COLLEGE CONNECTION: What are the “myths” of choosing a college major?


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The New York Times recently chronicled what it called “Six Myths About Choosing a College Major.” But are they really myths? Let’s examine them, one by one.
Myth 1: For the big money, STEM always delivers.
Almost any list of career earnings for college graduates puts STEM majors at the very top. In fact, Forbes “Top 5 Highest Paying Bachelors Degrees” are all in STEM: Petroleum Engineering, Actuarial Mathematics, Actuarial Science, Nuclear Engineering, and Chemical Engineering.
The New York Times says this is a myth because “the top quarter of earners who majored in English make more over their lifetimes than the bottom quarter of chemical engineers.” Perhaps if they took the word “always” out of Myth 1, it would be very obvious that this is true.
Myth 2: Women want to have it all.
It’s bewildering that the New York Times is calling this a myth. The newspaper acknowledges that women are now the clear majority on college campuses and are more likely than men to graduate from college. But the Times notes that many women tend to select majors that lead them into lower paying fields, such as education and social services. Even though men greatly outnumber women in many of the higher paying fields dominated by those who majored in STEM, women certainly want, and intend, to have it all.
Myth 3: Choice of major matters more than choice of college.
For the vast majority of college students, this is a fact and not a myth. Once a college graduate is certified as a teacher, his/her salary and career trajectory is exactly the same regardless of where the teaching degree was earned. The same is true of many other fields in which college graduates need to pass an exam, or series of exams, in order to earn certification (e.g. accounting, nursing). Perhaps getting that first job is easier if the college has a strong reputation in the field, but it’s still the choice of major that dictates the career path.
The exception to this rule is when students attend an Ivy League or other top tier university. Here the prestige of the university can sometimes be more influential than the particular college major, as its powerful alumni base can provide access to a network of top jobs in all fields.
Susan Alaimo is the founder and director of SAT Smart in Hillsborough that has been offering PSAT, SAT, and ACT preparation courses, as well as private tutoring by Ivy League educated instructors, for more than 20 years. Visit