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Choosing a major isn’t easy. I blew through a handful myself, graduating from college not just once, but twice. As fate would have it, I’m still not working in a field related to either of my degrees.
Looking back, I had plenty of opportunities to make a better decision. Sure, I learned a lot about living on my own and taking care of myself. I made friends and memories that I’ll always cherish. But, overall, I would have been better prepared had I chosen a more marketable degree.
At 18, I was still an idealistic teenager. And while the realities of adulthood were just mere years away, they seemed totally abstract. I wasn’t worried about getting a house, starting a family, or even finding a job. I didn’t care one lick about money, and I truly believed that choosing a major based on my passions would someday take care of my bills, regardless of the reality.
Well, it was more than just an oops. It was a $35,000 mistake.
As college costs continue rising, I cringe when I see young people making the same mistakes I did. They’re led down a path that promises a chance to “find themselves” and follow their passions; then, they’re saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, whether their future careers can support that debt or not. It’s a crippling mistake, and it can be avoided.
9 Things I Wish I’d Understood About Choosing a Major
Choosing a major didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. In reality, it was one of the most important decisions I ever made. Honestly, I didn’t fully comprehend the financial decision I was making. At 18, I may have known the consequences, but I didn’t really understand them. Here are 9 things I wish I would’ve understood before choosing a major in college.
1) Some Careers Don’t Need a Degree
My first Bachelor’s degree was in Theatre Arts. Armed with modest acting chops and no real connections, I set out to create great art and change the world doing it. Of course, I never needed a degree to become an actor. In fact, one of my professors actually encouraged us to drop out. He tried telling us that we didn’t need a degree to work in the arts. We needed talent, connections, and drive – and we weren’t going to find that in any school. What we did find was thousands of dollars of debt, which is a hella expensive backup plan with few financial perks.
2) You Actually Have to Pay Back Your Student Loans
Unfortunately, I didn’t just borrow money for tuition. I borrowed for living expenses too. Every semester, I’d get a fat check to live on for a few months. It felt like free money raining down! Intellectually, I knew I’d have to pay it back, but I was financially immature. Having never paid on a loan before, I didn’t realize what this loan would actually mean for my tiny paycheck. Once I graduated, I learned about servicing companies like FedLoan and Great Lakes who were waiting for me to start sending them money. Though my situation is bad enough, I had friends who borrowed for school then dropped out before graduating. Guess what…they had to pay those loans back too, even without the benefit of a degree.
3) You Will (Probably) Care About Money Someday
I was I idealistic. I was passionate. I was also naive. Frankly, I didn’t care about money at the time, and I never thought that I would. I was wrong. Once I felt the pain of living paycheck to paycheck, paying back those loans, and wanting more than a subsistence existence, I actually started to care. After deciding to have a family, it became even more clear that money plays a role in the family’s overall happiness. Money isn’t everything, but it sure helps.
4) If You Choose Wrong, It Costs More
After a few years of living the starving artist lifestyle, I realized I wasn’t living a life that I wanted. Because my original major had limited career potential, I decided to return to school. Choosing to follow my passion didn’t just cost me time. It cost me thousands more to get a degree I could actually use.
5) College is an Investment, Not an Experience
Don’t buy the experience hype. Academic experience and real life experience are two totally separate things. Life skills can be learned by living on your own…and for a lot less. You don’t need to spend thousands to hang out with you friends. College is fun, but remember why you’re there. You’re investing in your future earning potential, not trying to gain an experience.
6) A 2-Year Degree Can be Better than a 4-Year Degree
For decades, we’ve been sold that 4-year degrees are the only way to land high-paying jobs. That’s simply not true. Not all degrees are created equal. Colleges and universities don’t care what major you choose. They just want to sell you a degree and push you through. Pursuing a 2-year degree in a high-paying field is far better than choosing a 4-year degree that doesn’t pay squat. Careers in dental hygiene, diagnostic medical sonography, and construction management are all 2-year programs that can command upwards of $70,000 a year. Plus, Associate’s degrees usually cost considerably less than Bachelor’s degrees, so you get a far better return on your investment.
7) You Can Actually Research Wage and Employment Data
Did you know that you can research wage and employment statistics before choosing a major? It’s true. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics actually tracks statistics related to almost every career. The Occupational Outlook Handbook provides a wealth of information, including career summaries, educational requirements, and job outlook projections. You can also find average salaries for your field by checking out the National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. So, do your research and know what you’re getting into before choosing a major.
8) Sometimes, Your Parents are Right
I have to admit, my parents tried to talk me out of becoming a theatre major. They asked me about my future, my family, and how I planned to make money. Unfortunately, I didn’t listen. I was too blinded by my own ambitions to consider what they were trying to tell me. Instead of listening to others with life experience, I bought into the hype.
9) Surprise! The World Doesn’t Care
Honestly, I have to chuckle every time I hear somebody say, “The world needs more artists and poets.” Maybe. But if the world wanted more artists and poets, they’d get paid more for their efforts. The world doesn’t owe you a living because you’re passionate. It doesn’t care. To earn a living, you need to provide a good or service that people want and will pay for. If not, your passion is a hobby, not a job. Stick with a major that gets you paid, and practice your hobbies during your free time.
Choose a Major for the Real World
Choosing a major is a huge decision, and it can affect the rest of your life. That’s especially true if you are using debt to fund your college education. With college costs rising every year, it’s important to remember that college is an investment. It’s preparation for your future career. No matter how much passion you have for a subject, you need to weigh the return on your investment before choosing your major.
In many ways, I knew these things before I chose my own path. I was warned about them, but I didn’t follow the advice I was given. I didn’t fully comprehend the decisions I was making, nor did I understand the impact they would have later in life.
After choosing a major that doesn’t pay, I plan to show my own children the error of my ways. I want them to know what I did wrong so they can learn from my mistakes. Hopefully, you can too!
What do you wish you’d have known before choosing a major? Let us know below!