As you enter college, you’ll start thinking seriously about your future career path. This is when you’ll choose your major, which can determine your career, and ultimately decide how you live the rest of your life. It’s an important decision to make, and one with innumerable variables.
Among these variables, you’ll inevitably consider your salary potential. Thanks to the abundance of online resources available, it’s not hard to figure out the salary ranges of prospective careers; you can quickly discover how much hotel owners make or how much you’ll make as a graphic designer as you progress in your field.
But how important is salary, really, in your career decision?
The Role of Money
It’s idealistic to think that you should choose a career based entirely on what makes you happy, but if you neglect the financial side of things, you’ll probably regret it. Obviously, you’ll need money to pay the bills. Money is what will allow you to buy a house you enjoy in an area that’s safe, and afford the forms of entertainment you like the most, whether that’s going to the movies on a regular basis or meeting your friends for drinks every weekend.
Unsurprisingly, the amount of money you make is loosely correlated with happiness, up to a certain point. The more money you make, up to $75,000 a year, the happier and less stressed you’re going to be. After $75,000 a year, the positive effects of more money are marginal. This is because you won’t be living paycheck to paycheck, and won’t have to worry about emergency medical bills, home repairs, or other unplanned expenses.
Accordingly, it’s a good idea to strive for a career that allows you to make enough of a salary to live comfortably—whatever “comfortably” means for you.
Other Factors to Consider
Of course, money shouldn’t be the only factor that plays a role in your career decision. You’ll also need to think about:
- Job availability. A good salary isn’t going to mean much if you can’t find a job in the field in the first place. Some careers are in high demand, and will be in high demand for the foreseeable future. Others serve a niche function and are highly competitive, meaning there’s no guarantee you’ll get the job you want. Once hired, you’ll also have to think about your job security—and whether you might one day be replaced by someone younger, or by an automated algorithm. This shouldn’t necessarily take precedence over your salary consideration, but should be considered alongside it.
- Personal competence. It’s also important to think about your personal level of competence in this area. If you’re not a people person, or if you struggle with communication, it may not be wise to seek a career that requires you to talk to people, like therapy or social work. If you’ve always struggled with mathematics, a career in math, engineering, or physics might be problematic. You should do something you feel confidently good at.
- Personal interest. It’s also ideal to choose a career that interests you, at least slightly. Is this a field that you’ve always found fascinating? Do you find yourself active and attentive in classes that cover material related to this career? If so, you’ll likely be more engaged throughout your career.
- Future flexibility. Even if you have a clear vision of the career you want currently, that vision may change in the future. Accordingly, it’s valuable to choose a career in a field that affords you flexibility for the future. Are there different jobs you could take that require a similar skillset? Could you start your own business or practice someday?
- Time commitments. Research suggests that some of the happiest professionals are ones who are able to spend time as they see fit. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that people who consistently work weeks with long hours, well into the nights and weekends, end up less satisfied with their lives. It’s hard to predict how much time you’ll spend in a given career, especially when you’re thinking broadly, since this will partially depend on the work culture of your employer. However, you should know that careers with reasonable and predictable hours tend to be more rewarding.
Establishing Your Personal Goals
These considerations should help you contextualize the importance of salary when considering your future career. However, your decision should ultimately be based on your personal goals. Is financial stability important to you? If so, salary should be high on your list of priorities. Are you trying to live a minimalistic and non-materialistic lifestyle? If so, salary can take a backseat. The better you understand yourself and your priorities, the easier this decision is going to be. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm.