financial future is only a governing principle of that search if the student asks for it.

    “It is a reality that financial concerns play into the decisionmaking for a lot of our students,” Vivé said. “And if that’s a sincere piece of what they’re weighing, we provide that information. But at the end of the day it comes down to a personal choice.”

    While it’s certainly true that more technically-oriented degrees have a direct association with higher earnings, Vivé also explained that pursuing a field for financial reasons without genuine interest is usually “unsustainable.”

    “It comes to individual assets,” Vivé said. “If you don’t like the material, how successful will you be?”

    Like many others, Vivé pointed out that a degree founded in the liberal arts, while not necessarily fostering a specific professional skill set, instills valuable characteristics that help students develop their careers over the course of their lives, such as “communication, both verbal and otherwise… as well as analytical thinking and cultural competency.”

    While technical degrees have the benefit of teaching students skills that are directly applicable to their chosen profession, they also run the risk of becoming outdated or unnecessary because of changes in technology or economics. Architecture, for example, used to be an extremely popular major for students looking to graduate into careers, but due to the collapse of the housing market, now has the highest unemployment rate at
    13.9 percent.

    Next week, The Spectator investigates the issue from the perspective of Seattle U alumni.

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