Many colleges ask you to choose a major as early as your senior year of high school, on your admissions application. Yet there’s a good chance you’ll change your mind. The Education Department says that about 30 percent of students switch majors at least once.
Students get plenty of advice about picking a major. It turns out, though, that most of it is from family and friends, according to aSeptember Gallup survey. Only 11 percent had sought guidance from a high school counselor, and 28 percent from a college adviser. And most didn’t think that the advice was especially helpful. Maybe it’s because much of the conventional thinking about majors is wrong.
Myth 1: For the big money, STEM always delivers.
误解一：STEM（Science, technology, engineering, mathematics，即科学、技术、工程、数学）总能让你赚大钱。
It’s true that computer science and engineering top all the pay rankings, but salaries within specific majors vary greatly.
“Students and parents have a pretty good idea of what majors pay the most, but they have a poor sense of the magnitude of the differences within the major,” said Douglas A. Webber, an associate professor of economics at Temple University?who studies earnings by academic field. He points to one example: The top quarter of earners who majored in English make more over their lifetimes than the bottom quarter of chemical engineers.
“学生和家长们很清楚哪种专业的薪水最高，但他们对这些专业内部差异的程度没什么概念，”天普大学（Temple University）研究学术界收入的经济学副教授道格拉斯·A·韦伯（Douglas A. Webber）说。他举了一个例子：英语专业四分之一收入最高的人群一生中挣到的钱，要多于四分之一收入最低的化学工程师。
But what if you never make it to the top of the pay scale? Even English or history graduates who make just above the median lifetime earnings for their major do pretty well when compared to typical graduates in business or a STEM field.
Take the median lifetime earnings of business majors, the most popular undergraduate degree. The typical graduate earns $2.86 million over a lifetime. When you put business graduates side by side with those who graduated with what are considered low-paying majors, you’ll see that those who are slightly above the median salary in their fields are not that far behind the business grads. For example, an English major in the 60th percentile makes $2.76 million in a lifetime, a major in psychology $2.57 million and a history major $2.64 million.
Myth 2: Women want to have it all.
Women are now the clear majority on college campuses, making up 56 percent of?students enrolled this fall. They are also more likely than men to graduate.
But when it comes to selecting a major, what women choose tends to segregate them into lower paying fields, such as education and social services, according to a report that Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce will publish later this year. Just look at some of the highest paying fields and the proportion of women who major in them: business economics （31 percent）, chemical engineering （28 percent）, computer science （20 percent）, electrical engineering （10 percent）, mechanical engineering （8 percent）.
但乔治城大学教育与劳动力中心（Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce）一项将于今年晚些时候发表的报告显示，在选专业时，女性往往会把自己局限在报酬较低的领域，比如教育和社会服务。看看那些收入最高的领域，以及女性学习这些专业中的比例，就可以说明问题：商业经济（31%）、化学工程（28%）、计算机科学（20%）、电气工程（10%）、机械工程（8%）。
“Women can’t win even as they dominate at every level of higher education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown center.
“就算在高等教育的每一个阶段都占据优势，女性仍然无法赢过男性，”乔治城大学该中心主任安东尼·P·卡内瓦莱（Anthony P. Carnevale）说。
Dr. Carnevale wouldn’t speculate as to why women make their choices. But he notes that if the proportion of women in fields where men dominate increased by just 10 percent, the gender pay gap would narrow considerably: from 78 cents paid to women for every dollar men receive to 90 cents for every dollar men receive.
Myth 3: Choice of major matters more than choice of college.
Not so. In seven states — Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington — students can search public databases for early earnings of graduates of institutions within the state. And those databases show that students who graduate from more selective schools tend to make more money. After all, the better the college, the better the professional network opportunities, through alumni, parents of classmates and eventually classmates themselves.
These undergraduates are more able to pursue majors in lower paying fields because their networks help them land good jobs. Arts, humanities and social science majors are more prevalent on elite campuses than at second-tier colleges, where students tend to pick vocational majors like business, education and health. In all, more than half of students at less selective schools major in career-focused subjects; at elite schools, less than a quarter do, according to?an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight?of the 78 “most selective schools” in Barron’s rankings, compared with 1,800 “less selective schools.”
“Students at selective colleges are allowed to explore their intellectual curiosity as undergraduates because they will get their job training in graduate school or have access to a network that gets them top jobs, regardless of their undergraduate major,” Dr. Carnevale said.
They are also more likely to have two majors than students at second-tier colleges, who tend to be more financially needy and have to work, affording less time to double major.
One tip: Complementary majors with overlapping requirements are easier to juggle, but two unrelated majors probably yield bigger gains in the job market, said Richard N. Pitt, an associate professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University who has studied the rise of the double major. “It increases your breadth of knowledge,” he said.
一个小贴士：范德比尔特大学（Vanderbilt University）社会学副教授、曾研究双学位的兴起的理查德·N·皮特（Richard N. Pitt）表示，有重叠需求的互补专业更容易应付，但两个不相关的专业很可能会让你在就业市场上更受欢迎。“这能增加知识的广度，”他说。
Myth 4: Liberal arts majors are unemployable.
The liberal arts is a favorite target of politicians, with the latest salvo coming from the governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin. “If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set,” Governor Bevin said?in a speech in September.
Interpretive dance may not be in demand, but the competencies that liberal arts majors emphasize — writing, synthesis, problem solving — are sought after by employers. A?2017 study?by David J. Deming, an associate professor of education and economics at Harvard, found jobs requiring both the so-called soft skills and thinking skills have seen the largest growth in employment and pay in the last three decades.
形意舞蹈的市场需求可能不大，但文科专业所注重的能力——写作、综合、解决问题——正是雇主们想要的。哈佛大学（Harvard）的教育与经济学副教授戴维·J·戴明（David J. Deming）2017年进行的一项研究发现，在过去30年里，需要所谓的软技能和思考能力的工作，在就业和薪酬方面的增长幅度最大。
One knock on the liberal arts is that it’s difficult to find a first job. But?a study by Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based company that analyzes job-market trends, concluded that if liberal arts graduates gain proficiency in one of eight technical skills, such as social media or data analysis, their prospects of landing entry-level jobs increase substantially.
The long-held belief by parents and students that liberal arts graduates are unemployable ignores the reality of the modern economy, where jobs require a mix of skills not easily packaged in a college major, said George Anders, author of “You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education.” In his book, Mr. Anders profiles graduates with degrees in philosophy, sociology and linguistics in jobs as diverse as sales, finance and market research.
《你无所不能——“无用”的文科教育的惊人力量》（You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education）一书的作者乔治·安德斯（George Anders）表示，长期以来，家长和学生们一直认为文科毕业生找不到工作，这种观念忽视了现代经济的一个现实：现在的工作所需要的技能不是哪一个大学专业能够轻松涵盖的。安德斯在书中介绍了哲学、社会学和语言学等专业的毕业生所干的五花八门的工作，包括销售、金融和市场研究。
“Once C.E.O.s see liberal arts graduates in action,” Mr. Anders said, “they come aboard to the idea that they need more of them.”
Myth 5: It’s important to choose a major early.
Why settle on a field of study before experiencing the smorgasbord college has to offer, be it study abroad, a club activity or a surprising elective?
Of students who said they felt committed to their major when they arrived on campus, 20 percent had selected a new major by the end of their first year, according to a national survey by the University of California, Los Angeles.
加州大学洛杉矶分校（University of California, Los Angeles）的一项全国性调查显示，在入校时认为自己不会换专业的学生中，20%的人在第一学年结束后选择了一门新专业。
Changing majors can cost you a semester or two, especially if you switch to one unrelated to your first choice. To reduce that risk, several schools, including Arizona State University, Georgia State University and Lehman College in the Bronx, have created “meta-majors,” which group majors under a larger academic umbrella.
换专业可能会浪费你一两个学期的时间，尤其是当你选的新专业与你第一次选的专业无关的话。为了降低这种风险，亚利桑那州立大学（Arizona State University）、佐治亚州立大学（Georgia State University）以及布朗克斯区的莱曼学院（Lehman College）等几所大学创立了“元专业”（meta-majors），也就是一个更大的学术门类下的数个专业组合。
“We have moved away from trying to get students to choose their majors as they enter,” said Timothy Renick, Georgia State’s vice provost and vice president for enrollment management and student success.
Instead, all incoming students choose from one of seven meta-majors, representing large academic and work force fields, such as business, education and STEM. First semester, students gather in learning communities and register for a block of general-education courses within that meta-major. Programming is designed so that students get to know the differences between majors within the field.
“Students in our business meta-major get to understand the difference between finance, accounting, management and marketing so they can choose their major from an informed perspective,” Dr. Renick said. They usually do by the end of their first year.
Myth 6: You need a major.
A handful of colleges, including Indiana University and the Evergreen State College, offer the option to ignore the official list of majors and design a course of study. Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor for The Times, designed his at Indiana — enigmatology.
印第安纳大学（Indiana University）和州立埃弗格林学院（Evergreen State College）等大学允许学生无视正式的专业列表，设计自己的学习课程。时报的纵横字谜编辑威尔·肖茨（Will Shortz）在印第安纳大学设计了自己的课程——谜语学。
“Majors are artificial and restrictive,” said Christine Ortiz, a dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on leave to design a new nonprofit university that will have no majors, and also no lectures or classrooms.
“专业是人为设置的，具有限制性，”麻省理工学院（Massachusetts Institute of Technology）的系主任克里斯汀·奥尔蒂斯（Christine Ortiz）说。她目前选择暂时离职去设计一所新的非赢利大学，它将不设专业，也没有课堂或教室。
“Majors result from the academic structure of the university, tied to the classic academic disciplines. There is no reason they need to be boxed up like that. They don’t take into account emerging fields that cross disciplines.”
Majors tend to lag behind changes in the workplace. No wonder fewer than a third of college graduates work in jobs related to their majors. And picking one based on today’s in-demand jobs is risky, said Dr. Webber of Temple, especially if the occupation is threatened by automation.
“I would argue against majoring in accounting,” he said, “or anything that a computer can be programmed to do.”