Ah going off to college. So many courses and majors to choose from. Some are great and others are a complete waste of your time and money. One famous university’s mottos is “I would found found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study”. That’s great for the university as they make money on all those students studying all those majors. Yey academics. However for the aspiring student this is a potential minefield. What is interesting and fun may not be worth it financially.
So we’ve seen plenty of articles that purport the benefits of STEM degrees. You know Science, technology, engineering and math. Some is true but not all of it. Remember you are going to college for skills so you can get a job not for academic enrichment. You can get acadmic enirichment with a public library card, taking electives and by buying textbooks or other books of interest.
As a rule of thumb degrees that involve math pay better and will get you a job. Good fields in my humble view.
- Engineering: It pays well because it’s hard and someone needs to engineer all the products around you
- Computer science/ IT: Think about how much of your life involves interacting with computers, smart phones and tech. Yeah you can make big bucks in tech with the right skill set.
- Math/Statistics: The world is becoming quant driven
- Finance: Someone needs to manage all the money, forecast reveue, manage costs, run banks
- Accounting: Accountants seem to be always needed for financial reporting, closing the books, doing taxes, actuarial science
- Business administration degrees: The more quant the better like operations management, supply chain/logistics, marketing research, information systems, finance, accounting
Health careers are good too as the population ages and needs more care
- Medicine (hard to get into MD, DO programs)
- Dentistry: Ever seen a dentist drive a Hyundai? No.
- Veterinary (hard to get into DVM) as people spend big money on their pets
- Physical therapy
The sciences are traps. Beware. Unlike liberal arts degrees these are genuinely hard but that doesn’t mean there are jobs. That’s the catch. All work, no play and no jobs! Hey at least the liberal arts majors get to play.
- Chemistry. Could be ok but chemical engineering is better
- Physics: With that math skill set just do engineering if you want a job
- Biology: A terrible choice unless you plan to pursue graduate school in medicine, dentistry, nursing, veterinary, pharmacy etc. The BS level jobs don’t pay a damn if you can even find one. Many smart kids who are good at science fall into this trap. Then they graduate and don’t know what to do so are forced to go to graduate school for more schooling and debt or completely switch careers. I was such an idiot too and then switched to finance to pay the rent after more schooling which wasn’t free.
Other careers with jobs as many people do work in these fields. Investigate.
- Architecture: Design buildings, additions, construction projects
- Journalism: Write for a newspaper, broadcasting etc.
- Education/teaching: We all went to school right? Get summers off too.
The fields with limited job prospects that may require a masters. Investigate more.
- Psychology: Be a school psychologist etc.
- Sociology: Be a social worker for local government
The liberal arts. Not sure what you can do with these
- Political science: go to law school I guess but the legal market is saturated. Might be better to study say accounting or engineering before law school so you have combo knowledge for say patent or financial law.
- Languages: Google translate
- Gender studies
- Arts and Art History
Now if you are interested in doing one of these liberal arts majors have a backup plan.
- Dual major in a good field and a more fluffy one. That way you can get a job and pursue your interests. Having a combo skill set may help. Study say accounting and sociology then go work for government. Or engineering and languages so you can work abroad. Computer science and finance.
- Minor in a liberal art instead
- If you are set on graduate or professional school then try to graduate early to reduce the debt burden
Make sure to also think about the ROI the return on your investment. See my other costs posts. Before you spend $100K studying history think about the job at the end. When Sallie Mae sends you that $1100 per month loan bill you need to be able to pay it and your living expenses too.
- Remember colleges are businesses that will sell you anything you want. Don’t have buyer’s remorse.
- Your success is not their problem once you have paid tution.
- There is no refund if you don’t get a job.
- You are on the hook for those student loans not them.
If you like to work with your hands then look at trade schools. You can likely make way more money and graduate with less debt. Ever seen a broke plumber or electrician? Nope those guys bill out at $60- $80/hour when certified and some get to be their own boss. How much does that barista job pay? $12? Ok you get it. I have seen guys go to college who did like to work with their hands only to flunk out or graduate in a field with poor job prospects. That’s the wrong choice. The electrician has a house. The barista lives in a small shared apartment. Point made. In the USA there is too much stigma around these fields even though they pay well. If you are not acadmically minded and don’t see yourself sitting in front of a computer all day then look at your options. Everyone needs to have career schooling for a career but it doesn’t have to be at a unversity.