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Picking a College Major That Matters (and Pays)

A quick guide to help you determine where the jobs are—and what kind of work you might like to do

HERE'S THE DEAL: YOU'RE A FRESHMAN or sophomore on campus, looking forward to putting new skills to use and exploring new interests, and you're supposed to decide, right now, what you're going to do with the rest of your life. It's that high-stakes college quiz called "Choosing a Major!" Ready or not, most colleges want you to select a main area of study. Your choice will be easier if you ask yourself a few basic questions first: What professions are most likely to have jobs waiting to be filled when I graduate? Will I be proud of that job? And will it pay a decent salary?

What professions are most likely to have jobs waiting to be filled when I graduate? Will I be proud of that job? And will it pay a decent salary?

The following slides, which show the top three majors in each area, contain a surprise or two. For instance, why are operations research analysts among the fastest-growing professions? (Hint: Think big data.) And have you ever considered a career as a physician assistant? Although this is among the top three professions that pay the best out of the gate, one thing students should always remember: When it comes to job satisfaction, money isn't everything.

There's another concern at least as important as picking a major, and that's paying for it. For excellent tips on pulling off that trick, see Smart Ways to Pay Your Student Loan and The Basics Q&A: Paying Off Grad-School Debt.

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3 Questions to Ask Your Advisor

  1. What strategies can I use to pay down my student loans after I graduate?
  2. Can you help me get started investing in my future financial goals?
  3. How can I manage my finances while I go back to school to prepare for a career switch?

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