Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Financial Rewards

Via the miracle that is Twitter, I was pointed to an article that advises students to choose a major that would lead to a career that pays well, however one might define that. The following equation jumped out at me: College Major = Interest + Financial Rewards.

My first thought after (well...while) reading this article was that if I wanted a job that would pay "well," I certainly wouldn't have gone into secondary education. We English teachers are a dime a dozen, and being that I live in the NYC metro area and there being a hiring freeze in NYC public schools, it would seem I chose a poor time to be in search of a job in that field.

I do admit that while the size of the (future) paycheck didn't affect my desire to teach, but aside from my genuine love of teaching, I did choose to go into teaching partly because I knew there to be some job security after retirement. I'll never become rich teaching, but I will have other benefits that I view as just as important after I retire, benefits that may actually allow me to retire. Plus, there are kids all over the damn place that need teaching, so it's hardly likely that the need for teachers will dissipate.

That being said, not everyone can or is likely to choose a career or college major based on the ever important (and highlighted) financial rewards. Choosing a major does not guarantee having the chance to use that degree anyway, so one may as well major in something that one loves or is likely to be interested in. While thinking of the recent graduate who is suing her alma mater because she hasn't been able to find a job after she graduated, I'm also thinking of my cousin Bronwyn, who just entered a conservatory this summer as a violinist. I can imagine the author of this article advising her not to follow her passion for music because of its uncertainty - but aren't all careers ultimately uncertain anyway? I just spent six years obtaining two degrees I may never use, in an allegedly stable field. Financial rewards are consistently tenuous.

I suppose the issue at hand - what the author had really wanted to assert, at least partly - is that many students don't actually spend time considering how they'll use the degree they're in the midst of obtaining. Many students might not even know flavor of career they want anyway, and just pick a major and hope for the best. (Inexplicably, English and psychology seem to be two of the more popular choices, which sucks for those of us who know how we want to use our degrees. Hello, overcrowded survey classes!) But one of the things one would hope would happen is that while a student is in college, she would be exposed to a raft of other skills she would like to develop, or other interests she might wish to follow. (I took an extremely interesting class in old English. I was surprised just how much I enjoyed it, and I would consider taking more classes and adding that field of study to my professional repertoire.)

I recently downloaded a podcast called Programs & Advice for Music Students, published by the USC Thornton School of Music. What was especially interesting about it was that I heard several of the teachers say that they encouraged their students to learn several different skills - conducting, for example, or composition, and a few different instruments - in addition to their primary instrument because not only would might they discover new skills, but the students would become prepared to support themselves financially. (One teacher said he usually had several things going on at the same time - composing, directing, performing, speaking engagements, etc.)

Financial rewards are tenuous; what I wish we taught more of is the creativity of using those degrees in different ways, on the basis and understanding that, professionally, not everyone gets to do what they want.

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