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College ROI: What If STEM Isn’t for You?


Every year, one things stands out in PayScale’s College ROI report: STEM degrees offer the highest return on students’ tuition dollar. That means that the schools that offer degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math tend to come out on top of the ranking. It doesn’t mean, however, that you should try to force your artist’s heart to embrace STEM.


(Photo Credit: Mae Chevrette/Flickr)

Success at school and after graduation is based on a number of factors, including:

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1. Aptitude for your chosen field.

Take all the computer science classes you want; if you really hate coding, you’re never going to command top dollar at Google.

When experts encourage students, women in particular, to embrace math, it’s because math is a subject that rewards constant, incremental learning, and demands a certain willingness to put with getting the occasional B, even from hard workers. Students who are used to getting As or who receive cultural messages telling them that math isn’t for them might give math, science, etc., a pass — even though they could have a brilliant career in a STEM field and make big bucks doing it.

However, if you really and truly just don’t like science and math, forcing yourself into it won’t make you a success; it will make you unhappy, and possibly unemployed.

2. Connections.

Networking isn’t just for people in the work world. The relationships you build with your professors, peers, social and academic groups, and — perhaps most importantly — co-workers at your internships will help form the foundation of your career. Too many students focus on excelling at academics and don’t invest enough in internships. It can be a financial challenge to fit in unpaid or low-paid work, but if your school offers college credit for the experience (and most do) you can get a lot more out of an internship in the long run.

3. The state of the economy.

This is the big one that’s out of your control. You can’t bend the global economy to your will, and sometimes, your graduation class will draw the short straw and enter the workforce at a less-than-ideal time. Just ask anyone who’s graduated in the past couple of years.

4. The state of your finances.

Student loan debt is unavoidable for most of us, but you can make smart choices about how much debt to incur and for what kind of degree. For example, you might decide that it makes more sense to attend a less expensive school if you’re interested in a degree that’s less likely to translate to riches after graduation, and keep your loans reasonable in that way. Or — even better — you can look at the schools that have the highest ROI for your major and interests and choose the one that gives you the best chance at building a rewarding career with less debt.

The bottom line is that you can only succeed at a career that inspires you to work hard to establish yourself, both at school and at your job after graduation. For many people, STEM will never provide that spark, and that’s OK. Choosing the best career means choosing the best career for you — after arming yourself with the information you need to make a good decision.

Tell Us What You Think

How did you decide on your major? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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