Probably the most significant decision you will make in your time at college is your decision on what to major in during your time there. This can be challenging for a number of reasons, particularly if you aren’t quite sure what you want to do in your professional career after you graduate. Here are some factors to consider…

1. Follow your Passion?: While passion isn’t everything (you could be very passionate about type-setting but it will be a dead art soon if it isn’t already), it is still important to be at least interested in what you pursue. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll go home rich every night regardless of how much money you make. Likely if it’s something your passionate about, you’ll make more money anyways. It can be difficult to determine your passions at a young age, there’s nothing unusual about that, but electing to continue taking classes in disciplines that spark your interest is a wise starting point for picking a major.

2. What are you Good at?: If nothing springs to mind even after you take a variety of classes in your freshman and sophomore years, consider what areas you’ve had the most relative success in. Do you typically do better with the charts and diagrams of models? How about Bio? Do you generally do better when recounting historical battles? Try history. Generally we tend to develop an enjoyment for the things that we succeed at, so following your successes is not a bad path to follow either.

3. Employability: While following interest and success are a good starting point, it’s not everything. You also have to at least pause to weigh the employability of the majors you are considering. If you’re on the fence between Art History and Computer Science, Comp Sci should likely be the choice. The upside in the Art History field is… not great. You’re basically pigeon-holed into teaching it, and that career path, while noble, is limited.

Top Ten Most Employable Majors:

  1. Computer Science
  2. Marketing
  3. Nursing
  4. Electrical Engineering
  5. Accounting
  6. Chemical Engineering
  7. Finance
  8. Biomedical Engineering
  9. Human Resources
  10. Actuarial Science

As you can see on this list, not only are these all practical studies, but they are not likely to lose value in 10 or 20 years, as they all represent careers that will be valuable in the future.

4. Yes, it’s about the $$$: After having lauded the need to pursue passion as the number one consideration, it’s important to point out that the decision should balance sentiment with practicality. If I could give myself one piece of advice at the beginning of freshman year of undergrad, it would be that idealism eventually fades, and it’s better to have the bucks to live the life you want and provide that life to your family. So… it’s actually wise to be shallow. Not at all costs. You don’t want to abandon your interest in marketing for comp sci just because the average median salary is better. But you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that you will probably tend to value the green stuff a lot more when you get a little older.

Here are the top majors by highest median salary ten years after degree completion:

  1. Engineering 104,000
  2. Economics 98,600
  3. Physics 97,300
  4. Computer Science 95,500
  5. Math 92,400
  6. Physician Assistant 97,400
  7. Construction 88,900
  8. Finance 88,300
  9. Management Information 82,300
  10. Philosophy 81,200

I have no idea how Philosophy makes this top ten list. My only guess is that Philosophers have gotten smarter about how to make some money….

At the end of the day, there is going to be some fate involved. Many people pick majors based on which professors inspire them and pique their interest in a particular field. Who knows who you may run into? Let’s hope it’s Chemical Engineer! I actually didn’t personally pick my major until junior year of college, and it was English, which makes no one’s top ten! The path is a windey one for most of us, but that doesn’t mean there’s no sense in applying some of the wisdom of the above balancing act. Make a choice that balances personal interest and capability with practicality and you may just find yourself rich and happy.