So you’ve decided what kind of degree is right for you. Maybe you’ve even chosen a major. Maybe you haven’t chosen a major–that’s okay, too. You don’t need to know what you want to major in from the very instant you get to college. Some people do, and that’s great. Some people change their minds, which is also great. I know this sounds crazy, but your major is not the most important career decision you will make in college.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some majors that correspond directly to careers: engineering, computer science and many of the other applied sciences. But lots of other majors will prepare you for multiple careers, and there are multiple majors that can prepare you for the same career. If you want to go into law (don’t do this), you can major in history, English, political science, philosophy, or pretty much anything else. Believe it or not, you can major in one of those subjects if you want to go to medical school, as long as you take enough science classes along with your humanities courses.
The one thing everyone seems to agree about when it comes to college is that it costs a lot of money. Beyond that, everyone’s got a different idea about whether it costs too much, how it should be paid for, what you should major in, and if it’s even worth it. Some people do fine without a college degree and some regret having gotten one, but statistically speaking, you’re more likely to have a job if you have a college degree than if you don’t.
As a college professor and aspirationally provident person, I know quite a bit about colleges and a decent amount about making good financial choices. In this series, I’m going to try to demystify college a bit by shedding light on some of the aspects of higher education that don’t really get discussed with enough clarity in the gloom-and-doom student loan articles, or in the predictable encomiums encouraging everyone to be a STEM major or just drop out and start a tech company.
So if you’re unsure what you want from a college education, don’t know where to go to get what you want, or aren’t sure how to make the most of your tuition dollars once you get there, your in the right place.
Part I: Know the Difference Between a Vocational Degree, a Professional Degree and a Liberal Arts Degree
Not all college degrees are the same. For one thing, there are a lot of different letters you can end up with: AA, BA, BS, BFA, JD, MD, PhD, EdD. That’s only a few. But in addition to denoting different things, different degrees serve very different purposes, and it helps to understand the difference before you start earning yours.