Picking a major for money or for passion?

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

You make one of the largest (if not the largest) financial investments of your entire life when you’re only 17 or 18 years old. You can’t avoid it anymore because without sinking $100,000 into your college education, you can’t hope to be financially sound later.

You have to do it.

That’s college today. Choosing whether to attend is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your life. That is, until you have to pick your major.

In a series of reports at the beginning of the academic year focusing on college majors, National Public Radio’s Planet Money reported, “Your college major has a bigger effect on your income than where you go to college.”

Dealing with random roommates and getting lost on this massive campus is already daunting enough, but there it is staring you in the face: the decision of which college major you’re going to pick.

Of course, you’ll try to rationalize your decision. You’ll try to decide if you should major in something you truly enjoy or if you should sacrifice some of your passions and go for the major with the gold. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who can have both.

But it’s that rational part that gets you. That part makes you believe that you must choose the less interesting, more financially lucrative major so that you can make the enormous sum of money you’re dropping on your degree count for something.

Last week, The Daily Illini reported that only about a third of all college freshmen choose a major that aligns with their interests. The others opt for the not-so-unusual money-making majors. Still, about 80 percent of the students here will be undecided about their major even if they’ve declared one upon admission.

Because the University requires declaration of a major or that you join the Division of General Studies, DGS is the second most popular college choice among freshmen, The Daily Illini reported.

Given that we are the “me me me generation” as Time Magazine boldly proclaimed in one of its cover stories, it’s interesting that people struggle to decide between choosing their passion or choosing a major based largely on financial considerations. 

A piece in The New York Times last week opined that the millennial generation, our generation, will try to find a profession that gives them a sense of purpose rather than a fat paycheck because our thinking about jobs radically changed with the recent recession.

Though the unemployment rate is lower than it has been in years, we still carry the fear that we may not make it, that we won’t find a job, that we won’t find purpose, that we may not be happy.

All of that adds weight to the difficult decision.

A new crop of high school seniors will be receiving their acceptance letters to the University this week, and they might be able to rest more easily given the state of the economy now. But they won’t.

Think back to your days as a high school senior. The most important thing you could think about was getting the hell out, but they’ll soon ask, “What do I want to do with my life now?”

Our advice: You will eventually get a job. You will make money. You won’t be happy, however, unless you make it your supreme goal.