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Get the Most from Your College Degree

Eager and optimistic students explore all manner of possibilities during their college years. This is a rite of passage for those who recently graduated high school, and there are plenty of stories of time and money wasted by switching majors frequently.

Non-traditional college students in California who are balancing school, families and greater financial responsibilities often understand what traditional students don’t: You need to weigh your return on investment when it comes to choosing your college major.

While you might love drama and theater, consider job prospects and starting salaries in that field to see if they provide the lifestyle you desire. The same principle holds for some professional career paths, such as pre-law. Because of radical shifts in the legal industry, a law degree may not net you the financial stability you expect.

If you’re figuring out your passion, college is an ideal time to find it and explore how you can leverage it. Following a college major curriculum simply because you think it will guarantee a high-paying job after graduation doesn’t necessarily factor in your passion or happiness. Plus, the best college majors for a lucrative career can change based on the economy and advances in technology. Growth in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area offer perfect examples of this.  

How to Find the College Major That Fits You and Your Goals

So what types of college majors make sense for you? You may not know for certain until you’ve spent some time working or trying to find a job in your field. Other students figure out from internships that their college major isn’t guiding them toward their ultimate goals and priorities. Life is about trials and errors.  But there is some information available that could help you decide which degree you want to earn for the tens of thousands of dollars you will invest.

Kiplinger magazine recently published a two-part series that explored the best college majors for a lucrative career and the worst majors for a career, in terms of recent employment and salary data, with interesting ranking measures such as projected job growth for 2010-2020 and “likelihood of working retail” after earning certain degrees. The lists are formed from data provided by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce as well as Payscale.com. The U.S. Census Bureau also compiles its own research linking degrees and employment.

In general when considering employment opportunities and earning potential, the best college majors right now are in various fields of health care, engineering and science. The worst are in liberal arts, education and anthropology.

Passion outweighs a paycheck for some people’s career decisions, which is fine if you are fulfilled. On the flip side, there are plenty of professionals who recognize they are good at something that earns a nice income and they spend their free time engaging in other activities they love.

The most important part of choosing a major is to stay open-minded about the process. You may be convinced that you were born to be a journalist, for example, but don’t discount the possibility that you can earn a business degree while minoring in journalism to set yourself up for a career in writing, business or both. Take a hard look at what you enjoy and figure out different ways to achieve your goals while diversifying your educational background.

Seek and talk to professionals who are working in the field of your major and ask them what they would do differently if they lived their college years again. Their insight will be valuable. College counselors and professors also are good resources when determining what you can do with your degree and how your college major influences your future.