What College Graduates Regret

Half wish they'd gotten more work experience while still in school.
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What's the most important thing a college student can do to ensure she'll have a job after graduation? The most common answer to that question lately: Pick the right major. Major in science or engineering, you'll have no trouble finding work. Study the humanities, and you're doomed. A recent BuzzFeed video takes this idea to its comic extreme. A bunch of underemployed liberal-arts graduates try to talk a group of college kids out of repeating their mistakes, "Scared Straight"-style.

A recent Pew study complicates this picture a little bit. It found that, yes, a third of college graduates who majored in social science, liberal arts or 
education regretted their decision. (In comparison, 24 percent of people with science and engineering degrees wish they'd studied something else.) But overall, when asked what they wish they'd done differently in college, "choosing a different major" wasn't the top answer. The most popular answer, given by half of all respondents, was "gaining more work experience." Choosing a different major was the fourth most popular response, after "studying harder" and "looking for work sooner."

A possible lesson here: Picking a major with a real-world application might be overrated, at least as college graduates themselves see it. What students really need is experience putting their knowledge to practical use while they're still in school.

(For more on this Pew study, check out my colleague Jordan Weissmann's post from earlier this week.)

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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