The five degrees graduates most regret taking - and yes, journalism is top

Poll by US recruiter finds four in 10 people have misgivings over their course decisions

Students smile after graduating in Bolton, northwest England in 2021. But many graduates come to regret the subject they studied. AFP
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Selecting a university degree is one of the most crucial decisions you can make, with consequences that will often be felt for decades to come.

But according to a new study, it is one many of us feel we got wrong.

A report by US company ZipRecruiter found 44 per cent of job seekers who have studied for a degree regret their choice.

In some subjects the figure is almost double this, with no fewer than 87 per cent of journalism graduates saying they would choose a different subject if they could start over.

Also in the top five subjects most regretted were sociology, liberal arts and general studies, all at 72 per cent, communications, at 64 per cent, and education, rounding up the list at 61 per cent.

The recruiter polls 1,500 job seekers each month to discover which degrees are considered most and least valuable by those who took them.


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Can't go wrong with computer science

But there are some degrees that job seekers tend very pleased to have chosen. Top of the list is computer and information sciences, with 72 per cent of graduates in this subject saying they would choose the same subject if given the choice again.

The same number also backed criminology, just ahead of engineering at 71 per cent, with 69 per cent in favour of nursing and 67 per cent happy with their decision to pick a health degree.

So, are students advised to choose a course, such as computer science or nursing, that is likely to offer a clear career path, or should they get a degree in their favourite subject, even if the road ahead may be more uncertain?

Ann Starkie, who runs AS Careers, a careers advisory consultancy, said vocational subjects are useful if the student is settled on his or her career choice, and if there is demand for graduates in that subject.

"There’s a danger if you go into a qualifying degree but decide halfway through you don’t want to do that profession, sometimes it narrows your choices," she said.


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There are some vocational subjects where, Mrs Starkie says, there is no shortage of graduates ― quite the opposite.

So even if a person completes a degree in law, they may not be able to secure a role that would allow them to become a qualified lawyer, unless they performed well on their course.

For journalism, which topped the list of most-regretted careers, it may be even tougher for graduates to develop a career in that field, despite the vocational nature of the subject.

"Things like journalism and media seem like they will get you into this career, but in actual fact they won’t [necessarily do so]," she said.

"To get into journalism, you may well be better doing any degree and doing a post-graduate course."

Even for vocational subjects where there is strong demand for graduates, young people might be wise to think carefully before enrolling on a course purely for the job opportunities.

"You’re not going to make a career out of it if you think it’s a logical choice, but you actually aren’t passionate about it," said Soraya Beheshti, the UAE-based regional director for the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at Crimson Education, a university consultancy.

High earners are happier

Unrecognizable mature man holding US Dollar bills. Getty Images

ZipRecruiter said that for any given subject choice, graduates who were on higher salaries tended to be happier with their subject choice than those who were earning less.

A perennially popular subject area in the UAE is business, plus related fields, such as finance.

These perform well in the ZipRecruiter survey, with business administration and management in sixth place in the most regret-free degree courses, with 66 per cent of graduates saying they would choose the same subject again. Finance also scores 66 per cent.

It's the person, not the degree

Alan Bullock, who runs a UK-based consultancy, Alan Bullock Careers, and who has given talks to UAE schools, said many employers appeared less concerned about specific subject choice, and more interested in the wider skills that a graduate may have developed.

Indeed he said that careers advisers at leading universities have indicated to him that there is increasing interest among employers for these less subject-specific skills. So a humanities or arts degree may be useful, even though the subject matter is not aimed at a particular career.

"Some people would look at a liberal arts course and think, ‘What use is that going to be for a job?’ But it can deliver all sorts of things that can be valuable to employers," he said.

Echoing this, Ms Beheshti said there were major employers that "don’t really care what major you studied". She gave the example of a large hedge fund.

"If you go to a good university, a brand-name university, and have a good GPA [grade point average], they will accept you," she said. "They know that most of the work you will learn on the job.

"For graduates who studied at a top university, even if they studied a social science, they have no trouble finding a job."

Updated: November 17, 2022, 7:37 AM