Outside of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Hermann Hall, poster says "Do you know your career coach?" on career office's window. (Yunfei Zhao / MEDILL)

College Students Weigh Pros and Cons of Majoring for Passion vs Pay

By Yunfei Zhao

Anup Patel had a dilemma: Follow his passion — or the money.

Like many college students looking to make the most of the investment in time and money, Patel agonized over getting it right. The Illinois Institute of Technology graduate ended up giving up his passion, chemistry, for business.

“Our society rewards the people who can lead,” said Patel, noting that business and marketing can provide soft skills that are more widely used than the technical skills he would have honed as a chemistry major.

The numbers back him up: The median annual wage for business and financial jobs was $64,790, $35,000 higher than that of all jobs in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it’s this kind of wage gap that steers many college students away from their real interests.

Many students mitigate the pressure by opting for double majors that allow them the pleasure of studying a subject they care about in addition to one mostly likely to lead to a job, according to John Twombly, head of undergraduate programs in business at IIT.

“Looking for jobs is certainly a concern for a number of students,” said Twombly, who also serves as an advisor.

Illinois Institute of Technology hosted prep workshops on Wednesday for students to get ready for the semester’s biggest career fair next week. About 120 to 140 companies are likely to attend, school official says. (Yunfei Zhao / MEDILL)
Illinois Institute of Technology hosts prep workshops on Wednesday for students to get ready for the semester’s biggest career fair next week. About 120 to 140 companies are likely to attend, a school official says. (Yunfei Zhao / MEDILL)

While Vinu Mohan regards majoring in business a privilege, he has seen the confusion play out among classmates, who end up switching from more rigorous scientific majors to the safety of a business major.

“They land in the business school because they were doing architecture, and they didn’t like it, or they did mechanical engineering and they didn’t like it, and then they do business,” says Mohan, who now works as a business strategy consultant.

Twombly’s advice: Think less about money because the money will come:

“Do what you wanna do,” he says, “although I know there is a lot of pressure in every family for the kids do what their parents want them to do.”

Outside of Illinois Institute of Technology’s Hermann Hall, a poster says “Do you know your career coach?” on the career office’s window. (Yunfei Zhao / MEDILL)