07/02/2014 10:17 am ET | Updated Sep 01, 2014

Major Dilemmas

One of the most important decisions you can make as a student is deciding what to major in. Considering how a college degree alone is no longer a guarantee of landing a good job, one must ask the question: Are all majors created equal, and if not, what are you better off choosing?

Most advice relating to college major decisions takes one of two paths: do what you love, or then pick the major that earns the most. But this is too simplistic, and fails to fully consider the reality of the situation. The "follow-your-passion-and-do-what-you-love" mindset is great, but it's a bit too idealistic, and it can quite frankly be a luxury -- especially against a tough job market and mounting student debt -- to pursue your interests without having a clear idea of exactly what you will do with that degree later on. On the other hand, it might not be the best idea to simply look up a list of the current highest-earning majors and pick the first one, especially if it's something that will make you completely miserable.

The problem arises when your passion does not directly translate into a decent career. If you're the type of person who codes for fun, you can probably expect your hobby to pay off financially as well. But if you enjoy writing poems instead of programs, you might find that your prospects aren't that favorable.

When it comes to deciding on a major, there are a lot of factors that you might want to consider.

To start with, determine what your priorities are. Would you rather have a stable career and decent career prospects even if you don't love what you are doing, or have a fulfilling and enriching job that allows you to follow your passions? It's hard, although not impossible, to find a job that fulfills both requirements, and while no major guarantees job security, STEM and business majors do help more in getting a job right out of college.

If you really want to pursue your passion, it would be helpful to have some idea as to how you could earn a living doing what you love. Not all dreams have to be forsaken. If, for example, you've known since middle school that you want to be an artist, then don't give up on that dream. It will just take more planning and initiative, and maybe some roundabouts before you get where you want to be. It's best to plan out your track while you're still in college. Explore expected career paths for different majors so that you are clear about the type of jobs you can hope to get with your major.

However, you might find that it's better for you to compromise a bit when it comes to choosing a major. If you want to pursue your interests but also want a major that will help you get a job, you could choose to get a double major. You could also pick a more practical field for your major, and get a minor in something that you enjoy. Alternatively, you could combine your interests with some technical skills that will be more helpful when it comes to finding a job. For example, if you love art, you could go towards graphic design or incorporate web page design skills in your resume, instead of just focusing on fine arts.

I personally feel conflicted when it comes to deciding on a major. For a really long time, I was set on becoming an English major since writing is my passion. But looking at the unemployment rates and limited job opportunities for English majors has made me reconsider my decision. And since I don't want to go be a teacher or go to graduate school like most English majors, I feel that it is best for me to compromise by getting a double major in English and computer science. While this path makes sense to me, it might not work for everyone. Ultimately, you should choose what you feel is best for you.

If you're going to spend a fortune on college, choose a major that will make a good investment and for which you have reasonable aptitude. Don't disregard your interests and passions, but keep in mind factors like salary potential and job opportunity. With careful planning and evaluation, it's possible to balance passion and practicality.