If your goal in life is to earn as much money as possible, then you need to determine before you graduate high school what high-earning career path is best for you. You’ll need to weigh your skills and aptitude to decide the collegiate degree that provides you the best chance for professional success as well as a quick return on the money you (or your parents) invest in your education. You’ll need to get your foot in the door of your industry early, during college or even during high school, perhaps for little or no pay at first.
It’s undeniable that your first job out of college, and the salary that goes along with it, will set the course of your career. Start with a high salary and you’ll consistently be further along than others throughout your life. If you start your career at 25 years old, earning $30,000, you’ll retire at 65 having earned almost $850,000 more in total income over someone who started at the same time earning $23,000, if you’ve both received the same 5% annual raise. (This example is from Free Money Finance.)
With higher starting salaries in a fast-paced career like investment banking, the gap will be much larger.
Managed well, more money means more flexibility to do more things with your life outside of your job — if that career doesn’t work you to death or drive you insane.
However, there are a number of reasons why these tactics might not be the best option.
- It requires an early decisions at a stage when someone might not be fully aware of their talents and aptitude.
- A decision to embark on a life-long career requires a level of maturity that a number of students in high school — and even college — just don’t have yet.
- Chances are good that careers will change once or more throughout a lifetime, sometimes requiring a salary reset.
Some time ago, I polled Twitter users to determine who find themselves in a career related to their original major or college degree. The results were about half-and-half. Here were some responses (keep in mind that Twitter responses are limited in length):
Mmmeg: Majors were classical studies (Latin) & Spanish linguistics, minors linguistics & foreign lang. ed. I work at a fashion site. I was also a jazz performance major for a semester.
frugalbabe: degree in psychology, minors in math and econ… working in the health insurance industry.
PenelopePince: B.A. in Interdiscplinary Studies: Linguistics, Spanish, French, Madarin & German; Minor in Music. I own a pet clothing business.
uppervalleymom: BA in Government, MS in Evaluative Clinical Sciences (public health-y) working PT at business school now, but was in nonprofit exec dir
guppie: B.S. in biology, working in web development
The point is that there is a good chance the decision you make as a high school student or college freshman might not have as much bearing on your career path as you hope. I prefer this advice from author Dan Kadlec, on the occasion of his daughter’s recent departure for college:
Don’t get caught up in talk on campus about which majors are the best stepping stones to financial success. You’ll hear plenty of that from kids who want or may be under pressure to get a quick return from their education. Forget them. Many of those kids will end up disliking their jobs and muddling through so-so careers.
You can make a great living doing almost anything, as long as you love it. So take risks. Explore. Switch majors. Get your head out of the books and do something surprising. There’s time. But find your bliss and pursue it.
Go ahead and get fluent in Spanish and study abroad if that makes your heart sing. Your knowledge and experience will pay off later on, I promise – just as you’ll be rewarded for the joy you bring to tasks that excite you.
It’s good to see advice pertaining to education and career choices that isn’t focuses solely on “financial return.” You can try to analyze your return on investment (ROI) but a good education is about more than just earning power.
A letter to my college-bound daughter, Dan Kadlec, Money Magazine, September 4, 2008.
Updated June 23, 2016 and originally published September 11, 2008.