The long-term effects of COVID-19 on our society as a whole, and on our individual health, is still unknown.
What we do know is that throughout history, when there’s been major economic upheaval, people go to school to get degrees hoping to build a better world, and to make a good living.
Whatever major a student chooses to pursue in college takes shape over time, and can be influenced and inspired by people they know or admire, personal and worldwide events, or even just a dream–of becoming a doctor, or a teacher, for instance.
But a student’s social network is usually the biggest factor.
The results of a 2017 Gallup Poll that asked where students get advice on what to study in college notes, “The majority (55%) of U.S. adults with at least some college but no more than a bachelor’s degree list their informal social network as providing advice about their college major. This is the most often-cited source of advice when choosing a major for the majority of U.S. adults.”
It follows that since COVID-19 has affected so many aspects of our lives, and is the primary news story and topic of conversation of the times, it’s likely to play a role in college majors and popular careers in the coming years.
Majors That Might Be Popular in a Post-Pandemic World
Timely Career Focus
Jeff Schiffman, Director of Admissions at Tulane University in New Orleans, says that although it’s still too early to predict what majors will trend, public health, which was already a fast-growing major, will likely become even more popular.
“Essentially public health is the study of how a disease travels through a population of people,” he points out. “A pre-med student might say, ‘How do we treat the human body once it’s been affected by a disease?’, whereas a public health student would say, ‘How do we prevent this from spreading in the first place?’ Even things like hospital management, but also infectious disease and clinical research–there are just so many different facets to public health.”
Schiffman says that “political economy,” which Wikibooks defines as “the study of the relationships between individuals and society, and more specifically, the relationships between citizens and states,” may also likely emerge as a popular major, along with labor policy, and biomedical engineering: “How do we create stuff that’s going to get us through these things if they happen again?”
And from The Princeton Review, a list of the current top 10 college majors:
- Computer Science
- Government/Political Science
- English Language and Literature
- Chemical Engineering
CollegeXpress suggests these majors may take on greater significance post-pandemic:
- Nursing: Whether a registered nurse, a nurse practitioner, or a nursing aide, nurses are right at a patient’s bedside providing care and helping save lives.
- Nursing Administration: If bedside manner isn’t your thing, nurses always need smart administrators to push the right policies through.
- Medicine: Getting a degree in medicine can lead to a lot of different jobs. Neurologists and respiratory care physicians are just a couple of career possibilities.
- Primary Health Care: If you’re more interested in seeing regular patients and creating connections in your work, being a primary care doctor is a great opportunity.
- Emergency Medical Services/Technology: EMS and EMT workers are often the very first line of care when it comes to medical emergencies. This is a great area if you like a fast-paced job.
- Nursing Home Administration: Working in nursing homes can be so rewarding knowing you’re making a difference in the latter half of people’s lives. This is especially crucial in this situation as older individuals are at a higher risk to contract COVID-19.
- Police Science: Police Science is a good background for any police officer to have. You’ll learn about maintaining public safety and crisis intervention, among many other useful skills.
- Police Management: If you’d rather keep the team organized and motivated—in general or in a crisis—Police Management may be more your speed.
- Police Administration: Alternatively, if you’d like putting policies in place that help keep the police force a just and motivated workplace, look into a degree in Police Administration.
- Fire Science/Public Safety: Being a firefighter means going in as a first responder in emergency scenarios. If you’re the bold type, this is your field.
- Fire Science Administration: Much like Police Administration, if you want to make a difference without being on the front lines, Fire Science Administration is so important to the integrity of the field.
- Fire Science Technology: If you like the technical side of things, consider majoring in Fire Science Technology to help keep firefighters safe with the most crucial advances.
- Military Affairs: This major comprises a wide range of military needs, from personnel and veteran needs to methods and organizational concepts. If you want to be a well-rounded military member, this area of study is a good choice.
- Military Leadership: All careers need good leadership. If you have the top leadership skills for a military career, we need you.
- Military Strategic Studies: Military Studies often involves worldwide communications and planning. If you want to do your part for the good of the country and world, here’s your chance.
- Military Technologies: This is another great option for tech lovers. The most up-to-date military technology is as important as the people who develop it.
- Customer Service: Knowing the best way to conduct business with the general public in a kind but assertive way is key to bringing a positive reputation to your workplace.
- Retail Management: Grocery store managers are keeping stores and employees together during the chaos. You could provide this much needed organization too.
- Retail Sales/Merchandising: If you’re the really efficient type, keeping the actual products organized and well stocked is of the utmost importance—because without the products, who’s shopping at the grocery store?
- Accounting/Bookkeeping: Accountants are needed for any career but even more so for retail work to keep the business running smooth. If you’re good with number crunching, try this major.
- Food Service Administration: Food Service Administration helps keep the industry to the best standards while also playing a part in policies like the ones allowing restaurants to remain open in a time of crisis.
- Restaurant Management: Who do you think is running all your local favorites while servers have to be sent home? The managers. You could be a key player in a restaurant’s overall business with this type of background.
- Customer Service: As with grocery stores, giving the customer a positive experience will keep them coming back for more. Be a part of making your workplace memorable for the right reasons for customers in times of need.
- Culinary Arts/Production Management: What’s a restaurant without the food? The chefs are unsung heroes of the industry, creating the meals and conducting the management of all food-related materials.
- Postal Administration: As with other administrative positions, the only way to keep a tight ship in any field is having good people implementing the right practices.
- Public Administration/Communication: Being a postal service worker means working with the public to deliver mail, so having specific skills in this area would be a benefit, especially if you want to work up to postmaster.
- Postal Service Technology: We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our daily lives, including organizing and delivering mail. Be ahead of the curve in postal technology by pursuing this area of study.
- Animal Care Specialist: Animal care doesn’t just apply to pets; it applies to domesticated and wild animals too. If you want to know all you can about animals and how to help them, consider specializing in this area.
- Animal Center Management: Animal shelters and wildlife refugee centers aid creatures in times of crisis, and knowing how to manage them could save a lot of animal lives.
- Veterinary Sciences: We can’t control when we need medical attention, and neither can our pets. So if you’re driven to help animals in need at any time, consider becoming a vet.
- Early Childhood Development/Education: With this major, you’d have a fulfilling career in caring for and shaping young children at a crucial point in their development.
- Elementary Education: Kids can be so fun to teach, with their creativity, boundless energy, and inquisitive minds.
- Middle Childhood Education: Middle school is a tumultuous time for most students, but you could have a hand in helping students ready themselves for high school.
- Secondary Education: High school is a crucial stepping-stone to higher education and a great career. Help students find their passions with this major.
- Special Education: Students with learning and other developmental differences are so rewarding to work with because their accomplishments are astounding.
A Note About Internships
Keep in mind, internships for some of these fields have traditionally involved being on-site, as well as traveling to other countries–and all of that’s on hold and being rethought while we shelter in place.
According to a survey published April 10 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, “30% of employers surveyed are going ahead with their internship programs as planned, while others have moved interns entirely virtual, reduced the length of the internship, or moved events online.
About two thirds of employers say they will recruit class of 2021 at the same level as they did for class of 2020, while 16% are still undecided.”
Of course, not all careers require you to work in an environment where everyone is in one place. Those internships are often project-based, and will lend themselves well to remote work.
So what about the emotional impact of COVID-19 on a student or family member?
Does personal trauma ever influence career choice?
Schiffman says he has seen it happen many times: “I anticipate we’ll have some students for whom what they’re going through right now may influence what they want to major in.”
For both high school and college students who have yet to declare a major, Schiffman says: “keep a journal.”
By doing so, students have a great opportunity to monitor their emotions, to find patterns in thoughts and concerns, and to see if seeds are planted and new interests emerge.
That is: How do a student’s thoughts about the world at large translate to a career?
They may be surprised to see clues to a potential vocation.
Schiffman also writes in his Tulane University blog: “Don’t underestimate human resilience. This one comes from a blog I read about ways to cope with COVID-19 anxiety.
I am sitting here in my living room as I write this blog and I look outside my window to the glory that is all things New Orleans.
Fifteen years ago, many thought New Orleans would never recover from Katrina. Many thought that we would never be back.
But here we are, stronger and smarter and better than ever before.
We humans are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for sometimes. The human spirit is a remarkable thing.’
So start a journal if you haven’t already, and keep reading and learning and talking about your experiences in the days and weeks to come. See what shakes out over time–when we get back to some semblance of “normal.”
You may be surprised by what you discover about yourself, and how you can contribute to the world at large.
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