With U.S. students owing $1.56 trillion in student debt, salary prospects have become increasingly important when deciding on a major.
For many schools, the cost of attending, not to mention the interest that accrues on student loans, could total in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If you’re going to be spending that much, it’s worthwhile to at least consider a degree that will give you the bang-for-your-buck that will lead you to a job that will allow you to pay back your loans.
Choosing a career and hoping for the best without doing your research is no longer an option for most people.
The issue is worse for some – research shows that women are much more likely to choose a job with lower pay prospects.
And because of that, many students gravitate towards STEM field and pre-professional degree programs that offer the allure of bigger paychecks.
But there’s something to be said for following your passion, even if that comes with a pay cut. Don’t lose hope if you love your degree and the low paying job it’s been predicted to lead to.
Passionate people create beauty and change in the world.
Knowing your likely income can help you plan to balance your financial obligations best if you choose to pursue a lower-income major. But do your research thoroughly. Look closer at your specific field/job.
Salaries can vary drastically within a field. Someone who majors in English could end up being a lawyer or a high school teacher. Both highly respectable, but with a pay difference.
Research not only starting salary but also average salary. Also, be aware of opportunities to grow in your field. As a whole, job growth and job security are essential factors to consider along with salary.
Individual growth is also an important consideration. Seeking out more educational degrees or certificates might help you earn more.
Salaries for those with at least a master’s degrees, for example, have increased significantly more than wages for those without a degree over the last few decades.
Whatever it is you decide to do, know the options available to you.
You don’t have to be limited by your degree. Almost a third of Americans are working in a job that is unrelated to their original field of study.
Neuroscience majors become comedic actors, and music students become marketing executives.
Your degree doesn’t just give you field-specific knowledge. It also gives you lots of transferable skills that can be used in a variety of fields and jobs. Employers prioritize experience over schoolwork, so utilizing your skills to gain work experience will make the transition much easier.
Take Anna Pickard (@annapickard), for example. After graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University with a degree in theater, she later took a job at Slack, a tech company based in Silicon Valley. Anna uses her creativity to create fun responses to users who message the program with “I love you, Slackbot.”
She’s part of a growing trend of people without technical degrees being recruited by tech companies to facilitate the aspects that robots and code can’t take care of.
In addition to those transferable skills, your degree also gives you a lot of connections. Whether it be professors, advisors, classmates, or whoever else you meet while getting your degree, these are people who can give you a leg up in your chosen field.
Many lower-paying jobs offer benefits to attract and retain employees. Public sector jobs, for example, often come with benefits such as student loan forgiveness if you work for them long enough. Health insurance, better scheduling, and employer-matched 401-k’s are also other benefits that can supplement lower salaries.
Ultimately, it’s all about your priorities. Yes, there’s sadly sometimes (not always!) a trade-off between passion and money.
But if you want to pursue a degree with lower pay prospects, go for it!
Salary isn’t the only measure of success in this world. And if the trade-off makes you anxious, fret not.
There’s always room to grow within, or even change your field.
Mugdha Gurram is a rising junior at Boston University studying International Relations. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a career in law. In addition to international and domestic politics, she is passionate about accessible education, including the ability of students of all backgrounds to pay for their education.