How to Choose a Recession-Proof College Major

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Like the national census or a good Bruce Willis movie, a recession hits the United States about every 10 years or so. It doesn’t take a math major to see it’s been nearly that long since the burst of the dot-com bubble, and now, the collapse of mortgage-backed security has brought Wall Street and the rest of the economy to its knees again. As for college students? Well, we’re just crossing our fingers that four years is enough time for the job market to rebound.

Luckily, the U.S. financial system seems to be on the upswing. “By the end of the year, things should be looking better,” says Laurence Shatkin, author of The 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs. But Shatkin warns that a recovery would not necessarily signal a return in jobs. “They are the last thing to recover in a recession; businesses are going to wait until the last minute to stop using temporary hires. It will easily be over a year until this country starts seeing an increase in job openings.”

Here, we relay the crème de la crème of careers so you can declare a major now that will set you up for success later.

What to Pursue

Health Care

Even in dire straits, people need certain services. Shatkin cites the health care industry, which pays well and continues a growth pattern, as the field most adept at staying afloat during a financial downturn. Careers in the medical realm – physicians, surgeons, pharmacists, health service managers – round out numbers six through ten on Shatkin’s list of 150 recession-proof jobs.

Major in: biomedical sciences, biology, chemistry. Plan on being pre-med.

Information Technology

High tech is an industry with heavy growth, recession or no recession. With the Internet getting bigger by the millisecond, the stakes for finding a job in the technological world are up. The market does, however, face competition from outsourcing, since labor abroad is cheaper.

Major in: computer science, mathematics, computer engineering, electrical engineering. No lit majors here.


The good news is that there’s still a very high demand for teachers. The bad news is that schools get funding from local taxes, so when this revenue dries up, so does money toward teachers’ salaries. Making big bucks is almost out of the question.

Major in: various topics like math, physical education, history, languages, music or art


Shatkin is quick to point out that careers in government don’t have to be defined by bureaucratic paper pushing and yards of red tape. “Careers like school administrators and law enforcement officers fall under the government’s sphere,” he says. Government positions have had better protection against layoffs, which means more job security.

Major in: public policy, history, politics. Law school is another path to take if you’re looking to snag a spot working for the Feds.

Green Jobs

An important, budding movement is the green sector — especially green energy. Organizations are looking for enthusiastic college grads to jump on board. Plus, the current presidential administration wants to transform energy needs into a self-sustaining machine anchored by clean and renewable power.

Major in: environmental science, civil engineering, environmental engineering. Although, there are opportunities for activists, advertisers and writers to get involved too, since the field is relatively new and malleable.

Read on to learn more about green jobs.

What to Avoid


While Shatkin says several journalists still maintain great jobs in various trades, from padding the blogosphere to entertainment reporting, the field faces an uphill battle against two formidable opponents: bankruptcy and the Internet. Shatkin, himself a writer, claims the trick is to find a good niche: “I write about careers now, and I love what I do.”

Major in: journalism, professional writing

Also read Journalism School Enrollment is Booming.


“The field has always been fiercely competitive,” Shatkin says. He points out that many who can’t make it in other jobs resort to packing up and moving to Hollywood, betting on a slight chance of making it big. Now that the masses have less money to spend on entertainment, the industry has lost some of its sheen.

Major in: public relations, arts or theater, photography, filmography, music


Careers in finance have been hit harder than most. “It was oversold for a very long time, and now it’s hurting,” says Shatkin. He describes the nature of finance as extremely cutthroat. Many financial companies value experience, which puts recent college graduates at an immediate disadvantage. And since many former employees in the financial realm were laid off and are now looking for work, the competition is stiff.

Major in: math, finance, accounting, business

Staying Smart

In the eight months since Shatkin’s book was published, the situation has gotten worse. “When I wrote the book, there was only the likelihood of a recession,” he says. “You never know you’re in a recession until you’re knee-deep. Nowadays, it’s harder to find a job, investments have lost value and layoffs are increasing. People’s retirements are at stake.”

Shatkin’s advice to college freshmen? Get a well-rounded education. “We need people in liberal arts who understand science and math, and engineers and scientists who can write,” he says. By pursuing different subjects, students discover skills or talents they never knew they had. “You become more versatile and learn about yourself. Don’t limit it to schoolwork. Pursue out-of-class activities on campus as well.”

So perhaps it’s time to switch your major from economics to environmental science or from journalism to education. Make a smart move now and you might score a true recession-proof job later.

Also read The 10 Most Popular College Majors.

By David Replogle for The Real College Guide

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