Does Studying What You Love Really Pay Off?

choosing a major

Jeremy Beam had no problem choosing a major.

“I love the ocean and marine life,” says Beam. “Studying marine biology seemed like a natural fit.”

But marine biology is a small and competitive field. Many job opportunities only paid minimum wage, even with a four-year degree. And since so many marine biologist jobs depend on grant funding, job security was nonexistent.

Beam quickly realized that his dream career was keeping him from financial stability.

“The cost of living made staying in that field impossible,” said Beam. “I had to make a change to make a better salary.”

Why following your passion doesn’t always work

If you are heading off to college, you probably have been given well-meaning advice about “following your passion.” Many advisers will tell you to choose a major based on your interests.

But the average graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt after they graduate. And if you’re only choosing your major based upon what you are passionate about, paying back that debt may prove to be difficult.

While choosing a college major based on your passion sounds good in theory, when it comes to earning a living, it’s much more complicated.

3 reasons not to study what you love

1. Most passions don’t lend themselves to careers

If your passion is writing poetry, salsa dancing or raising rabbits, your job opportunities will be very limited.

That doesn’t mean your passions aren’t worthwhile. It just may be more practical to get a job that gives you the financial freedom to pursue your interests outside of work.

2. Doing what you love can wreck your love affair with it 

While you may love dogs, the stress of running a kennel or dog-sitting business could turn that love into hatred. The joy you once felt for your passionate work may cool as time goes on.

3. You could end up spending money on unhelpful majors 

Many students pick a major because it sounds interesting or lines up with their hobbies. But then, after school ends, they’re surprised or frustrated to find that their major won’t lead to a lucrative career.

More than half of college graduates regret their major choice, and over 40 percent could not get a job in their chosen field after graduation, according to a 2013 report from McKinsey & Company and Chegg, Inc.

4 considerations when choosing a major

It’s important to consider other factors beyond what you are passionate about when choosing a major. Here are four things to keep in mind.

1. Earning potential

Before selecting a major, consider what kind of lifestyle you want to live.

Think about where you want to live, how often you want to travel, and what things are important to you. That will help you determine how much income you will need to live the lifestyle you want.

You can use tools like PayScale to determine your potential earnings with a particular major. You’ll also learn what you can expect to make at different levels of your career.

2. Professional feedback

When deciding on a major, talk to people working in the field you would like to study.

These working professionals can provide feedback on how worthwhile their major is, what to expect in that line of work, and what kind of job opportunities are really available.

3. Return on Investment (ROI)

If your major is in a niche industry, a limited number of schools may offer it. That could mean you’ll be forced to attend a more expensive school to study that major.

Before moving forward with your college of choice, evaluate the total cost of attendance and how much debt you have to take on. Compare the total to what you can expect to earn after graduating.

Essentially, you want your major to have a strong ROI so you can afford your student loan payments and living expenses.

4. Financial incentives

If your desired major is not common, there may be financial aid incentives or tuition reimbursement programs offered by the school or by the state government to encourage new students.

Finding a school that will help you with you college costs can improve your major’s ROI and lower your debt.

Picking a college major remains significant

Now in a job in home security, Beam makes a good income. He uses the money he saves to do what he loves in his spare time.

“I wish I had known how limited my opportunities would be,” said Beam. “I would have saved a lot of time and money if I had pursued a different major.”

While following your passion sounds good, it can negatively impact your future financial outlook. Before selecting a course of study, determine your career potential, salary outlook, and debt load.

Whether you decide to pursue a career in marketing or architecture, think about the financial implications your major has on your career prospects.

What you decide to study in college has significant implications for the rest of your life. If you need to take out student loans to afford school, it’s important to choose a major that balances your interests with a competitive salary.

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