Should We Pick Majors Based on Pay?

Happy New Year, everyone! As I wrote on my other blog, I resolve to post at least once a week this year. Hopefully I can accomplish this goal!

For my first post of 2012, I wanted to expand on discuss an issue I touched on in a previous post - the profitability of our college major. Lately, I've been seeing news agencies and blogs post articles about individuals, including social workers buried in student loan debt and working low paying jobs. I'm sure these issues have been around for years, but I speculate that these news articles have increased in frequency as a result of the recession, high unemployment rates, and indebted college graduates participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

As usual, the comments contained as much vitriol as previous articles on unemployed college graduates. I've heard similar statement among my own circle of acquaintances (many Silicon Valley engineers) with statements like, "Teachers are dumb; that's why they're teachers", "I aced my humanities classes easily, getting better grades than actual humanities majors", and "I worked hard in college while people in [insert major here] partied all the time". With so much negativity against social science and humanities grads, I sometimes can't help but wonder if such stigma will impact these fields in terms of job prospects and student interest.

In China, it seems like social science and humanities majors are already being impacted in terms of funding. While I was out of the country last November, the Wall Street Journal published an article called, "China To Cancel College Majors That Don't Pay". The title is somewhat misleading, as China plans to phase out college majors based on employment rates, not salaries. Now imagine if the U.S. were to implement a similar policy. According to the WSJ article, clinical psychology, fine arts, and U.S. history would be some of the first majors to go. If cuts were made according to median salary, social work would be on that list. Imagine the type of society we would have if subjects like these were eliminated from our schools because they were simply not profitable enough. Maybe the elimination of social work programs would create a severe social worker shortage that would finally raise our salaries to respectable levels!

So, should we pick majors based on pay? Sure, if your goal in life is to become independently wealthy. However, realize that education, as with any other investment, comes with risk. While a job may be profitable now, there's always a chance that things might not turn out as expected. Regardless of what field you decide to pursue, know what you're getting yourself into, and consider the monetary and emotional costs of each major.

Did I pick my major based on pay? Yes and no. The reason I got my MSW had to do with my college experiences and the fact that I wanted to make a living counseling people. I never expected to become rich, and if I wanted to make more money, I probably would have picked a career in nursing or engineering instead. Now if I had the opportunity to study something out of pure passion, I would have majored in music. Fortunately, I do have a job that pays decently and gives me the flexibility to go back and study music if I desired. We'll see how that goes.

How about you? Did you pick your major based on pay? Should college students consider potential pay when picking a major?


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