Students discuss choosing between personal satisfaction, financial security when choosing majors


Elisabeth Graham discovered a passion for English at the age of eight.

The School of Arts and Sciences first-year student came to the realization in second grade when her teacher assigned the class a daily journal-writing project.

“I always had a penchant for storytelling, and this was my first outlet into writing them down,” Graham said.

But choosing a major is not as clear-cut for some.

According to a study in the National Academic Advising Association Journal, 96.6 percent of students said interest in subject area is important in deciding a major, whereas 45.4 percent of students feel prospects of a high-paying job are critical.

The results of the NAAAJ study, which gave surveys on student satisfaction to 145,150 undergraduates across six universities, suggested students generally feel a greater sense of satisfaction when they make decisions about their majors and careers based on “internal, self-regulated and intrinsic motivations.”

Given today’s economic environment, many students struggle with whether their major will land them a high-paying job after graduation, said Jennifer Broyles, director of Career Development and Experiential Education at Career Services.

Broyles once worked with a student who was interested in working at an art museum, but felt she needed to major in accounting for job security.

After speaking to the student about merging values and interests, Broyle said the student double majored in art history and accounting and ended up pursuing business-related positions within art galleries.

Gary Wong, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, has also combined passion with values.

Wong said seeing his parents work “tedious work hours” due to low-paying jobs made him value money highly when choosing his major in pharmacy.

But Wong has merged his value for money with an area of interest.

During his senior year of high school, Wong discovered two sports he has grown a passion for: powerlifting and Olympic weight lifting. The passion for these two sports translated into an interest in pharmacy.

“These two sports have made me extensively research the anatomy of the body, how the body reacts to supplements and drugs and one’s well-being,” he said.

Overall, Broyles said every student has a different set of values to take into account when choosing a major. She said Career Service counselors do not make judgments about students’ values and instead work with those values.

She believes that students who pursue careers they are interested and engaged in will be more productive, successful and professional.

For instance, about 12 percent of Rutgers-New Brunswick students report that they want to pursue a career in Education, Public and Human Services, according to CareerKnight, Rutgers online career management system.

Employers hiring in this area are government or educational institutions, where the starting salary may be lower “compared to say Google or JP Morgan,” said William Jones, Career Services director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives.

He said students typically have a passion in this area for reasons outside of financial.

“However, that doesn’t mean that someone interested in helping teenagers in a high school can’t eventually end up as a principal where the national average salary is $87,760 and growing,” Jones said.

Students are encouraged to engage with the Career Services office early and often to reevaluate their direction.

“Your college years go by very quickly, and it’s critical to take advantage of the resources available now so that you can be a success later on,” she said.

To engage students with the Career Services early, Jones said a new career advising service is being launched in the spring called “First-Year Fridays.” These advising slots are available to first-year students and allow them to assess their skills and interests, explore careers and majors and develop a personalized four-year career plan with help from staff.


Avalon Zoppo

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