October 08, 2013

Minor Issues with Your Major

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

I remember—so long ago!—how enthusiastic my parents were when I told them I wanted to study architecture… Then their diminished excitement when I switched to educational psychology… And how confused they were when I tried to tell them what sociology was. For them, the evolution of my college major choices made it increasingly hard for them to see a path to a career. For me, I followed the path that most challenged and excited me the most.

What kinds of decisions are you making when picking your major?

There have been several good posts on Everyday Sociology about picking sociology as a major, but let’s face it: Not everyone reading this is going into sociology. (One of the best parts of teaching Introduction to Sociology is, in fact, that it’s a chance to share sociological concepts that, we hope, will be useful to students in other fields.)

When my colleagues and I ask students about picking majors, we get a mix of responses. Of course we do. Sometimes, students choose a major hoping to “change the world.” Sometimes it is for “happiness.” Someone might fess up and say that they chose their major based on “easy coursework.” Inevitably, when all the other responses are offered, someone will bring up money. Of course. “I’d like to major in Sociology,” they say, “but my parents want me to be a business major.” Why? “Money.” 

A recent NPR "All Things Considered" clip took data from a study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce to find the “most and least lucrative college majors.” Looking at income after college, Petroleum Engineers, Pharmacy Science, and Computer Science majors are at the top while Studio Arts, Counseling Psychology, and Childhood Education are the lowest.

Regarding choosing a major, co-host Robert Siegel states, “according to some economists, it’s the most important decision a college student can make because there’s a lot of money at stake.” An economist might say this? Of course! 

The NPR segment highlights two people just two years out of college. One, Erin Ford, is a Petroleum Engineer who, at 24, is making six figures. The other, Michael Gardner, majored in psychology and is working at Home Depot. Seems pretty clear. There are fewer jobs out there for arts majors than there are graduates, and there’s not much money in the social service industry, meanwhile headhunters are making job offers to top engineering majors while they are still in their senior year.

Parental hysteria over careers makes some sense: With college getting ever more expensive, your parents, naturally, might want a good “return on their investment.” (And with more college grads moving back home after graduation, your parents might even want to do something with your childhood bedroom, right?) Parents aren’t the only agents here, however.

Should we trust economists to set your goals? There are lots of reasons behind any social action, especially one as significant as selecting one’s career path. We don’t have to make a push for sociology as a major to still question whether income is the best measure of post-collegiate ”success.”  (For more on job-directed college career, see this week’s New York Times Magazine cover article: “How to Get a Job With a Philosophy Degree.”) 

On the one hand, you could make an individualistic, self-directed explanation for a major that is less specialized, and geared toward critical thinking and problem solving. How, one could ask, can this major provide you the skills you need throughout my life? Since the average twenty-something—like Erin and Michael—is expected to switch careers two or three times in his or her lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, you could ask: what happens to Erin and Michael in three years? In ten? Will she be sick of her job? Will he have gone back to school for an advanced degree and get a stable gig as a school guidance counselor?

These questions get us thinking about the differences between what Max Weber called instrumental or goal-oriented social action (zweckrational) and more value-rationalsocial action (wertrational). What if we measure success by happiness or public good? Or fulfillment? 

What if you are interested in career satisfaction? It’s the age-old question: Can money buy happiness? Well, according to the College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs, despite one of the lowest median income levels of all majors, those with English and History degrees have high levels of job satisfaction, akin to those with jobs that pay far more money. A 2010 study on happiness and income finds that making more than $75,000 a year improves one’s self-evaluation, but doesn’t greatly impact job satisfaction, happiness or stress. What does that say? (Here’s an interesting chart with job satisfaction based upon career.)

A New York Times article highlights an author who points to the fulcrum of the argument: do you pick a major you’ll enjoy and (possibly, therefore) be successful at, or do you pick a major that you might not enjoy but make money doing? “Generally,” Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, told the Times, “people flourish when they’re doing something they like and what they’re good at.”  

Or what if we collectively think about majors in terms of careers as collective, public goods? There are certainly arguments to be made that we need more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors in the U.S.

You don’t need to major in sociology to question whether or not the almighty dollar is the only measure of your future career path. But how can sociology help? 


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I agree with the statistics that people usually do better with their careers and achievements when they are involved in something they have a passion for. But honestly, while I am looking at majors and colleges I may wish to pursue I include how much money I will gain secondly to what career I might want to do. College is expensive these days and after you graduate there will be a lot of bills to pay. So that is why most people are looking at careers based on money other than enjoyment. Sociology though is a great career path to look to, and I myself am considering it as a possible major. It helps us create an understanding to why people do what they do and how others should act in order to achieve and make it in this world. I believe that more people should be studying it to gain a knowledge of who and what to be.

Sociology gives us a better understanding of why we make the decisions we make, by questioning what is really important to us. People often make their decisions based off what others decide to do, and maybe that is why unemployment and the economy is so bad. Because everyone wants the job that makes the most money, instead of the job that makes them happy.

I think it's a good idea to major in something that you like to do not because it will make you a lot of money. For me personally I have no clue what I'm going to major in right now, but i'm going to try to major in something I enjoy.

Sociology has many different fields you can go into. It's not just all about teaching behind a classroom. You can look at a broader aspect of sociology and use it in everyday life. For instance, you can use sociology to see how a buisness works or runs. You can use sociology to learn the study of politics, law, and social movements. Sociology is a key concept that you can apply to everyday life.

Often times people choose a career that makes the most money becuse they see money providing hapiness. Personally, I would rather have a job that I look forward to doing soI do not dread ging to work each day. With college prices rising it is hard to justify paying expensive tuition to earn a degree that will not gurantee good pay but it is also hard to pay for an education that leads to a job you resent.

Sociology helps us look at and understand what's really important to us so we don't get stuck doing something we hate. You can connect sociology with many things in everyday life and us it to better your life. The article also suggests that you choice a major that you enjoy and not just for the money.

I completely agree with this article. you can make all the money you want from a career, but if you aren't happy why stick with it? I personally, would rather be happy with a career I love, making little money than be stressed day-to-day working a high end, time consuming career while making millions of dollars. And due to college expenses rising, how is the value of education being taught in universities rising compared to these prices? Its all about the need for a job in our modern society. The education is slightly changing but the prices reflect on the competitiveness of our modern workforce, pulling us into receiving a college education so we have a better chance at grabbing a job.

I believe that people should go after careers that they are interested in. Whether it makes more money or not people should be doing what they want because i believe happiness is more important than money and money cant buy happiness. After my high school/college career i plan to go into manufacturing maintenance. So i would be fixing problems in the machines if they occur. I already have a job where i'm working as a Maintenance technician and i am happy with my job.

I think that in recent years, people started going into careers that made money, rather than going into one that they enjoy. Since college, tuition, housing, taxes, and many other things have increased over the past years, many people dont consider doing something that they love. Most are concerned about making a living and having a nice job with good pay. And sociology is one of the more broader aspects that you could bring into this and use in on a day to day basis. Using sociology helps people figure out what career path they want to look into.

I agree with this article. People choose their majors based on what they could possibly do in the future to change the world. People don't take into account that they should choose a major that they are interested in that they want to do they type of career for the rest of their lives. For myself I want to go into computer engineering because when I work on computers my mind is in its own world and it is like I was meant to do this as a career.

I laughed internally with familiarity at your statement of trying to explain to your parents exactly what is Sociology.

I believe switching from Psychology to Sociology as a university student was one of the best decisions I've made in my life. I think Sociology is one of the hardest majors, as well as the most undervalued.

To excel in Sociology, one must become somewhat well-versed in many other areas, such as history, philosophy, psychology, communications, and many more. This encourages a well-rounded and curious mind.

Most importantly, Sociology is a field devoted to critical thinking, a skill so sadly ignored in the Western education system. Sociologists really know how to 'think' and how to approach an issue, subject, or event from a multitude of angles. It promotes understanding, and openness.

This subject feels extremely relevant to me, since I am a college student who is facing these important questions almost everyday. What do I really want to become? How do I define success? Is money really that important, or should I instead choose a career path that I am truly interested in? It is remarkable, how important your choice of education is and how it is going to haunt you for the rest of your life. What if I don’t want to work within the Communication Field in 10 years? What if there is no job for me? I am stressing out about these questions everyday and sometimes I lay sleepless in my bed for hours and hours. I am lucky though, no one of my parents is pressuring me to become something I don’t want to be. They have always been there for me and pushed me to do whatever I feel like doing. But that makes it hard too; there are almost too many options out there!
I am definitely of the same opinion as the author here, that it is important to like what you do and that a big pay check does not necessary equal job satisfaction. This article brings up a lot of important question and emphasizes how important it is to ask yourself how you want to measure success, before making one of the biggest decisions of your life. I have been thinking of so many occupations through my life, some that would pay a lot of money, and some that would pay less. I still have not come up to an ultimate solution and a decision in which I feel totally confident in, but I have decided one important thing; that I refuse to work with something I truly dislike just because the job is well paid. I am a dreamer and a believer, and I do believe in the American Dream; that anything is possible for anyone if you just work hard enough. I hope, and I do believe, that if I work hard during my way through college, get my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and continue to love what I do, I will become successful, both emotionally and economically.

I am currently dealing with the issue of parental influence while trying to choose a major. I believe it is important to choose a career path which you enjoy, but at the same time I think income in an important deciding factor when determining a major. It is not impossible to find a career you enjoy that produces a decent income. In this case you want to enjoy what you do but at the same time you have other people to support now and other responsibilities. The amount of money you make does not determine happiness but I do believe it determines how well you can provide for you kids.

This article inspired me because I am a sociology major and I question what type of job I can get with this type of degree. Of course I chose “Minor Issues with Your Major,” because I was thinking, “I am having MAJOR issues with my major.” When I first started college, I was an anthropology major and wasn’t thinking about life after college. I never questioned myself, “What jobs will I be able to acquire with a sociology degree?” I was interested in psychology as well. While I was sitting in Professor Jill Stein’s classroom, she showed a slide on the projector screen that proved sociology covers different subjects within, such as anthropology and psychology. After that class, I changed my major to sociology because not only could I get educated on subjects that I love, but also to learn about other subjects within society. I just kept telling myself to major in something I am most interested in and I’ll figure out what job I can get after I graduate.

I definitely agree with the article. It covered both aspects of choosing a major, money or happiness. College is so expensive nowadays, so majoring in something that is interesting to one doesn’t guarantee a “well paying” job. With college prices rising, it’s hard to justify paying expensive tuition money to earn a degree you are just “interested in.” It does not guarantee good pay but it is also very difficult to pay for an education that will lead to a job you resent. Wynn has covered many points that I’ve been thinking about, “Does money buy happiness?” My conclusion is NO, it doesn’t. I would rather be making a difference and pursuing something I love, rather than living in a huge house, taking from the lower class, and eating expensive dinners. I agree that money is something one should think about, but getting a four-year degree in something that you love, that proves money can’t buy happiness.

At times you have to balance both, passion and money. It ain't easy out here :(

At times you have to balance both, passion and money. It ain't easy out here :(

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