Declaring a Major During a Pandemic

Melinda McCabe
UNC-Chapel Hill Student

There are various schools of thought regarding how college students should decide what to study. Should they devote their four years to advancing the mind in the abstract or conducting pre-professional published research? Declaring a major only furthers the schism between liberal arts and research-based educations, with schools like UNC-Chapel Hill attempting to bridge the divide.
But how does this question change in the midst of a pandemic? Unemployment claims are growing exponentially, not unlike the rate of their causal COVID-19 curve. Entry-level workers are being laid off in almost every industry; not to mention 2020 graduates, forced to enter one of the most abysmal job markets in the last 100 years. It’s not just that the competition is as fierce as ever--no one is hiring.
Once idealistic college students have been faced with a dismal reality: the lack of strong employment prospects for college graduates post-pandemic. I chose a double major in public policy and business because I enjoy public policy--discerning the best policies for the greater good. Just a year ago, business seemed like a complementary addition for a versatile degree with an array of employment opportunities. Now, it seems like an essential choice for any hope of employment. Scores of college students made a similar decision in the wake of the Great Recession, leading to an uptick in “career-oriented subjects like health sciences or engineering.”
I can’t help but wonder how the pandemic will influence the two most pertinent fields at the moment: healthcare and policy. I have lots of friends who are decidedly “pre-med,” but many of them remain aghast at the treatment of health professionals during the pandemic. Essential workers have become almost disposable, sacrificial--what does that tell the students who want to one day join their ranks? And we need strong policymakers and leaders more than ever, but I speak for myself when I say I’m exhausted. It seems like none of the norms of policy analysis are being followed, and nothing anyone can do would help. So why sacrifice my sanity and quality of life for seemingly fruitless ends?


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