Book Review: Guide to College Majors 2009

Guide To College MajorsOnce a week I try to review some book related to college in order to lend some guidance to a field that has become completely overrun. So many people are writing test guides and college help books that it is easy to buy a product which is not useful and which will be occupying space on your bookshelf for years, mocking your bad judgment.

Deciding on a college major can be a difficult decision. Even once you have decided on the general topic, you still have to narrow your decision down to a specific degree. (i.e. Will you get a degree in American Literature or in the Classics? Or what about English Literature?) The seemingly endless possibilities can be overwhelming at times.

To decide on a good college major that you will use your entire life, you should thoroughly investigate your potential options before deciding. One book that I have personally found very useful for researching different majors is The Princeton Review’s Guide to College Majors (Random House / Princeton Review Books, 2009, $21). In this giant 838-page book, you can get information on virtually any type of degree. For each of the 400+ majors included, this book gives one or two pages of concentrated information that makes your decision making process much easier.

Basic Summary

First, each major begins with a short summary. In this section, you will learn a little about each degree. For instance, in the summation for a Mass Communication major we learn that:

…Mass communication majors investigate the role mass media has played, and continues to play in, in American culture. They are analysts and historians, examining everything from nineteenth-century Harper’s political cartoons to the newest McDonald’s commercial…

This synopsis will help you quickly grasp the basic duties of a person with each particular major so that you can decide if that major fits your interests.

Related Majors

The next segment of each major is much shorter. Here this book lists a variety of related majors. What if you are not interested in Mass Communication but would like a slightly different degree? This is the section for you! You will learn that similar majors include advertising, business communications, public policy analysis, and eight others. Now, using the book’s alphabetical format, you can quickly investigate the related majors.

High School Prep

The next important section in this practical book is particularly useful for high school students thinking ahead. Here you will find a few tips to help you prepare for a particular major.
Are you interested in Chemical Engineering? Then try to get a solid background in science and math. Also, be sure you get a good understanding of computers and computer programming.
If you are still in high school, this section will show you what to work toward. If you are already done with high school, this section will show you where you need improvement.

Sample College Curriculum

Similar to the high school prep area, this part lists some common subjects you will study for a particular degree. For example, student majoring in information technology should expect take courses such as computer networks, database management systems, software development, web development, and more. Reading this section will show you were (and if) you are ahead, as well as what you can expect to be studying.

Fun Facts

In this light-hearted section, the book includes related facts and jokes. For example, for the major Library Science they explain that Thomas Jefferson’s personal library was the beginning of the Library of Congress.
While the information in this part of the book is not strictly useful, it does make enjoyable trivia and might come in handy some day. After all, you never know when you might need to know when the first book was copyrighted in the United States. (It was on June 9, 1790)

Availability Meter

This thermometer- type graphic measures the availability of each individual major. This feature can help you learn each major’s popularity, and, therefore, the competition you are likely to encounter when job searching.

Careers and Salary

Probably the most useful section is the careers and salary area. In this short category, you will learn the average salary for a particular major. Although this section is titled “Careers and Salary”, it rarely includes any information about careers. Most of the time, the salary statistics are presented here while the information about careers is reserved for the next section.

Career Options

In this final category, this book rounds off its useful explanation with a short list of potential careers. For instance, a person with a degree in Computer Engineering could potentially find a career as a systems analyst, computer programmer, information manager, management consultant, research technician, or a host of others. While their list is by no means exhaustive it does provide a good starting point for research.

One Problem

At the end of this book, they provide a number of indexes including an index by career. Supposedly, you can use this index to look up a particular career and find matching majors. Unfortunately, I have found this feature rarely works. For example, when I look up “writer” the index points me to page 98 which lists the major… Aquatic Biology. Unless I want to write about fish, this major does not seem very related. Because this entire index seems to be commonly incorrect, I have come to the conclusion that someone forgot to update the index when they published a new edition. While this is not a huge difficulty, it is somewhat frustrating, and does decrease the books usability. Hopefully it will be updated in the next edition.

Who Is It For?

Although the non-working index is a disappointment, I still think Guide to College Majors is well-worth getting.  It is (obviously) must useful for student or parents of students who are still unsure of their college major.  This book will help you evaluate your options and find similar majors.

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