Hyperbolic discounting and college

[Disclaimer: I do not speak for my employer.]

It was interesting manning VMware’s booth for the Berkeley career fair. Since this was not a CS-only fair, I got to see a big cross-section of the almost-graduating population. Thinking a little about my experience, it seemed like many college students do not go into their degree with any sort of plan as to how they can use their degree later. People, as far as I understand it, take student loans to spend four years studying something — and it seems like a serious case of hyperbolic discounting if they do not give thought as to how it would impact their life after they are 22.

So I decided to use the statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to try and figure out — what degrees would actually give good employment chances?

I munged the data, partly programmatically and partly by hand, with my goal as “what would I advise my future daughter to study in college?” So my criteria are that the job will be a “nice” job, with reasonable employment chances and reasonable salary.

Of course, I have to start with what I know best — I think software development is a nice job, companies are hire and the salaries are decent. Labor statistics, by the way, confirms my anecdotal evidence. What would I study to be a programmer? Well, unsurprisingly, CS with a minor in math, or vice-versa, seems like a good idea. Even more importantly, for such a new field, would be internships. I would encourage people who want to get into the field (in the Labor statistics it is broken into “Software Developer, System”, “Software Developer, Application” and “Computer Programmer”) to get internships at respected companies. Well, that was the easy one (at least for me).

Next up, we have the medical field. Nurses, physicians and dentists all seem to have “nice” jobs with good prospects. With doing very little research, here’s what it looks like — RN degrees are Associate degrees, taking two years to complete. After finishing RN, there are a few options: actually get a job as RN, or finish a pre-med and apply to a medical school. An alternative medically-related degree is pharmacy, which also seems like a nice, in-demand, job.

Teachers — I was surprised by this, but teachers make reasonable salaries, there are opportunities for promotions and all in all, it seems like a reasonable career path. For that, I’m assuming a degree in education is probably a good idea.

Sales reps — I would have to say, limit yourself to inside sales, outside sales is harsh. In any case, most “nice” sales positions require BA/BS, but do not specify what. I would do a BA in business, but especially concentrate on getting good internships in sales. This is a field where experience counts for much more than “book learnin'”.

Lawyers: also a good choice. Again, trying to get maximum value of information, I would suggest getting an associate degree in a program which is ABA-certified as a paralegal, and working a few years in a law office. The pay is not awesome, but many of these places encourage enrollment in a law school and getting a legal degree on the job.

Electricians and plumbers: unless there is a huge change in technology, pipes will burst and wires will short. I would go with the electrician option, because it seems less disgusting, and there are more advancement opportunities. An associate degree in an electrician program, together with apprenticeship, is a good first step. Then it is possible to continue as a technician or go into electrical engineering.

I would definitely say that anyone who is somewhat sure nothing on the list above is a good fit should check the BLS statistics for his or herself, and find a popular-enogh vocation with good prospects, before taking out any kind of student laws.


4 Responses to Hyperbolic discounting and college

  1. Tuure Laurinolli says:

    I note you didn’t mention many engineering degrees.

  2. Perhaps not very many, since the number of engineering jobs (2.3 million) corresponds pretty well with the number of engineering graduates 1966-2008 (2.44 million). (Extra data from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf11316/content.cfm?pub_id=4062&id=2 Bachelor’s degrees table)

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