Majors and Money: Life in the Real World
by Cayla Cassidy | published Dec. 7th, 2018
During the last two years of high school, most students are carefully crafting college essays, beefing up resumes and frantically trying to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. They must declare majors and cross their fingers that someday, they’ll be able to find a job with that degree.
Some students, however, might wonder how exactly their degree coursework prepares them for the realities of the workplace.
Major Life Decisions
Henry Huang, a fifth year Physics and Accounting double major, thinks that high schools should better prepare students for what is to come.
“We’ve all had a friend who got a major, got a degree and then found out their job market is completely empty,” Huang said.
According to a 2013 study published through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only an estimated 27 percent of college graduates end up pursuing careers directly related to their majors.
Huang started college solely as a Physics major without considering what the job prospects would be.
“I realized that if I graduated with a bachelor’s in physics ... it was looking pretty bleak in the job market for me, so that’s when I added accounting,” he said.
Lauren Suter, a fourth year Marketing major, isn't as concerned about her future job prospects, since all types of businesses need marketing professionals.
“I don’t think I’m any more worried than people are on average," Suter said.
The same can be said for Alyssa Lucchesi, a second year ASL Interpreting Education major.
“I’m excited because the interpreting field is up and coming and ... is going to grow. So we’ll all have jobs,” she said. “That wasn’t my intention, [but] it’s nice knowing that. It makes all the hard work worth it, knowing that you’ll be needed.”
But college isn’t just about getting a degree and hoping that you’ll get a job someday; It’s also about fostering new interests and finding your passions.
Cultivating New Passions
Naia Scott, a fourth year Computer Engineering major, works with freshmen on campus. Too often she sees students who take perspective or immersion courses and end up falling in love with those more than their original major. They try to tack on those interests as minors or double majors. Had they been exposed to those interests earlier in adolescence or high school, it could have been their starting major.
“[In high school], you’re following a curriculum and that’s supposed to lead to your major,” Scott said.
She notices that most freshmen didn’t even know that testing out other areas of interest was a possibility in college.
“I feel like in high school, since everything is so structured and you have to follow it, you don’t have that freedom to really think of ... what is it that you’re interested in and how to find those resources and how to find those passions,” Scott said.
In high school, those freedoms typically come in the form of electives. Students can sometimes take a few elective courses of their choosing, which might spark new interests.
Suter attended a high school with a breadth of elective options, and she primarily took art courses in high school.
“Initially, I did anticipate being an art student,” Suter said. “It was a lot of finding myself [and] taking extra classes before I realized what I wanted my real major to be. Now I’m in marketing and business and [minoring in] web design. I did take a couple of web design courses [in high school], so that definitely helped steer me towards that minor.”
Suter believes that taking a business class might have helped her go into her current major with more concept knowledge. Though Suter hadn’t been exposed to business in particular as a high school student, many students find their real interests through non-core classes.
The Miami Herald reported in 2016, “Several studies show that students are more likely to get a degree or major in a course they took as an elective.”
These classes, though, can be few and far between. Educational shifts can place more focus on core classes like math, science and English, in turn decreasing funds for elective courses.
Figuring Out Finances
While general math courses are important for building critical thinking skills no matter one's major, Suter thought it would have also been beneficial to have a required personal finance course.
“I feel like they didn’t really do a good job preparing kids for money stuff and finances and how to write a check — all of the basic stuff you need to know as an adult,” Suter stated.
Carolyna McConeghy, a second year New Media Design major, took a personal finance course in her junior year of high school, but didn't find it to be too beneficial.
"We didn't really cover anything applicable after high school," McConeghy said. "[Learning] how to budget on a student level [would've been helpful]. I was an art student, so I had to pay for all my textbooks and art supplies and I was blindsided by that. [High school's should] definitely [teach] the real costs of college."
Lucchesi had been fortunate to have help from her family for a bit, but decided she wanted to take on the responsibilities herself.
“You really just have to budget ... you have to step back and say, ‘let's take away for the things you need to pay for,’” she said.
Huang said that, usually, young people aren’t fully aware of how to adequately budget their money. He gave an example of how when looking to get a new phone, perhaps, one might think that it only costs an extra $10 a month; unfortunately, that's the problem.
“A lot of people think in terms of how much do they need to pay monthly to keep up with expenses ... but then they don’t realize that there are no savings,” Huang stated.
Science Daily published a study reporting that of the 18–24-year-olds in the study sample, one third of them “lack financial literacy.”
This shows the need for educational programs to send young adults into the real world monetarily aware. The study also found that many of these young adults did not have savings ready to cover immediate monthly expenses should something go wrong.
“They’re only making enough income to kill the expenses, but not to prepare for the future,” Huang said. “That’s really scary.”
RIT provides lots of resources for students seeking career and financial advice.
If you’re looking for career counseling, you can check out the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education and the Career Counseling Center.
If you’re looking to change your major, your best initial resource will be your current academic adviser. Reporter published a how-to-change-majors guide in 2017. It details the best places to go if you’re unsure of your current major and how to explore other options and take steps to switch.
If you’re looking to learn more about personal finance, RIT offers a few courses.
The Division of Student Affairs offers a wellness course called “Financial Fitness.” It is offered during the Fall and Spring semesters. The course goal is to “help college students understand and manage their finances, during college and after graduation.”
“Personal Financial Management” (FINC 120) is designed to help students get a grip on the financial decisions and encounters they will face in the future. It’s offered during the Spring, Summer and Fall semesters to any undergraduate student. It can be found under “Finance” in the Saunders College of Business tab on Tiger Center.