When choosing a college major, where does one typically start? The answer is different for everyone. You may have a few people in mind who are already preparing to apply to schools with a chosen major. However, you may feel completely lost about what you want to do with your life—and that’s normal! This is your future, and it’s not an easy decision.
Should you follow your passions and possibly seek a path of lower job opportunity or income, or sacrifice your innate career desires for higher pay and job security? (Consider yourself lucky if you already have a love for higher-paying job fields.) So the real question is: When choosing a college major, do you follow the logic of your head or the passions of your heart?
Ask yourself important questions and make some lists
Here’s an exercise to help you answer this question—using another important question. Ask yourself this: If money or job security were no objects, what career path would you want to follow in life? Don’t think too hard about it—just go with what you feel in your heart. If you have a few career paths in mind, choose your most desired job. Now, grab a pen and piece of paper and weigh the pros and cons of this heart-led career choice by following the steps below.
- List all the pros of working the job you have in mind. In other words, what are the positive aspects of this job? Maybe this job is your passion, or maybe you could make a difference in the world working in this particular field. Whatever these pros are, list as many as you can.
- List the cons of working this job. What are the possible negative aspects about this job? Maybe there’s slim opportunity to land a job in this field, or maybe the pay isn’t enticing.
- Write down the pros of not landing this job. This one may be a little trickier to answer. Perhaps not having this job will allow you more free time to spend with your family or will prevent you from boatloads of stress.
- Jot down the cons of not landing this job. Perhaps if you don’t work in a job similar to this one, you’ll always wish you had followed your heart. List as many of these cons that come to mind.
Tally up your results
Take a look at the answers you wrote down for the first and last questions only. If you notice any repeating answers, cross out the duplicates. For each remaining list item, rate the importance of each item with a one, two, or three: one being not important to you, two being moderately important, and three being highly important. When you’re finished, add up all the ranked items and write down your total. Next, complete a similar task for the second and third questions only, also ranking each item with a one, two, or three after you’ve eliminated any duplicate answers. Keep in mind that this scale is different, as it will represent how much each item bothers you—one will represent what list items don’t bother you, two is what you’re moderately bothered by, and three will indicate you’re highly bothered by the item. Add up the numbers for each item and write down your total.
Analyzing your results
So what do the results mean? If your total was higher on the first tally, you may be leaning toward choosing a major according to your heart. On the other hand, if you scored higher on the second tally, this may indicate that you prefer to choose your major according to what your head is telling you.
Examples of high-paying jobs
You can complete this same pros and cons task for any potential jobs you have in mind, and try comparing your results to determine what you may want to lean toward when it comes to choosing a major. If you prefer to ponder higher-paid jobs and majors, take a look at some of the most popular jobs and majors of 2020 that tend to pay well and have high job satisfaction:
U.S. News & World Report recognizes that many of the highest-paid entry-level jobs of 2020 include some form of engineering. Engineering is a widely varying career field. If you’re considering this lucrative career, do your research on the different fields of engineering you could go in to.
Engineering in a nutshell
- Pay: Starting pay of about $67,385–$96,445 per year
- Education: Minimum of a bachelor’s degree; internship and state licensure exam must be completed for those seeking licensure
- Majors: There are many applicable majors!
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Outlook (2017–2028): 4% in growth
- Common struggles in the field:Though these may be different for everyone, some say they experience high stress, lots of commuting, and limited social interaction at work.
- Common benefits: Many tend to consider this field rewarding and are able to exercise their mind in their career.
Nearly all jobs as a doctor pay well, as the need for medical health attention continues to grow. The schooling to become a doctor is extensive, and the years of internships and residency may be lengthy, but those who become doctors are often satisfied with their decision.
Medical doctors in a nutshell
- Pay: Over $208,000 per year, depending on the type of doctor
- Education: Ranges according to specialty; typically involves four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and up to seven additional years in a residency program, plus a licensure exam
- Majors: Depends (talk to your prospective college about this); a science major like Chemistry or Biology should be sufficient prior to enrolling in medical school, but med schools accept many different majors
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Outlook (2017–2028): 7% in growth
- Common struggles: Though different for everyone, this career field sees stressful and fast-paced environments, making high-risk decisions quickly, and long hours.
- Common benefits: These include helping people and saving lives, for starters!
With the stigma of mental health on the decline in 2020, psychiatrists are highly sought-after doctors and often have long waitlists, indicating a high sense of job security and good income. Psychiatrists enjoy helping people with their mental health needs and can prescribe medications for those who don’t find mental health therapy alone effective enough to manage their symptoms.
Psychiatry in a nutshell
- Pay: About $220,000 per year or more
- Education: Similar to medical doctor requirements; residency will have a psychiatric focus
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Outlook (2017–2028): 16% in growth
- Majors: Majors will vary from school to school; for instance, a science major like Chemistry or Biology could be sufficient prior to enrolling in medical school
- Common struggles:Though different for everyone, professionals often have long hours, deal with insurance billing, and manage high-risk mental health situations with patients.
- Common benefits: These include helping people change their lives and increase life satisfaction as well as the easy ability to be self-employed.
Invest in yourself and do your research
When choosing a college major and career path, it takes time and research! With the number of years you’ll be investing into your future, you want to make sure you’re making a well-thought-out decision. You’ll thank yourself as a future professional when you’re working in a fulfilling career that you chose for all the right reasons.
Even if you haven’t chosen a major yet, you may have colleges you’re interested in. Check out the majors offered at those schools using our College Search tool!