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How much should I consider salary when choosing a major or career?

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College debt is such a big issue and I don’t want to spend years working towards a degree that won’t get me a good career. I don’t have a strong passion for a certain field yet (but I do enjoy STEM), and I feel bad making a huge life decision based mostly off of money. #college #career #engineering #college-major

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Austin’s Answer

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Elizabeth,

This is a fantastic question and one that everyone struggles with. Balancing passion and salary is by no means easy but it is something that we all sadly have to do. I wish we lived in a world where our passions could sustain our financial independence but sadly that is not always the case.


To make this simple, you should definitely consider salary as one among many factors when choosing a major or career. We all have different standards of living so factor in salary to the degree that makes sense with your individual lifestyle; by this I mean that if you enjoy doing things that cost a lot of money then you should be factoring salary more heavily into your decision making process compared to someone who doesn't like to live an expensive lifestyle. There is no bad choice, it really is a personal decision and everyone is different (and that is ok)!!


Reflect on who you are, what you expect out of life, and what makes you happy. Don't sacrifice your happiness for financial safety; some of the most miserable people that I have met in my life are incredibly wealthy. On the other hand, pursuing your passion at the expense of financial stability can be extremely difficult and may lead to a whole different set of issues.


Finding something that is both personally gratifying and lucrative enough for your individual lifestyle is a good starting point if you are unsure, from there you can stress one factor over the other (happiness vs financial stability) if you want.


I hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck. Please feel free to ask a follow up question!!


Best,

Austin

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G. Mark’s Answer

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This is very difficult for many people to accept, but it is undeniably true. Parkinson's Law says, basically, that the needs expand to fill the available resources. This indicates that your need for monetary gain is mostly dependent on your expectations. I'm saying that you will likely "need" what you tell yourself. In most countries, the US in particular, basic needs are met. So my advice is this. Choose a career that makes you happy. If you feel as though you've made a positive contribution to the world, that should be your barometer of success. So I think you can see that I don't consider salary to be the guiding criteria in choosing a major or career. Now, keep in mind that folks who choose a major based solely on personal satisfaction may find that the rest of the world doesn't really care about what they care about, so it's prudent to consider that as well. So consider that a major that takes into consideration whether the market will have a job for you in your area of interest is at least significant. That still gives you a lot of latitude to find you passion.

I agree with G. Mark Stewart, find something that you enjoy and that can provide you with sufficient income for a comfortable lifestyle. I know plenty of people who choose what they love and cannot live on the salary and the other end of the scale people that made a choice solely on salary and hate what they do. Happiness is about finding a good balance. Dave England Translate
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Kim’s Answer

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Elizabeth,


Working in job placement for nine years, I was totally amazed at how some people took the "Shunned" degrees and turned them into lucrative careers, and others had prestigious degrees and couldn't seem to get off the ground. I am telling you this because I think there is too much emphasis on what degree/career to select, when success is more often determined by EQ - Emotional Quotient. Sure, the degree helps. But time and time again, it seems that the person who rises to the top is the one who everyone warms up to - those who come across with sincere congeniality.


Today, more than ever, you can chart your own career path. No longer are you stuck with one company for 20 years, because pensions are mostly a thing of the past. Many people start looking for their next career move at 2 yrs, and, are in a new position within 5 yrs.


So, if you major in Chemistry, with a minor in Finance, you can start out in a laboratory for a petrochemical company and become a high ranking banker who conducts business with the petrochemical business clients! It might take 3 or 4 different jobs to get to that position, but, it has been done. I've seen people with Sociology degrees who were public relations directors of major companies. You will want to learn to write a good resume and focus on "transferrable skills"- those that transfer from one field to another, and how to show the way in which they relate. You will learn all of this as you progress.


For now, pick something you will enjoy, and think about different steps you can take with it to go in different directions. And think about how you define "Success" ,"A good career," and "happiness." The world really is wide open to you! (and research EQ!)


best of luck!

Kim

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Kara’s Answer

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Hi Elizabeth,

While salary is a very important aspect to consider when determining whether or not to accept a position, I believe the most important thing to consider is whether you can envision yourself being happy in that position. Because if you feel unfulfilled or unhappy in your job, a large salary won't matter. Instead of focusing on salary, I would suggest focusing on finding a job that you are passionate about.

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Britta’s Answer

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This is a great question. While it is certainly important to ensure that your career will be able grant you financial independence and stability, it is critical to keep in mind that you will spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week at your job over the course of your 40+ year career. That's a lot of time to invest in a career! I would focus on finding a major/career that you are passionate about. This way, your career will be more meaningful to you, and you will even enjoy your time at work. While having a high salary may be great, it's not ideal to be stuck in a job that makes you miserable.

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Brian’s Answer

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Great question. You can make money in almost every field. What you need to do is find something you're passionate about. While in school, try to get exposed to as many different verticals as you can. Take the time to find what you love, because once you have a family/mortgage, it'll be a lot more challenging to change things up. If you have a passion for what you do, the money will come.

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Maura’s Answer

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I would start with your interests and strengths, and research careers in those areas as way to start brainstorming about possible careers and available job opportunities and salaries. I would also think about your priorities in life in general.

-How important is financial security or a lucrative career to you?

-Do you expect to maintain a certain lifestyle?

-What is the cost of that lifestyle? 

-What other priorities are important to you such as flexibility in your schedule? Is location important to you?

You may not know some of the answers to these types of questions and your priorities will likely change over the next several years. The research you do will help you to learn more about yourself and will likely make you aware of opportunities that you have not considered. I would also learn about the expectations associated with certain majors and careers. What type of grades do you need to secure a job in that field? you There are lots of tools online to help you learn more about yourself and job opportunities. It is an exciting time for you. Take in as much information as you can. Document your priorities and goals and update them regularly. Check your progress routinely and make sure you are doing what needs to be done to achieve those goals. Chart your own course and hold yourself accountable! Good luck!

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Regina’s Answer

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Think about what you can live with and can not live without.  When I first started college I wanted to be an actress, but saw so many of my friends struggle in this field with finding consistent employment, having to move a lot to get the next job or live with multiple people since they could not afford rent.  At that time I figured out what I valued was having a steady income to allow me to travel to see new things and have the money to do things and spend time with my friends.  I found a company that was so big it allowed me to do all these things along with continuing to challenge me in various roles.  Do not just look at a salary when you are choosing a company or major to choose look at all the things that surround it.  Example - flight attendant may not get paid much, but you get to meet new people everyday, travel and get miles and hotel points to go on vacations with - think about all the factors not just salary

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