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Is Your Child’s Major Practical?



When your child chooses a major that taps into his or her passions and aligns with interests and strengths, that’s wonderful for them. But, because college educations are increasingly more expensive, it’s natural to hope that the choice of major will also be practical, one worth the investment.

Higher education is a financial investment, with average college tuition and associated fees for the 2018-2019 academic year standing at:

•  $35,676 for private colleges

•  $10,230 for state residents at public colleges

•  $26,290 for out-of-state students at state schools

This doesn’t count housing expenses, transportation costs, and books and supplies. So it just makes sense to want your child to end up with a college degree that’s practical.

How each person defines “practical” may be somewhat different, although a commonly held definition may be that the benefits are worth the investment of time, energy, and money. When Kiplinger.com did a deep dive to find which majors are the best ones for students wanting a lucrative career, they chose ones that:

•  “Tend to lead to fat paychecks—both right out of school and further along your career path”

•  Are currently in high demand

•  Have long-term growth expectations

They factored in how certain jobs can make positive contributions to society and give workers a sense of purpose. Read on to learn highlights of the findings and strategies that could help your child choose the best college for their needs, as well as the right college major.

Most Practical College Majors

In today’s high-tech world, it’s probably not surprising that STEM careers—those focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—are among the most lucrative. As just three examples:

•  The No. 1 career listed in Kiplinger’s results is electrical engineering, with a starting salary of $69,900, a mid-career salary of $118,100, and annual online job postings totaling $1.1 million. Demand for this position is expected to grow by 10.7% over the next decade.

•  The second is nursing, with a starting salary of $61,400, a mid-career salary of $77,600, and annual online job postings totaling $1.6 million. As the population ages, demand for nurses is expected to grow by 16.3% for registered nurses and 35.2% for nurse practitioners over the next decade. Nurse practitioners usually make about $103,947 annually.

•  The third career is computer engineering, with a starting salary of $72,600, a mid-career salary of $120,000, and annual online job postings totaling $1.7 million. Job growth is anticipated to be 9.4% over the next decade.

Each of these careers offers significant potential as highly practical college majors, but there might be other factors to consider. If, as one example, your child would be miserable in a STEM career, then that might not be a good choice. If, instead, they have a passion for justice, then studying law may be a fulfilling avenue to explore.

You might not want to discard the notion of a liberal arts education. The Kiplinger study didn’t, including both American Studies and Classics in their list of lucrative college majors. Plus, there is this statement to consider in defense of including humanities in coursework: “We don’t need more engineers who know nothing about the Civil War, police officers who believe Churchill was a fictional character, or nurses who have never been moved by a great novel.”

Another review , this one of 162 careers, ranked the following as the most (and least) promising college majors:

•  #1: Actuarial science—average income of $108,658, with an unemployment rate of 2.3%

•  #2: Zoology—average income of $111,889, with an unemployment rate of 1.4%

•  #3: Nuclear engineering—average income of $108,591, with an unemployment rate of 1.8%

•  #4: Health & medical preparatory programs—average income of $130,308, with an unemployment rate of 2.3%

•  #5: Applied mathematics—average income of $105,679, with an unemployment rate of 2%

•  #158: Visual & performing arts—average income of $43,996, with an unemployment rate of 4%

•  #159: Cosmetology & culinary arts—average income of $42,362, with an unemployment rate of 4.7%

•  #160: Clinical psychology—average income of $51,022, with an unemployment rate of 4.8%

•  #161: Composition & speech—average income of $44,211, with an unemployment rate of 4.9%

•  #162: Miscellaneous fine arts—average income of $40,855, with an unemployment rate of 9.1%

Choosing the Right College Major

While your child’s choice of major might not define an entire career, this selection is a key step, one that launches your child’s path. And, what’s “right” for them is the one that engages your child, setting them up for an enjoyable career that can sustain a desired lifestyle.

During the first year or two, classes tend to be foundational, such as math, English, and science, and your child can use this time to explore interests. Perhaps your child is intrigued by pursuing a career in a foreign country—if so, then taking foreign language classes could be a good step.

Many successful people blend technical skills with softer ones, with the latter including skills in communication, leadership, and negotiation. So if your child has an interest in nuclear medicine, for example, communication classes could play a key role in rounding out potential employability.

Networking with people—including professors, guest lecturers, and other students—through an academic or professional club could be helpful, and so could talking to a career counselor. It’s entirely possible that your child doesn’t recognize talents they possess. If so, then time spent networking with people with knowledge and experience about a certain field may help them receive valuable information and encouragement.

And these conversations may also be a good time for your child to glean information about starting salaries
and possibilities for advancement in intriguing careers.

As part of this discernment process, here are other factors to consider:

•  What are the time and credit requirements? If, for example, a certain career requires more than four years of education, then this needs factored into decision-making.

•  Does the college your child is considering offer majors that interest them?

•  Does a double-major make practical sense?

•  What makes sense for a complementary minor?

•  Is your child interested in studying abroad?

•  Is it possible to complete a degree in three years to make it more cost efficient?

Applying to Colleges

Perhaps your child is already attending a college, and it’s time for them to declare a major. Or, maybe your child still needs to choose a college. If the latter is true, then you could encourage them to apply to a couple of schools in each of these three categories:

•  Match school/target school: This is a school where your child’s academic qualifications meet, or somewhat exceed, those of an average freshman at that college. Qualifications may include your child’s GPA, ACT/SAT scores, individual grades, coursework taken, and so forth. When your child’s performance aligns with these qualifications, it doesn’t guarantee acceptance, but could give you more of a sense of security.

•  Reach school: In this case, your child’s academic qualifications are below what’s typically required by a school for the average freshman. If they meet the school’s basic requirements, a reach school may not be an impossible dream—especially if, say, your child has excellent leadership skills or an impressive list of extracurricular activities.

•  Safety school: Your child can be fairly confident of admission with a safety school, because it’s defined as one where their academic qualifications are above what’s usually required for an incoming freshman. Applying to these schools can be an excellent backup plan, with some of them guaranteeing admission if your child has a certain GPA and SAT/ACT score combo.

Financing a College Education

When people discuss using student loans to help finance college education, they’re often talking about different types of federal student aid provided by the government, including federal student loans with common criteria as far as interest rates, repayment plans, and so forth. To apply for federal student aid, your child fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) , which provides information to the government about your family’s needs and means and, in turn, may award your child a certain amount of aid based on the information provided.

Private student loans, meanwhile, are offered by banks or private lenders. In this situation, you’d fill out a loan application, similar to what you’d do to apply for a mortgage or car loan. Private lenders set their own interest rates, repayment terms, and other criteria.

You can find more information about the pros and cons of private student loans, such as those offered by SoFi. In the spirit of transparency, SoFi strongly believes you should exhaust all of your federal aid options before you consider SoFi as your private loan lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans for Parents


SoFi private student loans launched in 2019. The goal? To create private student loan products that help students pay for school easily. This includes a flexible, competitive-rate parent loan, one where the application is quick and easy.

SoFi can help students and parents make smart financial decisions through transparency, resources, support, and modern, customer-first solutions.

Find more information about SoFi Private Student Loans.

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