What Degree Is Right For Me? | 5 Crucial Factors To Consider Before Committing To A Degree
It happens every year. A student comes in who has applied for college admissions and gotten accepted to some great schools, but there’s only one question they have…
“What Degree Is Right For Me?”
While this is certainly a loaded question and one that’s not easily answered, we are going to cover 5 crucial factors in deciding on what to major in. Since this is a very popular question amongst our current students (and parents!), our hope is that we help some of you answer the question “what degree is right for me”, before it get’s too late!
1. Degree Salary and Earning Potential
Salary potential for a given degree is a major influence in considering what career path to take, and rightly so. However, just like choosing a college to attend, we do not recommend that money be your most important determining factor.
Many students have the mindset that, “hey if I’m going to college for 4+ years and paying for tuition, I might as well do something that will make me a lot of money when I graduate. So, what degree is right for me?” This isn’t necessarily a bad approach, but it isn’t a good one either.
The somewhat ugly truth is that salary does matter, maybe more-so than in the past, because no one wants to struggle to get by. But, the key to finding a degree program that works for you involves more than just salary and earning potential. If you go into your research with one goal in mind, salary, you run a high risk of being unpleasantly surprised.
For instance, let’s say you enter into an Engineering Degree program because you could very easily make close to 6 figures or more after you graduate. You apply to a few of the best engineering schools that you can get accepted to and start your degree. After one semester, you realize that you may have gotten in over your head with the coursework and find it to be very overwhelming. To make a long story short, you either change majors, transfer to a different college, or drop out of school altogether.
This is an extreme example, but it does happen so do everything in your power to avoid making salary your top priority when deciding what degree is right for me!?
2. Doing What You Love
Have you ever heard the phrase, “do what you love and the money will follow”? That is true to some degree, but you have to be creative in finding that happy medium between doing what you enjoy and getting paid for it.
What you are trying to avoid here is pursuing a degree in an area that you don’t have much interest in, but it sounds like a good profession and seems to make people a lot of money. We see this too many times with students, and it’s a very big mistake.
If you’ve always loved working with kids and have considered becoming an elementary teacher, do not be lured into another profession by the salary aspect. There’s something to be said about having a gut feeling and always knowing what you would be good at as a career. You should TRUST that gut feeling because 9 times out of 10, you will be right.
We see a countless number of students who know what they should do in college, but choose something different because they were influenced into it. Most of them end up changing majors to what they originally wanted to be, and again, this costs you time and tuition money.
Another aspect about doing what you love when trying to figure out “what degree is right for me?”, is your long longevity within that career. If you ask most people if they love their job, many would answer “I used to” or “not that much anymore”. This is called “burnout”, and you will stand a much higher chance of staying on your job and enjoying it for much longer if you pursue a degree in something that you love!
3. Job Outlook
There is a fine line between doing what you love and earning a comfortable salary from that. And, you may have already found that perfect fit that satisfies both of those aspects. But, will you be able to get a job when you graduate?
One aspect you really need to evaluate before committing to a degree is the job outlook for your potential career path. Let’s look at the gaming industry as a relevant example.
In recent years, there has been a huge influx in the number of students who are interested in video game design and programming. Ever since the launch of “next-generation” video game platforms such as xBox 360, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3, teens have wanted to make their own games or put their own unique spin on something related to gaming.
As a result, the market is saturated with these students who found something they love (video games), and want to get paid for it. What’s worse, is that there are only a limited number of jobs available with good paying companies that need programmers and designers thus making it an extremely difficult and competitive field to enter into.
Now, we are not saying you shouldn’t follow your passion to become a video game designer. All we recommend is that you do your homework first and check out the job outlook for your chosen degree path. When asking yourself, “what degree is right for me” you simply cannot overlook the job outlook aspect.
4. Evaluate Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Knowing yourself is important when making a long term decision on a major. That’s why you will need to take that a step further and evaluate what you are good at, and what you aren’t so good at.
Take for instance, your high school studies. What subjects are your strong points? Now, we aren’t talking about the courses you enjoy the most, but rather the classes that you score the best in. Here’s a quick list of tangible things you can look at to find out where your strong points are at…
- Semester Grades in HS Courses
- ACT Sub-scores
- Test Scores on Material Related To Your Potential Degree
ex. Geometry Unit Test scores if interested in Architecture
ex Unit Test scores in Physics if interested in Engineering
For the most part, you will know what are good at and what you enjoy. 99% of the time, they go hand in hand. The key here is to identify those areas of weakness and determine if you will encounter them at any point during the intended degree program you’re interested in.
Usually, it’s math and science that tend to cause the most trouble. If you did not do well in high school math and/or physics, you really need to decide if you are cut out to be an engineering in any capacity, as this degree and career will require a solid base of knowledge in both of those skills.
5. Stepping-Stone Degree
Many degree programs are considered stepping stones to other degrees in specific fields. You should be aware of what it takes to attain the career that you want, what specific degree you’ll need, and how to get there.
As an example of this, let’s look at two scenarios…
- Career: Psychologist
To become a Psychologist, a student must first obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. After that, he or she would need to start and complete a Masters Degree program and meet certain certifications in order to become a Psychologist. So, the undergraduate degree in Psychology would be the stepping stone to becoming a certified Psychologist.
- Career: Dentist
To become a Dentist, a student must first obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in a related science field such as Biology or Zoology. After that, he or she would need to apply to Dental school and after a couple years of internship, you can obtain a license to practice Dentistry. The 4 year, undergraduate degree in Biology or Zoology is the stepping stone degree in this case.
Knowing the path and the steps involved to get you to a specific career is mandatory and will help you plan out your college journey.
Doing Your Research
The best resource we can give you that will provide median salary and job outlook is called the Occupational Outlook Handbook. It’s available in print, but also if you click on the link!
From there, you can either search an occupation, or choose from an alphabetical list. When you find one you’re interested in, click on it and it will tell you…
- Median Pay
- Education Required
- Number of Jobs
- Job Outlook
- Employment Trends
This is a great, FREE resource and we highly recommend using it in your research!
Hopefully this will help students, and parents alike, that are going to be graduating high school but still have that question “What Degree Is Right For Me?” in their heads.