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Choosing a Major: 3 Vital Things to Consider

by Miranda Marquit

The biggest decision that you make when you head to college is this: What major will you pursue? While it would be nice to follow your passion, and get a degree in something you love, and that you think would be fun, you also need to look at reality.

Recently, I read an article about the worst college majors for a career. There are majors out there that result in high unemployment and a low salary. That means it’s hard to get a job — especially one that pays decently. With the new career landscape, it’s important that any education you receive is leveraged in a way that is most beneficial, depending on what you hope to accomplish. Here are some things to consider as you choose your college major:

1. Realistically, What Can You DO With Your Major?

Choosing a major - How to decide upon a college degree planBe realistic about what you can do with your major. Yes, if you choose anthropology as a major you can learn about ancient civilizations. But what kind of career can you realistically expect? How many working anthropologists are there? And, once you get your anthropology degree, what else can you do with it? Does anthropology transfer to other career fields with any sort of ease? According to the article, anthropology majors are 2.1 times more likely than average to be working in retail.

Many people joke about my communications degree, but it didn’t make the list, and you can develop skills that can be transferred to a variety of career fields, from media jobs to PR jobs to freelancing. Think about the reality of what you can do with your major, and how likely you are to find actual work that utilizes those skills.

2. Will You Make Enough Money to Be Worth the Cost?

Another consideration is whether or not you will be able to make enough money to repay your student loan debts. There is a debate going on right now about the worth of a college degree. When you’re done with your degree, will you be able to afford the costs? This question is especially important when you move on to graduate school. You have to ask yourself:

  • Can I honestly expect to make enough money to make this worth it?
  • Are there really jobs out there in this field?
  • Does the potential bump in salary justify the expense?

Some degrees are more valuable than others; that’s just the way it is. The market places a premium on certain skills and education. Take that into consideration as you choose your college major.

3. Will You Be Able to Live Your Desired Lifestyle?

Most people don’t become teachers for the money. Instead, they choose that profession for the lifestyle. Longer vacations for holidays, and summers off, can be a lure for many people. Think about whether or not your degree will help you achieve your desired lifestyle. I’m a freelancer working online because I like the flexibility and location independence. My husband is a college professor because he enjoys interacting with students and teaching. Our degrees allowed us to make connections and develop skills that allow us to live the lifestyle we want as a result of the work we do.

Consider, too, that you might be able to enjoy some of your hobbies without getting a degree in those areas. One of the pieces of advice I received in college was this: Choose a major that will make you money, and a minor that you enjoy. I never became a music performance/fine arts major, but I still like music and playing instruments. You can always keep up with your passions on the side if they don’t make sense for your college degree.

What do you think? Should you choose a college degree based on passion? Or on money?


Published or updated September 20, 2012.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ashley

How about “Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life”. Sure you might be able to make 100k/yr being an investment analysis but what’s the point if you quit after a month?

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2 Ryan Guina

Fulfillment is an underrated criteria for selecting a profession – or remaining in a job. I’m actually drafting an article about that right now. I’ve moved on from jobs in the past because they weren’t challenging enough for me.

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3 Roger @ The Chicago Financial Planner

Good article Miranda. I can look at this question both from my own experiences and as the parent of one college grad and two current students. Personally I majored in Finance in college, went on to get an MBA, worked in corporate finance, and finally got into financial planning and investment advice as a financial advisor. I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy every bit of it.

Our oldest went to USC and got an Art degree. She also took quite a few hours of web-design and related courses and now works for her alma matter in PR and web design for an institute which is under the USC umbrella. She is well-paid, has great benefits, and limitless career opportunities. She combines her web skills with her eye for art and design.

Our middle one is a Religion and Anthropology major at Northwestern who just started her senior year. She wants to go on to law school, but might consider working for a couple of years. Either way I don’t worry about her ability to support herself. Her major is mostly irrelevant as Northwestern grads seem to do well in the job market. She has had two really good internships over the past two summers and interviews well.

Our son is a soph at Northern IL who is thinking of majoring in communications. Mike is very outgoing and personable. I think these two qualities will make him very successful regardless of what he actually majors in.

As for me I love finance, but sometimes wish I had taken a few more non-business courses in college. No regrets though.

The point is that in some cases a college major is treated too much like going to trade school in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of forking out $1,000′s and having one’s child not be able to get a job is not a great prospect. But I think there needs to be a sense of balance here as well. College is a time when ideas flourish and there is a lot of personal growth and development happening. I think this is not taken into consideration by some columnists and other who question the value of a college degree.

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