Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A fork in the road: following passion or chasing money

There is a connection between income and happiness, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Findings show people who earned a smaller salary were seen as more unhappy and miserable.

For Plattsburgh State students questioning their major, there are various factors to consider, including two factors that may conflict with each other: salary and passion.

Director of the PSUC Career Development Center Julia Overton-Healy said one of the first things to consider while deciding on a major is what engages students.

She’ll ask students what they like to read and research about that can sustain their motivation.

“That’s a good indicator of the type of career path that they should be considering,” Overton-Healy said. “Generally speaking, students perform better in those academic disciplines that spark you up.”

She said people are told to find their passion, but it’s not a reasonable expectation when they are in their early 20s. Overton-Healy said there is a difference between passion and what engages students.

“It takes a long time to figure out what your passion is. I think it’s more appropriate to ask the question, ‘what excites you? What engages you?’” Overton- Healy said.

In the article, “Why You Should Pick a Major You Love, Regardless of Salary,” two journalists share their thoughts on the importance of choosing passion over choosing a well-paid job. The two women said that if students decide to choose passion over salary, to be the best in their chosen profession.

Based on recent studies, students are more inclined to choose a major that is financially rewarding over a career they’re passionate about.

For some people, it takes time before deciding on their true passion.

Museum educator at Plattsburgh State Art Museum Samantha Bellinger can relate to that.

She started college with a biology major and quickly realized that wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life, so she switched it to art history.

“I changed it mid-way through my college career. I ended up studying in Italy, and that’s when I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life,” Bellinger said.

With a buildup of internships, experience, studyaborad programs and education over time, students can gain the valuable knowledge that comes with getting a “practical degree,” according to US News and World Report.

“Even though I loved biology, I couldn’t see myself working in that field. Art history was definitely for the passion of it,” Bellinger said.

Overton-Healey said students should have a good understanding of who they are, what brings them joy and in what capacity. She said another great motivator is helping others.

“There are certain fields that do require that engagement with the career with the passion and nursing is a good example of that,” Dr. JoAnn Gleeson-Kreig, the associate vice president of academic affairs at PSUC said.

Gleeson-Kreig said she wanted to help people the way people had helped her so that’s what led her into nursing. She said these types of personal and intense experiences might be another reason why students choose the majors they do.

“I did go into nursing because of an emotional experience. My mother was very sick and I was in high school,” she said.

Gleeson-Krieg mentioned that some majors have more of an emotional connection, which may lead them to choose a career that they previously didn’t consider.

“If you go in for just the money, you probably won’t end up being happy,” Gleeson-Kreig said.

PSUC sophomore Itzel Garcia became a nutrition major because of the high-paying salary.

“Since I was younger, I knew I wanted to be a nurse, but I changed my mind. I’m still interested in nutrition though, and it pays well,” she said.

When the economy was down, and healthcare was one of the only areas where jobs were secure, Gleeson-Kreig did receive students who simply wanted a high-paying career. Gleeson-Kreig said those students didn’t end up doing well.

However, she said students shouldn’t decide their majors purely based on salary.

Gleeson-Kreig said there is much more to college than just finding a job. She said college is about preparing to be successful in many different aspects of life other than finding a career.
“Typically about one-third of incoming freshmen are undecided,” PSUC Admissions Director Carrie Woodward said.

She said students should keep in mind that there is flexibility in any career choice, and choosing a broad education can allow students to branch out.

“A college education is one of the biggest investments students will make in their lifetime, so it’s understandable that prospective students and their families are thinking about earning a good salary,” Woodward said.

Overton-Healy said she hopes that students who do know what they want to major in still visit the Career Development Center.

She said students need to understand that an “intellectually fufilling job” is the key to a succssful life and not the amount earned.

Overton-Healy said even if students have a declared major, she wants students to be open-minded to other possibilities.

“Particularly for first- and second-year students, (they) typically think that what they’re majoring in is what they’re going to be, and that’s actually a really rare outcome,” Overton-Healey said. “It’s a self-limiting perspective.”

Email Kavita Singh at

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