Tag Archives: choosing a major

The Worst and Best Paying College Majors – Are we asking the right question?


Are you driven by high earning potential? I mean real money. Payscale.com recently published their 2011/2012 salary survey by college major. I guess when you have data you can do anything with it.

For some college majors, for some people, the Payscale.com survey data is meaningful. For it to be useful, it has to be a specialized major that connects (strong correlation) to a specific type of work. For example, it is likely that those who complete an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education are teaching elementary education. In that scenario, the Payscale survey is meaningful and helpful. If you are fully self-aware, understand what a career in elementary education entails (what soft skills, continuing education, etc. are required)  and see yourself as a good fit to the job/career, then you can expect to earn right around the median (geographic differences will explain most of the higher or lower pay range). Money won’t be a personal motivator for that career. However, helping others is a personal motivator for the Elementary Education Teacher career path. What that means is that the job of Elementary Education Teacher rewards “work” that helps others.

If you look at the survey list of college majors, there is one fundamental flaw. The data does not take into account what the person is doing job- and career-wise. Isn’t that the better (more valid) question? How you get there is insightful but not predictive of your potential income as much as “what” you do in your career.

I had a boss back in the ’80s by the name of Don J. Redlinger. He was actually my bosses’ boss. Don was business unit VP, Human Resources. His income, including stock options, put him on a trajectory to being a millionaire. He later was promoted to SVP, Human Resources for the entire multi-national Allied Signal corporation. He was in his 30’s at the time. What degree did Don have? A B.A. in History. Looking at the listing of college majors based on mid-career median income, Don should have been at about $69,000. If he had received a degree in Human Resources, his salary might have been around $62,600. Both are wrong. His degree was a strategic choice along with the college he went to. “What” he was doing was most important and relevant to his income. The industry he was in, and the career path he pursued are much greater predictors of income. How he got to the VP position early in his career has a lot to do with the “total package” which includes your “talent” as well as what you did back in high school, college, internships and early jobs out of college.  My learning – a B.A. degree in History can be extremely valuable across a broad range of careers. Your talent and your strategy determine how well you leverage the degree.

Let’s look at another example – a long-time colleague and client of mine, Freddye Silverman. Freddye has a B.A. degree in  Spanish and M.Ed in Spanish and Education. So what is she doing today, 20+ years since her completion of her education? She is Vice President, Eastern Region at Jeitosa Group International. She is a respected and recognized leader in the HR technology solutions field who has more than 25 years experience as a practitioner and consultant in HR IT.  Freddye also has a teaching background in foreign languages which “enhances her global view”. Prior to Jeitosa she was VP, HR Technology Solutions for Cendant Corporation.

Because she has been a long-time client of The Nielson Group (corporate consulting where we use assessments to coach professionals and executives and assist with evaluating candidates during the hiring process using assessments), Freddye has been assessed using the same assessments used in the Career Coaching for Students program. When she reads her assessment results, she quickly says, “this is who I’ve been all my life“.

We know a great deal more than we did 20+ years ago about measuring personal talent and job matching. In Freddye’s case, what we now know, if used back then, might have suggested she look at a double major, Spanish (foreign language is a passion of hers) and Business Management, specializing in IT project management. Instead of starting her career in teaching (she is “behaviorally” a good fit for teaching/training as well) she might have gone directly into a corporate environment where her income in those early years might have been higher and she would have experienced much greater passion for what she was doing.

Hierarchy of Personal Motivators

Freddye's Personal Motivators

Behavior Insights Wheel

Freddye's Behavioral Style

For Freddye to have remained in teaching (lower pay, help others), her Social motivator (see chart above) would have needed to be much higher and her Utilitarian much lower. While Freddye may not have recognized the forces at work, she has the kind of behavioral style that “easily recognizes and accepts the need for change”. She isn’t one to stay in a situation that doesn’t excite her. She made a career shift early on. Over 50% of the population (including student populations) do not have a behavioral style that can shift as easily and dramatically as Freddye’s.

Many adults are in roles they chose while in college – by default. For those where the choice was a good one (the job’s talent demands fit the person’s talent make-up) it worked out well. For those that weren’t so lucky (around 50%), the chance of watching ten or more years tick off while they feel less than fulfilled and mediocre is high. Choosing a major based on “earning potential of that major” isn’t a good strategy.

We can’t predict the future. But we can do a much better job of helping students look at careers/jobs that match their talent design (behaviors, motivators, sometimes referred to as personality). If a student has a clearer idea of what makes them excited to get up in the morning and how the work they do feels natural to them, they will be much more likely to be successful. Money is one type of reward. There are other types of rewards that are equally powerful and important for success. Look at the job or career-match to your talents rather than the income potential of a major as a first step. Then look at the possible educational strategies that will support your career aspirations. If your career choice is aligned with your talent, any major that allows you to enter that career will work.

Degrees
Degrees
Methodology
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.

By the way, there is no “best major” for a Sales career (see article about groundbreaking research on top performing sales professionals) yet, sales is one of the highest median income career paths. The type of sales and choice of industry are much greater predictors of potential earnings.

Best and Worst Undergrad College Degrees by Major - Are we asking the right question?

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.

Mountain Top or Dung Heap?


Dung Heap is smelly and dirtyMy colleague Steve Straus provided this insightful thought provocation to his newsletter subscribers. Adults appreciate the distinction Steve provides around being on the Mountain Top vs. being on a Dung Heap when it comes to one’s career. But do high school students see the distinction? Are parents sensitive to the lesson’s in Steve’s message?

“There are many paths to the mountain top” is an ancient bit of wisdom which means don’t get too enamored with the path you’re on, believing it is the only way. If your path works for you, use it.

Let others choose their own, if theirs works for them. It’s an interesting thought, applicable to careers, study, leadership, and families.

However, there is a problem that many who have taken the upward journey have learned. They have discovered, once reaching the top, they were climbing a dung heap. They found themselves dirty, smelly, and exhausted, and looking ‘over there’ at the real mountain top.

Before embarking on your journey make sure of your destination.

Coaching Point: Have you been pausing periodically to take a deep breath and notice the smell of your mountain?

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching.

Career Exploration Requires Developing a Personal Idea Network


TED logoSteven Johnson has a great presentation on where ideas come from that has been made available on TED. Taking his message and applying it to career exploration for high school or college students seemed like a fun exercise.

At the end of his presentation, Johnson states “chance favors the connected mind”.  Now shift your thought to people who are successful and happy in their careers. How did these people find their career? Did it come to them in a dream when they were very young? Perhaps it came to them through a high school class. Or from a discussion with one of their friends. Johnson’s research suggests eureka or light bulb moments, a single event, isn’t how people “found” their career match.

The key to success is in the connected mindInstead, Johnson makes a case for the development of an idea network in the brain that leads to “favor”. So if you can make the assumption that the hypothesis “chance favors the connected mind”  is true, you might find that most people that are in highly successful and enjoyable careers didn’t have a eureka moment. Instead, they experienced a process or journey that promoted exploration of career choices in a networked environment.

The idea of a “connected mind” for career exploration suggests the combination of self-awareness about what in the world motivates you, how you like to do things, people that can offer expanded perspective about careers and information resources such as Student Resource Central on the Career Coaching for Students website and a students’ extended social media network.

A Common Misstep
Exploring potential careers of interest comes before researching educational options including choosing a college. Many students choose a college, university or trade school based on many invalid considerations such as football team success, where friends are choosing to go or the beauty of the campus (I could go on).  Why do they do that? I see two primary reasons:

  1. No access to credible career exploration tools and strategies
  2. Effective career exploration requires work
  3. Without “credible” career exploration tools and strategies, blind faith about what that work will produce is required

What if there were personality and interests assessments that were so valid and reliable for increasing self-awareness and identifying potential career choices they eliminated the need for “blind faith”? What if that led to motivation to do the work to investigate high-potential career interests?

So you’re ready to research educational options and choose a college
One exercise that high school students can do to expand their connected mind for choosing a college is use their Facebook extended network to find students attending a particular college of interest. With Facebook for finding those students and Skype for connecting easily for a chat, it is easy to learn about a particular college or university from the inside. Even better, ask those students attending your school of interest to help you connect with students in the specific major that you are targeting.

Remember, “chance favors the connected mind”. What are the chances you are choosing a career direction and education strategy that will favor you ten years from now?

Carl Nielson is the developer of Career Coaching for Students™, the premier career exploration program for high school and college students. Nielson is the founder of Success Discoveries (www.successdiscoveries.com) and The Nielson Group (www.nielsongroup.com), a global organizational management consulting firm. Prior to consulting, he served over 20 years in corporate human resources management. He holds a degree in organizational psychology from Texas A&M University. Find Carl on LinkedIn.

If you are looking for true career coaching for students, look at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net. We offer a high school program and college program. Are you past the college years? Check out free resources at Success Discoveries. Professional career coaching services offered.

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Parents: Guidance at School May Not Be Enough


Most parents assume that schools are providing the necessary college and career planning guidance to their children. But findings from over 10 years of research studies show that students are not getting the help they need to make good decisions about life after high school.

How Much Counseling Time Does Each Student Get?

38 minutes per year is the estimated amount of time the average student receives from a school counselor on college and career advising. This statistic is based on national averages of student-to-counselor ratios and counselor time allocation research according to a 2005 report entitled “Counseling and College Counseling in America’s High Schools” by Dr. Patricia McDonough.

This of course is an average. While the actual amount of time varies widely by school and by student, interviews with parents show that it is a large concern. Despite the best of intentions, the level of personalized guidance provided is not evenly distributed to all students.

“My child is a solid student. He isn’t at the top of his class, but he’s not struggling either. The school clearly pays the most attention to the students that standout… either at the top, or the bottom. If you aren’t in one of those groups, you fall between the cracks,” said the mother of a senior from a large Connecticut public high school.Many schools use an online Internet based program to meet career guidance requirements.

“My son is at the top of the class. If his Dad and I hadn’t been involved, he wouldn’t have received any career guidance and would have been very limited in the colleges he considered. He’s a self-starter, Eagle scout, athlete and academically successful but career and college planning requires professional and parental support. We enrolled him in a program for high school students called Career Coaching for Students™. That made a real difference for him and us.”

Not Enough Counselors… Too Many Demands

A quick look at the student-to-counselor ratios across the nation shows that there simply are not enough guidance counselors at each school to support the volume of students and all the demands placed on the counselors. Schools have used online Internet programs to fill the gap.

According to Dr. McDonough’s report, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends one counselor for every 100 students, or a 100:1 ratio. The real student-to-counselor ratio across the nation’s high schools is estimated to be 315:1. That is three times the recommended level according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).

In some states, such as California, Minnesota, Arizona and Utah, the average is well over 500:1

Counselors aren’t there to do career guidance counseling

School counselors handle issues ranging from attendance, discipline, drug and alcohol abuse, sexuality and pregnancy, suicide prevention, and personal crisis along with academic testing and a host of other administrative duties assigned to them.

Where does this leave college and career planning services? They are considered “nice to haves” in many schools because the time and resources aren’t there to support them.

Not Only a Public School Issue

The average student-to-counselor ratio in private high schools is estimated to be 241:1 according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. While this ratio is better then the public school ratio of 315:1, it is still over two times the ASCA’s recommendation of 100:1.

Even though private school student-to-counselor ratios are better, parents report that the guidance their children receive is almost exclusively focused on college counseling and placement, not on what the students will do with their education once they graduate.

TIPS FOR PARENTS
Regardless of whether your child attends public or private school, here are some tips to make sure that he/she receives the guidance needed to make wise and informed decisions about his/her future:

  • Don’t assume your child is getting enough college and career guidance at school
  • Find out what the student-to-counselor ratio is at your child’s school
  • Contact the school’s guidance department to learn what kind of personal career counseling is provided:
    • When, what and how much 1-on-1 college guidance is provided?
    • When, what and how much 1-on-1 career planning guidance is provided?
  • Talk with your child. Ask the following questions:
    • Have you taken interest, skills, values, and personality assessments at school?
    • Has the school counselor helped you understand what the assessments mean?
    • Has the school counselor met with you 1-on-1 to discuss career possibilities?
    • Has the school helped you plan your college search based on your career interests?
    • Has the school helped direct you to financial aid and scholarship opportunities?
    • Has the school discussed with your student the connection between high school class choices and the impact it will have on college admissions?

Increase the 1-to-1 support your child receives with personal career and education guidance to help your child sort through his/her best-fit choices. It’s much more affordable than you think. Is there anything more important than your child’s future success?

Carl Nielson is a professional career coach, creator of Career Coaching for Students™ and managing principal of The Nielson Group, a management consulting firm specializing in hiring and selection, team effectiveness and executive coaching. The Career Coaching for Students™ is offered throughout the country and can be organized as a local workshop. National webinars are scheduled to begin in the Fall of 2010 that combine group and individual attention. Parents are encouraged to participate with their son/daughter. Call 972.346.2892 to discuss details.

Career Coaching for Students™ Helps Students Find Their Passion


Career Coaching for Students™ is a practical, highly effective approach to helping students:

  • gain greater self-awareness
  • understand their strengths
  • identify high-potential career options
  • research different educational strategies
  • differentiate themself from the crowd
  • ensure future success and satisfaction

For more information, visit our website at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net