These days, Millennials more and more are ultimately becoming purpose-driven than anything. We are hoping to find work that purposeful and fulfilling.
However, at the same time, we’re not a bunch of idealists either.
We understand that our country’s college graduates are facing student loan problems.
We understand that the job market and job stability is no longer the way it was before.
That is why our generation is torn between choosing career-focused degrees and doing something to meet our need for inner fulfillment.
The vast majority of us who don’t attend Ivy League schools are choosing career-focused majors out of necessity. Even those who attend an Ivy League school are primarily choosing “safe” degrees.
The students who attend the top, selective schools tend to come from families who can afford it. For example, nearly 40% of Harvard’s underclassmen don’t need financial aid.
It is the student coming from a less selective school working in popular fields such as business, health, or biological sciences that are struggling with student debt.
When choosing your career path, you should perform both quantitative and qualitative analyses before coming to your decision.
First, perform a simple mathematical comparison, initially, in order to analyze which major provides the greatest return on your tuition investment.
The Math Behind How To Choose a College Major
A typical comparison might look like this:
- Writing – the current passion you may be looking to pursue
- Accounting – a degree with a large job market
- Computer Science – a technical degree that pays well and seems challenging
The results are probably obvious to many, but it helps to put the numbers on paper for visualization.
The comparison assumes the student is logical enough to consider only in-state tuition. The risk of taking on student loans is risky as it is and paying three to four times more to attend a school abroad is unreasonable.
Especially here in Silicon Valley where there’s a huge demand for software engineers, a computer science degree is the clear winner with a salary-to-cost ratio of 6.3.
Other Considerations Behind How To Choose a College Major
The decision-making process behind choosing a college major is multi-faceted. Yes, salary is a consideration when it comes to being able to repay your student loans.
However, not everyone is meant to obtain a STEM degree (technical areas such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
We read a recently published book called “Quit Like a Millionaire” by another fellow personal finance blogger, Kristy Shen. In the book, she describes her hardships going through an engineering program in school and the hard work she put into her career, afterward.
Garmeon can relate, going through a biotechnology program in the undergraduate years. For many fellow classmates, the course material came naturally and seemingly easy.
Garmeon had to struggle and toil to scrape by with a C or maybe a B.
We have a culture where we believe our schooling and career path has to be linear. Do well in grade school, then do well in middle school, then do well in high school, then get into a high-ranking prestigious university, have your major/career path figured out as soon as you enter college, get your degree and start climbing the career ladder.
One misstep, your entire life is ruined.
So they say.
The truth is most people encounter obstacles and setbacks along the way. The successful ones adjust and adapt.
Many would consider those failures because of the linear mindset we just described.
The truth is, whether you live a linear or non-linear lifestyle, even if you seem to have it all figured out – the vast majority of us DON’T have life figured out.
Often, the ones that are the most confident in all the career accomplishments they’ve achieved are the most unaware of what’s really important.
The reason for this is they usually hold a narrow perspective on the world. One way to broaden your perspective is to travel the world (not as a tourist). An example would be to go abroad on a spiritual pilgrimage. Not only would you see new places, but you’ll meet an entire spectrum of different people with the same journey of self-discovery.
Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying
Our belief here is that everyone should be purpose-driven.
The majority of people are not blessed enough to have it all figured out in your formative years and that’s okay. When we say “formative years” that can be open-ended. If you look it up, the internet will define it as your adolescent years.
We say learning and figuring yourself out is a lifelong process, if you structure it that way.
Perhaps Kristy’s scarcity mindset, as she calls it, put her in a do-or-die situation when it came to her pre-financial independence career as an engineer.
Perhaps it was her background coming from living under a totalitarian regime in China and subsisting on $0.44 a day for the family that convinced her she needed to choose the most stable, high-paying job because every additional dollar equated to days of survival in her olden days.
We would like to be the devil’s advocate, for a moment, and ask “what about those of us that grew up in a first-world country without survival issues?” We might not be struggling with having our basic needs met, but we’re struggling on a different level.
Living life without a purpose just eating and sleeping on repeat, you’re basically already dead on the inside.
Where To Start If You’re Not Going “Full Steam Ahead” In Your Undergraduate Days
So what should an eighteen-year-old, fresh out of high school do?
They’re young enough that they’re still a blank sheet but old enough that they’ve had a lot of societal expectations pushed onto them. Parents want children to be doctors, lawyers, engineers. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing as people of any age frequently need external structure in order to guide them.
We liked the idea of world schooling from Kristy’s book. It’s a chance for children to break out of the typical mold and see the world at an early age. This opens their eyes and prevents the development of a narrow mindset. It helps them see things from many different perspectives.
What if you never did well in school, but you’re good with your hands?
There are a lot of options with trade school and it has a good return on invested tuition.
Although it may be the exception than the norm, we do know someone that’s not the most academically inclined. However, he does have a good financial safety net. So, he’s relentlessly been pursuing his engineering degree for sixteen years now.
Most people would’ve given up by now. He could’ve gotten a lot of money after going to a trade school.
To us, he’s considered lucky, not a failure, to have found his passion.
What if you did well in school, but you’re not sure about what you want to do and you were never a go-getter when it comes to getting guidance/help?
Take a page from Garmeon. Maybe going to a university for all four years wasn’t the right decision for him. Other than accepting help from his parents, he wasn’t able to fully utilize the resources on-campus.
That is where the community college comes into play. Not only does it save money on tuition, but there’s less pressure to graduate and spit you out into the real world before you’re ready.
He remembers students at his academic high school considering community college as a shameful place to go, but if they were able to see the bigger picture no one will care or remember where you went to college for the first couple years of your post-high school career.
Rather than being 100% engrossed into a university program. You have the ability to explore majors without heavy financial investment (there is free tuition at CCSF in San Francisco) and can also test your abilities as an employee with a part-time job.
That last part was a key part of his journey of self-discovery. Fortunately, he had the financial safety net to explore. Since going through high school, college, and into the real world Garmeon never found himself to be a good fit as an employee.
The writing was on the wall, but it took him years to realize this. That’s because we’re programmed to follow a certain track rather than forging your own path.
Having the limitless potential to explore is exciting, but extremely scary at the same time.
If you have the entrepreneurial spirit and the courage to pursue it at a young age, you’re blessed.
Although far from being an end-all-be-all, blogging as a business has been fun and fulfilling at the same time. We’ve been able to share with people our journey and help others with theirs, as well.
Now that he’s discovered his calling, Garmeon plans to continue down the path that’s been illuminated ahead of him. This Fall he’ll be starting an entrepreneurship/small business program at Golden Gate University in San Francisco (FREE!).
The program is ten-weeks long and there’ll be one-on-one mentorship for a year after the conclusion of the workshops.
For those of you that are on their own entrepreneurial path, you should definitely check out this program if you can.
Choosing your college major is a challenging, but not impossible task.
Remember, it can’t be boiled down to a simple mathematical calculation, but it should definitely be a consideration in your decision-making process.
If you belong to the younger generation typical of an incoming college student or even someone looking to re-tool and go back to school, use our post as a guide to help you make your decision.
Money shouldn’t be the sole factor as it’s been proven that you could achieve financial independence on any income, even minimum wage.
Ultimately, we advocate settling with something that will be sustaining and meaningful work for you.
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