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Why spend years of your life, thousands of dollars, and tons of effort only to graduate from college and not be able to support yourself adequately for the rest of your adult life? How sad. How futile. And this could have been avoided with a better decision when deciding on your college major.

As a career consultant for more than a quarter of a century, I am often dismayed when I meet an adult job search candidate in his or her 40’s or 50’s who choose a college major that was not helpful in finding a position in the job market. They took the first job that came along upon receiving their college degree, got off on the wrong career path for their skills, abilities, personality, and interests. Now, at age 40, 45 or 50, they have finally figured out that they need to make a career change.

Wow. Tough assignment.

With the job market being so very tight these days, it seems doubly sad that this could have been prevented by simply choosing a college major that receives better recognition in the job market.

Say for example, that you received good grades in history, philosophy, or even literature in high school or your local community college. You decide to major in that area because you have already excelled and received high marks as a student. You work for the next four, five – sometimes more – years completing a college degree.

You work hard. You put in lots of effort. You spend thousands of dollars on your college education. You take out loans. You mortgage your future, only to find out when you seek a position that your college major is not helpful in the job market.

And you still have those college loans to pay off.

Prove it to yourself: Search any one of the internet job sites from CareerBuilder to Monster.com to Dice to Indeed, and see how many jobs there are for history majors, or philosophy.

Then look at the number of jobs for individuals with a college degree in accounting, or finance, or marketing, or law, and especially engineering.

Does this mean that you should ignore your interest in philosophy or history? No, of course not. You make that your minor, or your supplementary coursework. But your college major should emphasize those areas that will provide you recognition in the job market.

Talk to your college counselor. Ask to take vocational testing. Insist on it. Find out where you will excel in the job market. Look at the jobs available. Study them. Where do you fit? Are you a manager? Can you organize? Would you excel in project management? Information technology? Software development? As a biotechnology research scientist?

According to a publication from the Employment Development Department entitled “Today’s Jobs and Tomorrow’s Opportunities in the San Diego Region,” top jobs for individuals with college degrees include: computer systems analysts; computer software engineers, accountants and auditors, secondary school teachers, and nursing.

Keep in mind that specialized training and certifications are very helpful in today’s job market. If you are interested in quality assurance, you will find a great deal of training available. Doesn’t a “Black Belt” in quality assurance sound pretty nifty?

If you do not want to go to college, yet want to be paid well, seek training to become an electrician, a plumber, or an auto mechanic. All pay well and provide jobs for individuals with expertise.

It is possible to receive specialized training and certifications in project management (see PMI certification), inventory control, or production management (look at APICS certification), and many other areas.

Specialized training and vocational schools are also a strong possibility. California One-Stop Career Centers provide free tools and resources for job seekers. Most of these centers offer career specialists to assist job seekers with assessments to identify and match their skills to occupations. To find one of these Centers, go to www.edd.ca.gov.

Also look at California Occupational Guides, which is a new, interactive source for career information designed to assist individuals in making career decisions. Each Guide includes local and statewide information about training, current wages a job prospects, skill requirements, and day-to-day asks. Go to www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/occguides to get started. Training tools are also available, check www.edd.ca.gov and click on Jobs and Training.

Remember, at the end of your college career, you need to find a job to support yourself and your family the rest of your life. And your work life is likely to cover the next 40 years – or more – of your life. Don’t jeopardize your future with a college major that does not help you find a job.

Richard M. Knappen is the president of Chessmen Career Movers, an outplacement, career management, and consulting firm that is one of the oldest and largest locally-owned companies of its type in Southern California.

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