The $35,000 question: What should I major in?

The $35,000 question: What should I major in?


According to a new analysis by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher at Edvisors, the class of 2015 represents the most indebted college graduates in U.S. history. Many of them will leave school with loan obligations of $35,000 or more.


Students at the beginning of their college experience see a number like that and very quickly their thoughts turn from, “What career field will I enjoy?” to “What career field am I most likely to find work in so I can pay off my debt?” In other words, they consider foregoing job satisfaction in favor of return on investment. While that strategy may seem to make financial sense, it doesn’t often lead to long term success and happiness.


A US News & World Report article on how to pick the right college major expressed a sentiment common to college advisors that “students who don’t follow their hearts by delving into subjects they’re most passionate about will ultimately hurt their chances of a successful—and satisfying—career in the long term.”


Moving past personality tests


So, how do most students choose a major? Too often advisors encourage them to make that complicated decision based on very simplistic criteria like what their favorite subjects are or how they score on DiSC or Myers Briggs, two common personality tests.


Increasingly, however, college advisors recognize that a student’s major should be based on a more holistic view. Personality type still carries a great deal of weight, but the better career assessments now available take into account other factors like values, interests, and workplace preferences.


A career paths tool can also be very helpful as you consider a major. It can provide information on everything from the skills required for different occupations to the colleges and universities in the area that offer relevant programs. Add that information to what you learned in the holistic personality evaluation, and you not only better understand yourself, you better understand the job market and where you will best fit.

These career tests don’t take long to complete, and the payoff is that your choice of a course of study is no longer somewhat random but is, instead, a fully informed decision.


The intersection of enjoyment and employment


Circling back to that $35,000 debt… For most college graduates, there is a “sweet spot” where the things they are passionate about and the most promising career fields intersect. A very helpful resource to keep an eye on is the Bright Outlook Occupations list provided by O*NET OnLine. It gives information on the occupations that are expected to grow rapidly in the next several years, that have a large number of job openings, or that are “new and emerging.” There is no reason you can’t major in something you enjoy and have a reasonable expectation of finding work quickly when you graduate. And with a job you love, you’ll pay off those loans before you know it.


PathwayU is what we call a people analytics company. Through our free career aptitude test, we believe there’s a better way to match people with occupations so that long, productive, fulfilling careers are no longer the exception but the rule. As one Calvin College student put it, “The scores, feedback, and job matches reaffirmed the career decision that I had made. I used the PathwayU tools to compare the characteristics of the career I am looking to get into to what the assessments told me my strengths were and found a favorable match-up.”


Ready to find your path? Take our free assessment now.