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Here’s how the pandemic is reshaping career planning for college students

Almost overnight, life after college looks different.

The once robust employment picture is gone, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. is now officially in a recession.

While new college graduates may be dealing with rescinded job offers or no jobs at all, those still in school or just entering this fall may be wondering what, if anything, they should do to adjust.

“They are worried and they are discouraged,” said Gen Z expert Nancy Nessel, founder of (Gen Z is defined as comprising those born after 1996 by the Pew Research Center.)

One option may be for students to reconsider their choice of major. So far, no such trend has been observed, experts say. However, that may change once the students resume school in the fall.

“Young kids have been surprisingly attuned to opportunities available to them,” said Paul Hill, founder of Educate to Career, a nonprofit that provides college-planning insights and data to families.

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Among the services the nonprofit provides is its online Job FutureCaster tool, which is designed to help students choose a major. Already, Hill is seeing a trend.

“People are utilizing the programs that help them select a major and they are keying in on the STEM majors,” he said, referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields of study.

“Then they are keying in on programs to help them pick a school close to home.”

STEM majors have been on the rise since the Great Recession. In the 2009-10 academic year, there were nearly as many graduates with humanities degrees as STEM degrees, according to the labor market analytics firm Emsi.

By 2016, STEM majors in bachelor-degree programs, and above, had grown by 43%. Meanwhile, degrees in the humanities declined by 0.4%, Emsi found.

Hill is now working on his latest model, which will estimate what jobs will be available to those under age 25 in three to five years’ time. Already, he’s seeing that existing trend towards STEM accelerating.

They are a very frugal and practical generation, so they are driven to earn money and save it and keep their student loan debt down.

Nancy Nessel

However, students shouldn’t be so quick to ditch their liberal arts majors, said Debra Felix, a former director of admissions at New York’s Columbia University who now runs her own firm, Felix Educational Consulting.

“What the world needs more of right now, and not fewer of, is adults that understand how different fields interact and interconnect and affect each other,” she said.

Felix said none of her students have spoken about switching majors yet, but have discussed changing the concentration in the major they have chosen. For example, someone in health care may shift to global health, she said.

“They might change their career plans but they still wouldn’t change the major they are actually in,” Felix said.

That said, it’s not unusual for college students to change their major, whether there is a recession or not.

About 30% of associate’s and bachelor’s degree students change their majors within three years of initial enrollment, according to a December 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Education.

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