Selecting a college major can be one of the easiest – or most difficult – decisions a person can make in their lifetime.
Some of you have known you've wanted to become a veterinarian since the day you brought home your fifth grade classroom's pet hamster. For others, choosing between economics or nursing will be a decision you grapple with even after you force yourself to decide at the end of your sophomore year of college.
If you're completely undecided and need a push in a certain direction, you may want to see if your interests align with one of these hot, high-paying majors, and then check out the corresponding scholarships.
Take note that those interested in a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will have a leg up on everyone else.
[In photos: Check out nine hot college majors.]
1. Engineering: By far the hottest major out there right now is engineering of practically any sort.
From petroleum to electrical to aerospace engineering, there is a huge demand for all kinds of engineers – and that's reflected in the average starting salary of $51,700 to $97,900, according to the online salary database PayScale.
Unfortunately, your first paycheck four years from now can't go toward your tuition payment today, so we suggest you turn to scholarships for help.
The SMART Scholarship (Science, Mathematics & Research for Transformation), established by the Department of Defense, offers a huge incentive for engineering and math majors studying in the U.S. by covering full tuition and education-related fees, offering paid summer internships, a health insurance reimbursement, mentoring and more.
The catch is that you have to be willing to work for the Department of Defense after graduation.
2. Computer science: Many of you have likely heard of the huge array of perks that working for a Silicon Valley company can bring. From free gyms, haircuts and massages to game rooms and swimming pools, companies like Google know how to keep employees in the office.
With an average starting salary of more than $55,000, according to PayScale, the pay isn't too shabby, either. However, we don't recommend that you become a computer science major for the slim possibility that you could end up working for Google.
But if you're interested in building the next great iPhone app and like the look of that starting salary, a career in computer science may be perfect for you – especially because the chances of finding a well-paying job after graduation look good.
Those considering majoring in computer science should think about applying for the Wayne V. Black Memorial Scholarship, a $5,000 award from the Energy Telecommunications and Electrical Association.
3. Finance: When you got your first allowance money or your first paycheck as a fast food employee, did you immediately start figuring out what to spend, what to save and how to invest it?
Maybe you weren't playing the stock market, but if you've always loved balancing your checkbook, a career in finance could be right up your alley. You'll also have plenty of money to play with outside of work, since finance careers are generally lucrative.
If you're interested in government finance, check out the scholarships offered by the Government Finance Officers Association. Scholarships range from a $10,000 scholarship studying government finance at the graduate level to scholarships for minority students studying governmental finance or other related fields.
4. Applied and general mathematics: If you've always loved crunching numbers, you may want to consider a career in mathematics or statistics, especially because the career outlook for recent math major grads is fantastic, and the average starting salary at around $50,000, per PayScale, isn't half bad either.
But if your calculations for how you're going to afford college just aren't adding up, we suggest you look for math-related scholarships to offset the cost.
And if you're a woman, we suggest you look first at the Association for Women in Mathematics' Alice T. Shafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics, open to undergraduate women interested in math. The 2014 Schafer Prize will be awarded at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore in January 2014.
[Get more tips on choosing your major.]
5. Economics: Finally, a high-paying major for those of us who loathe math and science!
Well, that's not exactly true. Econ majors will have to endure math and statistics classes, and the highest-paying jobs do fall in the banking and finance fields. But you can also use a degree in economics to establish a career in law, consulting or government and nonprofit work.
To find scholarships for economics majors, we suggest you check with your college or university's financial aid office. Most will offer scholarships for those studying economics.
Michelle Showalter joined Scholarship America in 2007 and is an alumna of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.