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This week’s question was originally about one specific major. I’ve excluded the actual listed major in the message because it can distract from the point.

I was thinking about going to college for a degree in (excluded). It’s a subject that I’m really interested in. I’m stuck between people saying to do what I love and people saying there is no career potential. I think you’re going to say it’s a bad idea from what I read in the past but it’s a subject I’m really interested in. I’m not just picking one randomly.
-Lana

First thing, if you have the cash to pay for college and you’re going to college for fun then this is all up to you. That would make it a completely subjective matter that no one but you should care one way or the other. If you’re planning on making college an investment then it’s not a completely subjective situation.

When you’re looking into a potential major as an investment you need to consider how much the potential jobs you can get pay and the odds of getting those jobs. You also need to calculate in the costs of getting that degree (in time and money.) Using those numbers you can understand the ROI on your college degree.

The sad fact is, a percentage of degrees don’t have any ROI in these calculations. An even larger number of degrees have ROI’s that are lower than working in fast food. Many degrees are luxury items that should be treated as such.

I won’t do the calculations myself because there are many factors that could change the specific data for every person that asks. As a quick rule of thumb though, if the only job you can think of for a particular college degree is a job in teaching that particular degree then odds are, it’s not a great investment for the average person. The more obscure the subject, the more you should doubt its value.

In most cases, good ROI college majors aren’t hard to find. There are plenty of options. They don’t cater to every student’s whims but that’s something that should be expected when you’re looking for an investment.

If you’re truly interested in learning about a subject that doesn’t make a college a good investment then consider learning it outside of college. If you truly love the subject then you could learn significantly more about the subject in significantly less time outside of a college environment. You’d also save tens of thousands of dollars. If you don’t love the subject enough to do that then why invest tens of thousands of dollars learning it in college?

I believe you should study the subjects you care about but I don’t recommend wasting it on a college degree that will likely mean almost nothing in your career ROI. Even if the degree adds a bit of credibility, it rarely helps enough to improve the ROI of the situation dramatically enough to be worth it. Studying what you love doesn’t require college.

In some areas you can live 3 years or more on the same amount of money you would have spent on college for a single year. Ultimately, there are better ways to study certain subjects.

People will pressure you to go to college but don’t let the peer or parent pressure force you into a premature or foolish decision.

I feel like you’ve already made your decision to go. If you plan on going to college despite it being a bad investment, at least consider this: Paying for college before (or as) you go can significantly lower the costs of college. That means some bad investments can turn into good investments. If you plan to go for a low ROI degree then at least pay as you go and avoid debt. That will save you a ton of trouble in the long run.

Do what you love is great advice. I believe you should do what you love. That being said, I don’t think you should do what you love irresponsibly. Building tens of thousands of dollars of debt for a degree that won’t earn you more money is irresponsible. Spending virtually nothing while doing what you love outside of college is a much more reasonable path to take.

For a further discussion on ROI in a more specific context you might like Medical School For The Money – 5 Reasons It’s Not A Good Idea

I know this is probably not what you’re looking to hear but that’s the best advice I could give for you. I know ROI. Philosophical decisions come down to you.

Do you want to study in less than 15 minutes a night? Check out the archives of this blog and the books in the sidebar to learn more.

Q/A – Is This A Good Major?

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