As new high school graduates prepare for the next step, the question looms: “What should I do with my life from here?” Some have always known what they want to be when they grow up, but others struggle to find the place where their interests intersect with a career choice. In either case, tailoring a college education to meet future goals is important.
Adding to that decision, students today also face a new reality filled with less assurance, says Dr. Bill Path, president of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee.
“Throughout most of my lifetime, savings accounts always earned interest, houses always appreciated in value and bachelor degrees always led to employment,” says Path. “The conventional advice to young people planning to go to college was to get a degree in anything you want, [that] just having a college degree will open doors for you.
“The rules have changed for first-time job seekers,” continues Path. “Employers are much more selective than ever before. So many people are reporting themselves as unemployed or underemployed even with college degrees.”
Employers are looking for a work force with a specific set of skills.
“Most corporations today say their growth – and, ultimately, national economic growth – is limited by the country’s small pool of skilled workers,” shares Roger N. Blais, provost and vice president for academic affairs with The University of Tulsa.
“Employers are not interested in book learning,” says Path. “They want applied learning.”
A recent Georgetown University report confirmed this new reality: Not all college degrees are created equal. Specific fields and the higher technical skills associated with these fields can (and often do) boast lower unemployment rates and higher earnings.
“There is a need nationally for more students studying science, mathematics, engineering and technology (STEM),” says David Hamby, public relations director at Rogers State University in Claremore. “In order to be successful, you need a working knowledge in STEM areas.”
Students need to know where the greatest career opportunities can be found, Path says.
“Certain career fields become oversaturated. Today’s students need to be wiser consumers and make smarter decisions about college,” Path says.
Job growth is limited if an individual cannot operate the technology required, says Blais.
“We live in a technological society. Job growth is most vigorous for people who are competent in STEM areas,” he says.
But, you don’t have to be a science or math whiz, offers Path. If you are into journalism, for example, take courses in technical writing or on the many computer software programs used within the industry, says Path.
“Fit your education to your strengths,” says Hamby. “Then, maximize those strengths.”
Opportunities in STEM-focused jobs are available at various levels of skill and training.
“Not all jobs will require a high level of competence,” says Blais. “Some jobs require the precise skills of highly trained scientists and engineers to create the technology, but a much larger group of positions involve the application of the technology in offices, factories or other field locations.”
As an example, “for every one engineer, they might need 10 support positions to apply that design,” says Path.
“College is an opportunity afforded to a very small percentage of the world’s population. Students should graduate from college with the tools and ambition necessary to educate themselves for the rest of their lives,” says Blais. “Disliking a class is a small price to pay in exchange for the wealth of wisdom students stand to gain.”