So How Much Does That Job Pay?

Katie Young
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Wednesday - September 03, 2008

An astronaut, a professional basketball player, the president of the United States. These are all things kids in my elementary school class said they wanted to be when they grew up.

When you’re little, most parents and teachers will tell you that you can be anything you want to be when you grow up. Dream big. The sky is the limit. The point, I suppose, is to get kids thinking about the infinite possibilities of what they can do with their lives.

“If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.” This is what people say to get children motivated. “Work hard and you can accomplish your dreams.”

I think, at the time, my dream was to be a poet. Perhaps it was a more easily attainable goal than president of the United States, but I often wonder what happened to that little boy in my class who dreamed of being the leader of the free world. Does he still hope to be that one day or did his dream change?

(And I wonder if Barack Obama dreamed as a small boy about becoming president.)

My dream changed - though not as drastically as the girl who wanted to be an astronaut but instead became a CPA.

But here’s the thing: While it’s important to let kids know that there is a chance they can reach the stars (literally) or become the most powerful person in America, I think we don’t focus enough on letting children know the reality of life. A dream job is ideal but, more importantly, they need to find a way to pay the bills.

I spent a lot of my youth dreaming about what I’d like to become. Money was never a factor in those dreams. I always thought about the ways in which my career would fulfill me emotionally and allow me to travel, learn new things and meet interesting people. I thought that would be all I needed.

But life as a writer is sometimes a challenge. In these difficult economic times, I often wonder if I made the wrong decision in what I chose to spend my time studying in college. If I had chosen a more lucrative major and career, then maybe I wouldn’t be worried about money all the time. If it were easier to pay the bills, I could spend my free time accomplishing other lifetime goals.

No one told me in college what I should major in and my liberal arts education gave me plenty to choose from. I think most people I knew chose a major because it was easy, classes were manageable, or they just had to hurry up and choose something already. Of course, in the case of a few of my friends, they “kind of thought” they knew what they wanted to do after they got their degree.

A college degree is a huge investment we make, thinking it will pay dividends during our lives. But how valuable is your degree exactly in terms of its potential earning power throughout your career?

According to an article on Yahoo! Education, a college degree is definitely still worth the investment, with a bachelor’s degree earning a person an average of 88 percent more a year than high school graduates. Over a lifetime, someone with a bachelor’s degree will net an average of $2.1 million compared to $1.2 million for a high school graduate.

The article names several degrees that get the most “mileage” in the current marketplace. Among them are a Master of Business Administration, a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and an Associate of Applied Science in Information Technology.

The article states that those with a master’s degree in business administration experience an average 35 percent increase from their pre-MBA salary. In addition, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, starting salaries for engineers are among the highest for all college graduates. Overall, engineers in the various specialties earn median salaries ranging from $65,000 to $100,000.

The article lists nursing as the “success story of the current economy” with a 23 percent jump in growth overall, up to 39 percent in physician offices. The booming demand for nurses translates into salaries, benefits, student loan forgiveness programs and even signing bonuses. It’s a career with a strong future, even with the economic downturn, thanks to the aging population.

Those interested in the legal profession who obtain an associate degree in paralegal studies can make an average salary of $65,000, according to Yahoo! And the degree will pay for itself with an online or campus-based tuition of around $26,400. You can go right from the community college classroom to the courtroom with this degree.

Advancing technology and the job market competition have made an associate or bachelor’s degree a basic qualification for any IT career as well. This career carries significant value in an information economy with an IT specialist making an average salary of $62,521.

It’s a rude awakening when you realize that your dream job may not be attainable. Of course, many of us change our minds or adjust our plans along the way as other opportunities arise.

But I don’t think it would hurt to let our children know before they choose a major what financially profitable jobs are out there and are well within their reach. While “creative” types like me would like to think the dream is all that matters, the reality is living on a dream of what could be in the future is not going to pay the mortgage today.

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