Passions vs. Paychecks: It’s a major decision

By Ben Morgenstern / Columnist

Sometimes life feels like a BuzzFeed quiz. Are you more concerned with being passionate about your job, or are you a money monger?  While we are still busy studying Shakespeare and biology, it’s hard to say how we will feel in our future jobs.

New York Times Best Seller “Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow” by Marsha Sinetar encourages people to follow their hearts when it comes to choosing a career path. But it might be more advantageous to choose a career path that provides job stability in the future. This isn’t what a student wants to hear when trying to pick a major. 

As we all know, college graduates are increasingly struggling to find jobs relating to their majors. To avoid underemployment pitfalls, students should choose a more secure career path to pursue in college.

Careers that are traditionally occupied by people who have not had a college education, such as taxi drivers or firefighters, have seen an incredible spike in numbers of college graduates. In 1970, less than one percent of taxi drivers or firefighters were college graduates. That number has now grown to more than 15 percent.

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However, this trend extends beyond taxi drivers and firefighters — it’s indicative of a national pattern.

According to a study from Slate’s Moneybox blog, a whopping 16.8 percent of college graduates between the ages of 21 and 24 are underemployed, meaning that they are either unemployed entirely or working a part-time job for which they are overqualified. 

It appears as if students who choose to pursue their passions end up rendering their hard-earned, and costly, degrees meaningless. A study conducted by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that 48 percent of employed college graduates are in jobs that do not require a four-year degree. 

Job-hopping — or switching from one job to another because of job instability — is also common in careers that do not provide sufficient stability, which can lead to several mental incapacitations, according to a study posted on livescience.com.

Moreover, having a stable career can still lead one to happiness even if it’s not one’s dream job. CareerBliss, an online jobs site, compiled 25,000 reviews from the site’s users on how happy they were with their job, and it found that the “happiest jobs” included careers like database administrators, quality assurance engineers and software developers.

All of these jobs have one very prominent attribute in common: high, stable wages.

Obtaining a job that better lines your pockets prevents the misery that comes with student debt. Researchers who conducted a 2013 study at Northwestern University found  a significant increase in stressful and depressive symptoms in graduates with student debts of $30,000 or more. 

However, as unpleasant as student debts may be, it is not the only path to a hapless life. According to the study, “Although the specific health and psychological impact of student loans are unknown, they are generally considered a safer debt for students to carry, as compared to ones like credit card debt, considering an educations’ ROI when compared with other investments.”

Though students may view determining a major as an arduous task, it is incredibly important to take into account the long-term effects of that choice and not immediately default to passions. 

Declaring a major is a simple clerical action — a John Hancock on a half-sheet of paper — but the economic and cognitive ramifications extend beyond those naive college years.

Ben Morgenstern primarily writes about education and social issues for The Pitt News.

Write to Ben at [email protected]