Graduation season is upon us again. College graduates are making their way into the working world (or trying to, at least). High school students are heading off to college (or into the workforce). It’s a scary time to be in either of those positions. It used to be that you would finish college and have a job already waiting for you. Now recent grads are working part-time jobs while job hunting for months or even years. High schoolers look at that group and wonder what they should major in to have the best chance at a job when they finish school.
When I went to college, I was told to major in what I loved. So I did. I’m the proud owner of a B.A. in English. Useful, right? We used to joke that if you study engineering, you become an engineer. If you study accounting, you become an accountant. If you study English, you become a… There’s just no easy answer. Of course, I had a useful supplementary major, and I ultimately went to grad school for a law degree, which is useful. And my writing skills have definitely come in handy both during grad school and in my career. But it wasn’t easy finding a job after college, and I can’t imagine what that’s like now.
I think the ideal situation is when you can study something you love while also studying something that will make you marketable. For some people, it’s easy. I had a friend who loved biology. She’s a very successful researcher now. Another friend loved programming and he works for a big technology firm. Other people had to work a little harder to combine their loves, but came out with dual degrees. Sure, it took more time, but the friend with the degrees in mechanical engineering and theater enjoyed his time at school and has a great job now (and still does theater on the side).
The one thing you shouldn’t do is stick to a path you hate. A good friend went through college as a pre-med major. She didn’t love it, but figured that she just hated the classes and that medical school would be better. After a bit of bad luck that turned out to be good luck, she got fairly sick and had to postpone taking her MCATs. She ultimately ended up changing her mind about medical school all together. She’s now a successful lawyer and very happy. I don’t think she knew what she wanted to do while she was in college. Medicine wasn’t right for her, but it was what she had always thought she wanted to do, so she felt she had to stick it out.
That’s not to say that if you’re not doing well, you should give up. The question is if the struggle is worth it. And remember, it’s not about the money. Sure, a great paycheck is awesome. But you have to remember that you will end up working 40+ hours a week. If you despise what you’re doing, that’s going to make things pretty miserable. Of course, you can always change your mind later. I went to law school with a number of people in their 40’s and 50’s, people who decided to make a career change. But if you know you hate it while you’re still in school, maybe you should do a bit of soul searching and decide if this really is the direction you want to go. And remember – money isn’t everything.