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Shaping your future

Aug 22: Looking for a job when you get out of college? Choosing the right major now improves your chances of finding a job later, an expert says.

As college students get ready to wind up the school year, many will chose majors, devoting their studies to a particular field with the hope of finding a job - and possibly a career - when they graduate.

So where are the jobs?

In years past, computer sciences and computer engineering were the places to be. A major in those subjects helped a student's possibility of landing a job when they left school.

"The quintessential example of that right now would probably be nursing," said Carl E. Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. "There are certain areas where there is a severe labor shortage in a particular occupation. And so if you time it right, you can get a job."

But before students launch into a choice of a major based on the job market, they need to step back, said one college career counselor.

Choosing a major just to find a job may lead to a wrong fit for the person and a bad experience at work, said Steven Fusco, director of career development at Georgian Court University in Lakewood.

People should spend time exploring their abilities and interests before finding out what jobs are out there, he said. "It's still important for the individual to kind of follow their interests and make sure their skills apply to the career field."

Then they should look at the job market, he said. "Hopefully they are in fields that are fast growing," Fusco said. "While not requiring a college degree, we certainly wouldn't want anybody to go out as a farrier, somebody who shoes horses, because there are limited opportunities for that."

So where are the jobs?

There are several "very hot" majors right now, Van Horn said.

For instance, there's a need for mathematicians. "It relates to so many things and we have huge undersupply of mathematicians in this country," Van Horn said.

Many math majors are foreign students who return home after college, he said. "They are lost to our labor market," Van Horn said.

"If you are a math major right now, you are going to get a job, but you are not going to get the best job unless you get a master's degree or a Ph.D."

Employers are hiring scientists, including those who specialize in life science, physics and chemistry. Potential jobs could include working in a testing lab or in the biotech industry.

"Even in the sales area, pharmaceutical (companies) would rather have a person with a science background and a business interest as opposed to someone who is a business person and doesn't know science," Van Horn said.

And there is still a need for software engineers, said William Hill, assistant dean of placement and student employment at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Companies still are developing hardware and software, he said. "Technology hasn't slowed down one bit."

People with an expertise in languages, such as Chinese or Arabic, are sought after by business and government, Van Horn said. "If you are a global company, you are looking for people who speak that language."

Other business-related fields, such as economists and accountants, are in demand. Accountants are needed as businesses work to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Van Horn said.

The aging of America also points the way to jobs now and in the future.

"As people grow older and live longer, I think the support services, such as social services, nurses, home care aides, any position that manages or supervises those positions, I think will be a growth industry," Hill said.

But while the job market is hot now for nurses, mathematicians and linguists, a student with a liberal arts degree still can get a job.

Most employers still are looking for students with liberal arts degrees, said Rob Franek, vice president and publisher of The Princeton Review.

"In a liberal arts context, students are forced to become Renaissance people," Franek said. "They are forced to learn and be able to function, speaking and writing competently about a great cross section of different topics."

Many also work well in a group as well, he said. "Those things are attractive to employers."

Liberal arts degrees also are a way toward a specialized field or a graduate degree, he said. "A liberal arts degree truly qualifies them to do most anything."

Students can use there skill from a liberal arts education in other ways to make a living.

"If you study literary criticism that helps your critical thinking skills and it teaches you how to write," said Van Horn. "Then you have to figure out some way to apply those skills in order to get paid."
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