06/18/2015 01:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Advice for the Class of 2015


To the Class of 2015: As you prepare to leave your high school years behind, many people will advise you to "follow your dreams." My advice? Confront reality.

It may sound harsh, but only a small percentage of aspiring professional athletes, actors and musicians make it to the big leagues. Of those extremely rare individuals who reach the pinnacle of entertainment, very few make enough money that will not necessitate other employment when their dream career ends. And for most, they come to an end quickly. The average NFL career is 3.3 years and the league's minimum salary is $435,000 per year. It sounds like a lot of money, but let's do the rough math: $435,000 times four years equals $1.74 million. After you pay your agent and taxes, your take-home salary from the four years is approximately $1.19 million. Take $1.19 million divided by 40 years of work-life, and you have an average of $29,750 a year -- only $5,500 above the poverty line for a family of four. This is why 78 percent of NFL players are in bankruptcy or under financial stress within two years of retiring or leaving the league.

This is not to discourage you from pursuing your dream. You just need to ensure that you get a good education and develop skills that will permit you to have great careers outside of athletics or entertainment. Then, if you don't make it in your dream profession, you will likely have a career that allows you to enjoy sports, theater or music leisurely or as a spectator for years to come. After graduation, you will have a work-life of 40 to 50 years, and life will be much easier if you equip yourself with high demand problem-solving, critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently highlighted the most in-demand college majors -- the fields that will present you with the most job prospects. Engineering and math fields dominate the list: Finance and accounting ranked No. 1 and No. 2, followed by computer science (No. 3), mechanical engineering (No. 4), electrical engineering (No. 6) and information sciences and systems (No. 7). It's worth noting that these careers are also among the best for making a difference in the world, whether you dream of reviving the space program, curing cancer, addressing climate change or designing the third generation Apple Watch.

By 2018, jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are expected to grow at a rate nearly double those of other fields -- 18 percent versus 9.8 percent. An estimated 1.2 million STEM jobs will go unfilled because the workforce will not possess the skills to fill them. In other words, great opportunities will be available to you in the future if you prepare for them now.

Vince Bertram is the president and CEO of Project Lead The Way, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to STEM curriculum and teacher training. He is the New York Times bestselling author of "One Nation Under-Taught: Solving America's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Crisis." Connect with him on Twitter @vincebertram.