How can you print an article such as "College Majors Don't Matter Much" by William Raspberry {op-ed, Aug. 31}? Talk about leading young people astray. I hazard to guess that Raspberry has not had to look for a job recently; otherwise he would realize the utter waste of pursuing a liberal arts degree.

Raspberry advised college freshmen to avoid choosing a college major and to take only the classes they like. However, he failed to understand that this unfocused approach to education is the prime example of why our country continues to lag behind world business giants such as Japan.

While our young people are busy taking "a class here and a class there," students in other countries are focusing on a given career field, engaging in cooperative education programs, which provide hands-on experience, and preparing for a rewarding life after school. About all Raspberry's approach will prepare a young person for is witty repartee at cocktail parties. Not a bad deal if it didn't cost about $60,000 and four years to obtain.

Here is some real advice to students from one not too far removed from the scene (University of Massachusetts, class of '85, B.A. -- communications studies): Pick a real major, and pick it soon, because before long it will become clear that while you were jumping from class to class, sampling a variety of educational dishes, your wiser classmates saw the writing on the wall and were busy printing up re'sume's, scheduling interviews and getting their suits pressed. Unless of course a career in the ever popular fast-food industry appeals to you. In that case, study "communications."

-- Shaun A. Maher

William Raspberry's advice on choosing a college major may be fine for those resigned to a liberal arts education, but it was no reason to sniff at engineering for being too "vocational" or "practical."

The engineering education my classmates and I received gave us a wonderful gift: it taught us how to think. Clear, accurate, logical thought is the hallmark of an engineer. No liberal arts education could substitute for the rigorous trial by fire of an engineering program -- either learn to think or fail miserably.

The liberal arts do not provide a "core" curriculum or a "foundation" for making choices; engineering and the physical sciences do. Students of engineering, mathematics, physics, etc., share a body of knowledge and techniques that is consistent and without gaps. Therefore, we can better communicate among ourselves than those with an a`-la-carte liberal education. We are not intellectually pompous or subject to academic fads; the physical universe cares not one whit for the egos and fancies of humanity.

A liberal arts education avoids these hard facts of life and sets up many students for the uncertainty they experience when they leave school. Yes, we still need literature, art and the other fruits of the human genius, but let's not deceive ourselves. An unfocused smattering of liberal arts programs does not a competent, responsible, thoughtful human being make. Humanity will survive and prosper only by applying its collective brain power; we should develop it as best we can.

-- John C. Feltz

William Raspberry's column may be comforting advice for aimless students who can count on another decade of parental support, but for those who would like to earn a decent living and make a contribution to their society, it's a guide to failure.

Statistics show that the most important things determining starting salary after college are your major field and your grades. If you graduate with a liberal arts degree, you may have a good education, but you have no skills. Most of the successful liberal arts graduates responding to the U-VA survey Raspberry mentioned had to invest in additional schooling or on-the-job experience to achieve success. Starting salaries for bachelor's degree graduates in physical sciences and engineering are 30 percent to 50 percent higher than for degrees in liberal arts, education, social sciences and the humanities. During a lifetime of employment with no additional formal education, the economic rate of return on college investment for the math and science fields is about double that for other disciplines, according to National Science Foundation studies.

My advice to Raspberry's daughter: don't waste four or five years contemplating the state of the world. Pick a major, get a B.S. in four years and do something with it.

-- Roger D. Shull