A major money issue: Students select field of study based on money, passion

Majors with the highest earnings.
Majors with the highest earnings.
Majors with the highest earnings.

By Kat Worrall

It’s a classic opening question – what’s your major and what do you want to do with it?

Every college student is asked this at some point in their college career, and by the time many graduate, they have perfected their answer, whether the motive is for salary or a true passion in their career field.

Some students choose what they love, despite the diminishing career prospects. Others give up passion and attempt to replace it with another career, one that has a promising future. While some students’ true talent and interest is a major brimming with money and achievement, it seems many students have to choose between doing what they enjoy or making a comfortable salary with a different major.

Kimberly Mencken, senior lecturer in the economics department, said she sees students each semester enter the business school just for the salary they expect to earn after graduation. The choice, sometimes because of pressure from parents to choose a profitable major, can make an obvious negative impact on students, she said.

“You’re going to spend 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, doing whatever you’ve picked in college, at least for a while,” Mencken said. “I’m not saying you’re going to do the same thing forever, but you’re going to spend an awful lot of time doing this thing you picked. If you’re not happy doing it, you’re going to be very unhappy in general.”

Dallas senior Anna Waggoner is an apparel merchandise major and business minor. She might not have taken the most traditional approach on a career, but she said the financial sacrifice is worth the happiness.

Waggoner said she has always wanted to enter the fashion industry. As a child, she would come home from church and describe in detail to her mother what the older girls were wearing. She has interned with Shoshanna in New York City, working in wholesale and knows this is what she wants despite potential financial instability or unemployment.

She said she briefly considered switching her major to business, but knew that wasn’t her true passion and decided taking a risk with apparel merchandising was worth it.

“Money wasn’t as important to me as being happy doing what I’m doing,” Waggoner said. “I would be miserable making a ton of money doing a job I hated.”

San Antonio junior Trey Garcia has taken a different approach. He chose his major, accounting, for the potential job and salary outlooks in the corporate world.

“More importantly, I wanted to have a good job when I get out of college,” Garcia said. “I didn’t want to be searching everywhere for one. Baylor has a really good accounting program and their job placement percentage is really high.”

While he briefly considered a career in physical therapy, he chose accounting for the salary and job hours compared to physical therapy. After receiving his masters, Garcia said he hopes to work for a big floor accounting firm and later transfer to a sports or apparel industry’s accounting firm. He said he expects to work around 60 hours a week when he graduates with a starting salary of $60,000 to $75,000 per year.

“Accounting is very dry, but in my opinion, it is worth doing and it is worth sticking out because everyone needs an accountant at some point or another to do their taxes or to help them audit their company,” Garcia said. “Sometimes I think about doing the physical therapy route, but then I stop daydreaming and come back to being an accountant.”

Brian Thompson, senior lecturer and assistant chair within the electrical and computer engineering department, works with one of the most financially promising majors students can choose. During the first semester or two, some students drop, Thompson said, but those who stick around can expect a starting salary of $62,600, according to 2013 release by Forbes.

In comparison, a theater performance major can expect $26,000, according to a 2011 study by Georgetown University.

However, Thompson said it isn’t the salary that draws students, but the estimated 400 engineering majors at Baylor are interested in designing things that benefit people in one way or another. “There are some that choose it because they feel like it’s a good job outlook or to make a comfortable salary,” he said. “But I think that it’s a minority of students that do that here.”

Recent graduates from the business school with majors such as economics have been earning on average $40,000 to $50,000 a year, Mencken said.

“At the Baylor business school, we are taught that making money isn’t a bad thing,” Garcia said. “It’s how you view money. If you love money to where you’ll do anything for it then yeah, you don’t want to have that kind of outlook on it.”

Happiness, sacrifice and money make choosing a major have a deeper meaning than students are aware.

“Ultimately, I think we’re each given a set of skills and talents by God,” Thompson said. “If we choose to follow after something with the sole purpose of money, we tend to live unhappy lives. If we find that thing that resonates with who we are and what are skills and talents have placed us, we can find a way to help people that is satisfying to our own careers and brings us happiness in our work.”

For Garcia, he said he plans on finding his happiness in the success of his work and using that to do what he enjoys.

“If you are really passionate about it and you don’t care about money and whatnot, you just want to do what you love, then I say go for it,” Garcia said. “But if you want to be able to support your family and want to sleep at night knowing that ‘hey, my chances of getting a job are a lot higher’ or ‘I don’t have to be couponing all the time to get by,’ I would say do something that translates into a job that can make money and then use that money to do what you love.”