Why You Should Pick a Major You Love, Regardless of Salary

Following your heart might be your best strategy.

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When choosing a major, should you follow your head or follow your heart?

JULIE:

When I talk to my kids about what they want to do with their lives, I have two pieces of advice:

1. If you don't have a passion that you're dying to follow, major in something practical. You may discover a passion later in life, but in the meantime, you will increase your odds of finding a job that pays well. (Or, in this economy, any job at all.)

2. If you do have a passion for something, follow it. There are well-paid people in every field, and life is too short to pass up an opportunity to work at what you love.

[In photos: nine hot college majors.]

Lindsey, as it turns out, is passionate about words. She's always been a strong writer, but in high school she flourished as the editor of her high school newspaper and was the winner of the English department's outstanding student award. She's following that passion in college by majoring in journalism.

Yes, we know that newspapers are dead and that other forms of journalism are in a state of flux. We also know that journalists weren't extremely well paid to begin with. And still my husband and I are encouraging her in her choice of major. We must be crazy.

Well, not completely crazy. We know that it's not enough to simply choose something you're interested in. Whatever your major, you need to go above and beyond to position yourself for a spot in this competitive job market.

So in addition to the "follow your heart" advice, we are giving Lindsey and her brother this advice as well:

1. Whatever you do, do it well. The best people in any profession will always work.

2. Form relationships. Camp out in the career center, become your academic adviser's best friend, and make sure your professors are never lonely during office hours. These people are all great resources, and they want you to use them.

3. Graduate without debt. This gives you the freedom to follow different employment paths after graduation, without having a steep student loan obligation to satisfy.

[Explore college majors with the best return on investment.]

LINDSEY:

When I tell people that I am majoring in journalism (with minors in political science and leadership studies), they are generally supportive. But every once in awhile, I can tell that they are skeptical of whether or not a degree in journalism is practical, and of the likelihood I'll get a job. Undoubtedly, students studying art, English, history, or other so-called impractical majors get this type of reaction as well.

On the other hand, I doubt many engineering or business majors have this problem. These types of fields are generally seen as more secure options, which is why my early plan had been to major in business. I saw it as a sensible career path that, although it did not guarantee a good salary, at least made it more attainable.

During my junior and senior years of high school, however, I realized something: I don't like business. I'm not great with numbers; I find spreadsheets dull; and the idea of working in an office environment isn't appealing. Business simply wasn't a good fit for me, even though it might have been the most "practical" option.

[Check out scholarships for in-demand majors.]

So while journalism may not be the easiest or most lucrative route to take, I know that, because journalism is something I'm well suited for, I will (and you can, too):

1. Save money by deciding what I want to do now, as opposed to switching majors down the road, or even going back to school after entering the workforce.

2. Increase the odds that I'll graduate with a good GPA.

3. Have rewarding experiences working on campus publications, completing internships, and developing relationships with faculty, which, in the end, may prove to be at least as valuable as graduating with a "practical" degree.