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“Can You Make Money Doing That?” Looking For College Majors that Pay Off

Celia Huddart is in her happy place when she’s weightlifting. But the competitive athlete and college junior knew that making a career of the sport would be tough. That was partly thanks to frank discussions with her mom.

“We own a gym, so we were always really clear with her about the financial reality of both gym ownership and coaching,” says mom Alyssa Royse of Seattle. “Although we didn’t dissuade her, we were pretty open that it’s not a safe bet.”

After considering an exercise science major, Huddart landed on nursing instead because she loves working with people. The moment she made her decision, says Royse, “her whole posture changed, and she said, ‘Wow, Mom, I can feel it in my belly.’” That gut check was an important step in the decision process.

As teens contemplate possible careers, parents—eyeing the college price tag—want to be sure their child’s path will lead to a paycheck.

However, teens need their parents’ guidance, not their vetoes, says Eric Evans, director of student career development and experiential learning at Ohio’s Lake Erie College.

It may sound early, but the teen years are a good time for parents to start having conversations about looking toward profitable career paths.

5 Ways to Approach Career Decisions:

1. Provide real-life exposure.

Thanks, in part, to pop culture, teens often have fantastical images of careers. When Evans worked at University College London a decade ago, he saw that investment banking was a top choice among students, who figured the job came with wealth and power. But they got a different view of the industry during a career event.

“We were meant to visit Lehman Brothers, but Lehman fell as part of the global financial crisis,” Evans says, and the visit was canceled. “While this was a truly frightening time, it was a useful moment of learning for the students—to look at careers with clear eyes.”

As part of his work with Lake Erie’s Pathway to Empowerment program, Evans sees firsthand how crucial it is for students to have exposure to real-world job scenarios—even when it doesn’t take place during a financial crisis.

Teens, with the help of parents, can find those opportunities through volunteering, internships, job shadows, and even informational interviews with professionals who are willing to share what they do on a daily basis. They should seek out those connections through school guidance counselors, friends, family members, neighbors, and professional organizations in industries that they are contemplating.

2. Narrow the field of interest.

Some parts of a job’s day-to-day work may be more appealing to teens than others. Wendy Briley, owner of Briley College Consulting, reminds students that every job includes some drudgery. However, “If most of the job is not appealing to them,” she says, “they might need to think about something else.”

3. Do some online sleuthing.

Lake Erie CollegeOnce teens narrow down their list of majors and careers, it’s time to research next steps. Look at college websites to learn the requirements for different majors, Briley says. If a preferred major includes 15 physics credits and the student hates physics, they might want to reconsider.

What types of jobs do graduates of a particular school get? Evans suggests that teens search LinkedIn for the college’s alumni to explore that question. “That gives you a specific narrative,” he says, “about what’s possible from that starting point.”

4. Think about lifestyle choices.

Not only should parents talk to teens about the cost of college, says Briley, but they also should talk about what it costs to maintain their current lifestyle. Then compare those costs to the likely earnings for a particular career or major.

“It’s not saying that you have to major in something that’s going to make lots of money if that’s not what you’re passionate about,” she says. “It’s understanding that if you’re making that decision, then your lifestyle is going to change.”

To find the starting salaries for jobs they’re considering, teens can check out sites like Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and Payscale.com.

5. Keep an open mind.

Some students, of course, will have to make a tough decision when they realize that their passions won’t turn into money-making careers. (Sorry, Fortnite fanatics. You can’t count on being that one gamer who rakes in a fortune live streaming to millions of followers.) That’s why helping them determine multiple paths to future happiness is critical.

“The trick is to make them agile,” says Evans, “so they can make a transition and not miss a step when they have to adjust based on what the market is saying.”

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall is a longtime journalist and freelance writer specializing in parenting, personal finance, health, and entrepreneurship topics.