Things I wish I knew in high school

Our high school peers can be a valuable network. 

I didn’t like high school much, I wouldn’t want to go back, and when I left I didn’t think I’d see most people again. Social media makes it easier to keep in touch, so I’m still in touch with people from both high school and college. The thing I never thought of as a teen is this: the people you know in school (whether it’s high school or university) are future professionals. The people you know will eventually work in a variety of different fields, and they’ll be the ones you can ask questions or learn more about an industry through.

Weigh your options.

When I went to college, I knew exactly what I wanted to study, but I never really weighed my options to see what else schools had to offer. I didn’t take the time to really look through all of the departments, and if I had, I probably would have found a balance sooner between following my passion and earning a living.

Know that things change.

As a teen, I felt so so so much pressure to figure out what I would do! For! The rest! Of my life! But honestly? Like the real honest truth? All of that is a myth. Lots of people, if not most, change careers at some point in their life. There are people who become accountants, teachers, doctors, or psychologists, only to leave the field and do something else.

That’s not a bad thing (even if it might sound like a waste of money from all the degrees). But it is a fact of life. People change and grow. What you want at 18 or 24 might not be what you want at 29 or 35. You don’t need to know what you want to do forever. But finding something you can see yourself doing for at least years is a good place to start. Once you have experience in one field, it’s easier to find ways to apply those skills to another.

Don’t take life too seriously. 

School and building a career is a lot of work. It’s important to work hard and study and try your best, but you want to make time for fun and good memories, too. The career path you choose in your studies might not last forever (or who knows, it just might!), but you’ll likely have relationships and friendships that last for many years. Those will be some of the most valuable things to take from your years in school.

Blaze a trail.

The truth is, there’s no “one size fits all” advice. You might have someone who chooses to study engineering and builds a career in that, or you might have another person who graduates with that same degree, only to decide, ‘This career is not right for me.’ You can have someone who studies Musical Theater and finds different jobs they like after college, then you’ll have others who study the arts and struggle to pay the bills for a while.

It can really go either way, regardless of what career path you try. You have to find the balance between doing something that makes you happy, and doing something that makes you money. For many people, this means experimenting, trying out different things, and learning more about themselves before finding a path to “settle” on. But the truth is, I don’t think we ever settle. I think we’re always evolving, and you just kind of have to be along for the ride.

Your 20s will be one big experiment. 

Very few people have their shit together in their 20s, regardless of how their lives may look on social media. People are figuring out their careers, and their love lives, and whether they want children, and where they want to live, and (for those in the U.S), making sure they still have health insurance after they turn 26. It’s a long road with a lot of (really) big decisions.

Overall, I think you just have to remember to breathe. Most decisions are not final (except, ya know, having children. That’s a bit more permanent than most things lol). But overall, you have a lifetime to learn, grow, and try new things. The time also goes by fast. It can be stressful, but try to make time for fun and to be happy. You’ll go through career highs and lows, honeymoon phases and heartbreaks, decisions you’re proud of and things you would do differently if you could. It’s quite a journey, but you learn a lot and become more You than you’ve ever been.

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Liberal Arts, STEM, and the best degrees for jobs

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Figuring out your career path can be tough. After all, who can possibly choose what they want to do for the rest of their life? It’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, especially an 18 year old. Heck, I’m 24, and it’s still a lot of pressure! I like writing about career paths because there’s soooo much I didn’t know when I was an undergrad.

While I don’t think there should be this huge divide between Liberal Arts and STEM degrees, I do feel that most people end up choosing one path over the other, and that these preferences reflect the kinds of careers one would be happiest in. Below, you’ll find a list of the best degrees for employment in each of these paths. This list is more general, and it is by no means all-inclusive.

Let’s start with Liberal Arts. 

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Now, this isn’t exactly a list of the best liberal arts degrees. Instead, it’s the best paths of study for people who gravitate toward broad science and humanities subjects. One thing you’ll find is that people who want to study more general subjects, like math, biology, English, or History, will find more opportunities if they pursue masters degrees or PhD’s. Specifically, if they pursue advanced degrees that will increase their chances of finding a job.

Here are some degrees to consider:

Education – I know, there’s nothing more cliche than asking a liberal arts major/degree holder if she wants to be a teacher. We’ve all been asked this at some point! But education is still a great career path for the right person, and a masters degree in this subject will give you an edge. The job outlook is especially good for preschool and elementary school teachers. Elementary school pays more, and so there’s more competition. The jobs are there, though, especially if you are willing to relocate.

Law – I include law school on this list because it’s hard not to. Everyone knows lawyers have some serious earning potential. Unfortunately, many people get law degrees these days, and so competition is fierce, especially if you want to work for a major firm. More jobs are opening up in corporate settings, but it’s not a guaranteed paycheck the way it used to be. Law school is a lot of work, and it’s expensive. Pursue your dreams, but be informed of the reality of the job market.

Social Work – You’ll have the most opportunities in the field with a masters degree in Social Work (MSW). There are many specialties in this field, including: family and children, schools, mental health, and healthcare. There are also many opportunities in nonprofits, the government, universities, politics, and business.

Salaries vary based on specialty, the type of organization you work for, and years of experience. Social Service managers have the highest earning potential. Many positions in this field can lead to burnout, so you have to take good care of yourself. But if you want to help people, and do your research on the realities of your specialty, this can be a worthwhile degree to pursue. The job outlook for a MSW is very good.

Mental Health – Like social work, the job outlook in mental health is good. A bachelor’s degree in psychology may make the job search a bit of a challenge. But a masters degree in mental health counseling, social work, (and maybe psychology or sociology) can often help you find jobs in counseling and therapy. If you have a degree in psych, a PhD can help you start a career as a psychologist, researcher, or professor.

Business – Like law, I add business to this list with a grain of salt. It can provide excellent opportunities as a career path, but as a degree? It depends. Many people get MBAs, have experience, and still struggle to find work. I think part of this is because many jobs in business don’t require a degree in the subject. One can also argue that this degree fits under the STEM umbrella. I include it in this Liberal Arts list because I feel that many creative, lib arts people are drawn to business as well.

This is one field where your bachelor’s degree in art history or philosophy can still pay off. You can find careers in management, marketing, sales, public relations, customer service, and human resources. Some, like marketing, are especially competitive, but these careers can be worth the effort for those who don’t wish to pursue an advanced degree. (Tip: Don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up.)

Economics – Another degree that can fit under the STEM umbrella, economics is probably the highest paying liberal arts subject. Your challenge: advanced classes in math and statistics, and a love of research and data. Are you up for it?? If so, great! A bachelor’s degree in this subject could be the start of a lucrative career with a fair job outlook. You’ll need to get a masters or a PhD for the best opportunities.

Okay, those are a few advanced degree options for my liberal arts loves 🙂 ❤

Let’s move on to STEM. 

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In the U.S, everyone is told to get a STEM degree. But even people who eat, sleep, and breathe math and science can choose a less than lucrative degree path. Unlike people who prefer to study the liberal arts, people who study STEM have more options to make money with an associates or bachelor’s degree alone (how fancy!!).

Still, people who major in math, biology, chemistry, or even computer science may still struggle to know what to do after graduation. Here is a broad, if not a bit self-explanatory, list of the best degree paths to choose:

Medicine – As far as years of education go, the medical field is by far the most versatile. You can get an associates degree to be a rad tech or ultra sound tech, a bachelor’s degree to be a nurse, a masters to be an advanced nursing practitioner, healthcare administrator, or physician assistant, and of course you can go to medical school. If you enjoy helping people and are comfortable in hospitals and medical offices, a degree in the healthcare field can help you get an in demand job.

While associates degrees or even certificates can be a great way to start your career, keep in mind that they are less versatile than a bachelor’s, making a career change later on a bit more of a challenge. Medical careers also often require you to pass an exam to be certified in your state. Some jobs require you to be on your feet all day, and to sometimes lift and move patients. If you go to medical school, do your research. Specialties with a poor job outlook do exist!

Computer Science – We all know technology is a booming industry. Programmers, web developers, web designers, software engineers, and junior developers are all in demand, and make a good paycheck. Most jobs will want you to have a bachelor’s degree in CS, but some people in the field are self taught, or have a degree in another science, like physics.

This field can be challenging because your degree program won’t teach you many things you need to know for the job, like programming languages. As someone who’s dabbled in learning HTML, CSS, Python, Java, and Ruby, I can say it can be a bit exhausting. It’s an ever changing field, so you need to always learn and stay up to date. Jobs with startups and agencies can lead some people to feel burned out. But if you can dedicate yourself to learning code and staying current, this field can definitely be worth it.

Engineering – Ah, engineering, arguably the coolest STEM career path. It’s one of those areas where many people in the U.S say we’re “falling behind.” Despite these claims, most specialties in engineering have a slower than average job outlook according to the BLS. The job outlook isn’t great for: mechanical, environmental, electrical, and chemical engineers.

I’m not saying you can’t find a job in these subjects. I don’t have an engineering degree, so I can’t say fully. But based on what I’ve read, Civil Engineering offers the most job growth, and you’ll have the best opportunities with a masters degree in the subject. Petroleum engineering also has a good outlook (10% job growth), but I know this specialty depends on the economy and the industry as a whole. Be prepared to study math and physics!

Accounting – Good old, stable accounting. Of course the job outlook here is good. If you have a bachelor’s degree in another subject, but still want to be an accountant, fear not. There are a select few masters programs that are designed for people with BA’s in unrelated subjects. It’s also possible to take core classes at community college, and to apply for a masters after. The best opportunities are found if you sit for the CPA (certified public accountant) exam.

If you pursue this path, you should love numbers, because you’ll be looking at financial records all day! A few months out of the year, such as during tax season, work hours can be long and stressful, but after that, things settle down. Competition is tough to work for a major accounting firm, and those first few years may be stressful, but stick with it! Things get better, especially if you can branch out to work for smaller firms. Many people find having a specialty, like helping small businesses or families with their taxes, to be very rewarding.

Finding a balance between following your passion and paying your bills can be tough. But educating yourself on the best options, and the not so great options, can be a big help. If your heart isn’t in pursuing a new degree, or if you’re no longer in love with your field, don’t worry. Just be persistent. Believe in yourself and find support ❤

Whether choosing a new degree path or exploring career options, knowledge is your key. Learn all you can, be wiser than you were yesterday, and always try your best. You’ve got this ❤

-ATL