Study for income or interest?

Study for income or interest?

Should I pick a course that gives me the best chance of getting a job or a course which I’m very interested in? It’s a dilemma that many people face at CAO time and other points in their lives.

If I won millions on the lotto, which is highly unlikely as I never play, I would most likely ditch the day job and enjoy not having to work for a while. After a few months or maybe a few years, I expect I would feel the need to once again do something productive with my time. I think contrast is an important part of life, to have work or some other endeavour that isn’t pure enjoyment but which gives a sense of satisfaction and a heightened appreciation for rest and leisure. As Shakespeare said in Henry IV: “If all the year were playing holidays; To sport would be as tedious as to work”.

I would go back to college to study something like history or international relations, i.e. something I find interesting. In that situation, it isn’t a tough choice. I haven’t squandered my lotto dough yet so I don’t need to worry about the tedious matter of earning money. In contrast the only times I’ve really had to make those choices, I went for fairly practical options – engineering at CAO time, and later finance when I decided I wanted a change of tack.

There are two types of people going to college next year; those who need to earn an income [1], and those who don’t. There aren’t many in the second group! In fact, I think the only people that really fall into the second group are from a wealthy background, have parents that don’t mind providing for them into the future, and the students themselves don’t mind living off their parents. I think it’s fair to say the majority of college-goers next year fall into the former category.

So should everyone target the areas that (currently) have very bright employment prospects? No, obviously it isn’t as simple as that. We all have different talents and strengths, and from both a happiness and a practical perspective, it makes sense to try to incorporate those attributes into our career choices.

I like the following quote. It’s attributed to Albert Einstein but there’s some debate as to whether he really said it or not. Regardless, there’s wisdom in it! “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.

However we must also recognise that there are constraints on our choices. For a course or career to be a realistic and viable choice:

  • You must have a minimum level of interest in the subject matter (if it bores you to tears you probably won’t stick it out);
  • You must believe it has reasonable prospects (i.e. that you can earn a certain minimum amount from it – enough to live!);
  • You must have a reasonable amount of pride in it – or, to look at it another way, you shouldn’t be ashamed of telling people what you do;
  • It must not cost a prohibitive amount – certain careers, or routes into careers, can be extremely expensive, e.g. graduate-entry medicine;
  • It must take a reasonable amount of effort. Some careers involve long hours in the office which affects work-life balance. It’s important to realise that a certain route may involve sacrifices.

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Clearly, there’s a few of those that most teenagers can’t answer – how would they know the employment prospects, earning potential, costs involved and hours culture of the various careers?

Check out a talk, we’ll do our best to fill you in.


[1] I’m referring to earning money after college – I appreciate many will have to earn money throughout college in order to meet living expenses, but that isn’t really relevant from the perspective of choosing a course.