by Neil Chyten
In 2020, a microscopic meteor called COVID-19 struck Earth with the savage power of a real meteor. While the number of existential threats in our lifetimes that have shaken our very social and cultural foundation can be counted on the fingers of one hand, each of them involves an attack—physical, mental, or viral. It is important to recognize that COVID-19 now takes its place among the most influential events of modern history. Indeed, history will prove that this meteor, COVID-19, will leave a deep and permanent scar on the psychological landscape of the World’s population. So deeply will it change us that most aspects of our lives will need to be re-examined.
However, from tragedy springs opportunity. While a partial bounce back will certainly occur in the near future, we will be inexorably and irretrievably changed. We will need to rebuild our world, both physically and mentally. Thus, the next 10 to 20 years—critically important for students who are about to enter college—will see a dramatic need for new thinking, and thus will present new and unprecedented opportunities for talented individuals in many fields. The following list contains the most important college majors in the post COVID-19 era.
#10: Civil Engineering: Every day, we are seeing how COVID-19 is changing the way that people interact with their physical environment. The design of all civil systems implemented in the next decade will rewrite all the rules and must take into account the possibility of future pandemics, access to lifesaving equipment, and safe travel across town, across the country, and across the world. We have seen civil engineering innovation on an individual scale as people struggle to save their businesses with self-manufactured answers to problems they had never foreseen. In the next decade, it will be necessary to rethink virtually all civil projects to include safeguards and contingencies for a variety of unforeseen circumstances.
#9: Finance: Finance is the study of money, money management, investing, borrowing, lending, saving, budgeting, and forecasting. COVID-19 has shaken our sense of financial security so deeply that those well-versed in the subtleties and intricacies of finance will be highly sought in the decades ahead. As we head into a likely worldwide depression, activities aimed at spearheading a speedy recovery will be a major focus for individuals, businesses, and governments. A certificate in finance from a world-class institution will, quite literally, be worth many times its weight in gold.
#8: Sociology: Sociology is the study of humanity, including human thinking, behavior, group and crowd mentality, interactions, societies, and cultures. It can relate to relationships between two people or entire countries. Understanding human behavior provides a solid basis for a diverse set of careers in law, public policy, consulting, retail, marketing, medicine, and public health. There is little doubt that much time, effort, and money will be spent analyzing humanity’s reactions to COVID-19, both during and after. Sociology will provide a basis for understanding our behaviors and reactions, and for predicting them in the future. Therefore, sociology majors will be highly sought by a wide swath of businesses and agencies.
#7: Psychology: The field of psychology encompasses the study of human thought, personality, behavior, motivation, emotion, response to stimuli, group interactions, general mental well-being, and social disorders. Its primary goals are to understand, describe, predict, and possibly change behaviors. Our reaction to COVID-19 is a psychological study on a massive scale that will be micro- and macro-analyzed for decades to come. The results of the study may alter future behaviors in a vast array of business and medical applications. Therefore, psychology majors will be relied upon to help us understand human responses to a new and far less predictable future.
#6: Economics: Economics deals with the manufacturing, distribution, and purchasing of goods and services within and across local, national, and international lines. Not only has COVID-19 changed world economics in an unprecedented manner, it has made us look further into the future in order to protect ourselves and prepare ourselves for a less predictable path. We have seen the impact in grocery stores, department stores, restaurants, and literally millions of businesses across the world. There is little doubt that hundreds of thousands of businesses will fail, while a select few, such as internet-based organizations, will realize an unprecedented boon. As a result, the next decade will see a major shift in economic focus. Whether that means that economic ecosystems will shrink or expand remains to be seen. However, one thing that is certain is that all the textbooks will be rewritten in the next few years, and the need for economists in the next decade may never be greater.
#5: Medicine: It is likely that our 24-7 focus on COVID-19 and on the frontline health workers who have become both international heroes and victims will generate renewed interest in the medical field as doctors, nurses, scientists, technicians, and researchers. No occupations will be more in the spotlight, or should we say under the microscope, than those related to medicine. Further, no occupations are more needed for our global society that is certain to face even more unpredictable changes, both desirable and undesirable, in the decades ahead. For the first time in recent history, we have internalized the fact that we are vulnerable not only as individuals but as a species. We will turn to those in the field of medicine to save us and protect us from the unknown biological, chemical, and man-made pathogens and a wide array of other unforeseen challenges, that are likely to come our way in the future.
#4: Business: In the next decade, an unprecedented number of businesses will rise and fall, as we are already seeing. Over the next ten years, the landscape of business will change at a rate many times greater than in the past ten years. This is a remarkable statement given the paradigm shift we have seen during this period. There is no doubt that bulletproofing businesses from an unpredictable future will become a major focus in a decade ahead. Similarly, emergent markets and products will follow entirely new models and paradigms. While the basic tenets of business—sales, marketing, service, and product—will likely remain unchanged, strategy and implementation will likely be unrecognizable in the next decade. The value of a business degree may never be greater, or more highly sought, than in the post COVID-19 era.
#3: Systems Biology: For all its virulence and ambiguity, COVID-19 has highlighted the necessity of understanding entire systems and how viruses can disrupt them in more holistic ways. The approach of systems biology is counter to years of reductionist biology that broke systems down into their smallest identifiable parts. In systems biology, students study all interrelated parts of various systems. These may include tissue biology, microbiology, cell biology, and organismic biology. They may study plants, animals, or a combination thereof. The field is as diverse as the world of biology itself. There is little doubt that students who have an interest in biology will find a passion to follow directly into a career. Understanding how biological systems work has never been more important and can provide students with an almost endless number of exciting career pathways. As a result, this is very likely to be an incredibly popular major in the decade ahead.
#2: Computer Engineering: It is hard to imagine how desperate we would all feel right now, as we self-quarantine in order to avoid exposure to COVID-19, if we didn’t have computers and smartphones. There’s literally no aspect of our lives that these devices do not touch, and this extreme level of dependence will grow much deeper in the next decade. With computer technology advancing at an exponential rate, computer engineering will become increasingly essential, and highly skilled computer professionals will be highly sought in literally every industry in the world, from medicine, to retail, to communications, to those that fulfill our most basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter.
#1: Biomedical/Biomechanical Engineering: Perhaps nothing is more important for the future well-being, or perhaps even the survival, of mankind than discovering new ways to use technology to solve biological problems. During the COVID-19 crisis, we have seen new emphasis on machines including respirators, analyzers, and monitors. In the next decade, we will see an entirely new generation of biological machines that support the human body in ways that we cannot even predict. Mechanical lungs, for example, may replace human lungs in patients who can no longer adequately process the oxygen levels needed for their organs to function properly. A degree in biomedical or biomechanical engineering will put students in what is perhaps the most exciting, rewarding, respected, interesting, and necessary field of all. For those who chose to study biomedical or biomechanical engineering, a rewarding career is a virtual guarantee.
While we don’t like to think in these terms, opportunity does spring from tragedy. For students who are close to deciding where to attend college and which majors to pursue, understanding the implications of the COVID-19 meteor strike could not be more essential. We stand at the precipice of some of the most important changes that our society has ever seen. For those who are well-positioned to take leadership roles in the next decade, the future could not be any brighter. COVID-19 has taken away a significant degree of our innocence. It has left us feeling vulnerable and exposed. It has removed our outer shell and exposed our soft underbelly. As we struggle to recover, both physically and emotionally, we will be seeking guidance from the college students of today, who will fast become our leaders of tomorrow.