Return on Investment Vs. Childhood Dreams

As a college admissions counselor for high school students I’m constantly working with them to discover what they’d like to do in life and helping them match it to a program of study at a college or university. These students do not realize what they are up against when entering a undergraduate program. Should they follow a dream that they’ve had and choose a career that “feels right” or should they be logical and major in something that guarantees a solid career in the end?

Throughout a student’s life they’re asked “who do you want to be when you grow up?”. It’s inherently American to dream because we are the “land of opportunity” and you, too, can achieve your dreams. However, we forget to think practically of what that really means. If a student were to major in something other than a STEM or health field then the likelihood of the student acquiring a position that provides “the American dream” is slim to none, especially if they took out a student loan.

UF is one of the most competitively ranked Florida schools where the social sciences and communications are among the most popular majors. Typically, the return on investment (ROI) for these majors is roughly between 12% to -14% depending on which institution the student attends. At UF, the ROI in the social sciences is 8%. Meanwhile, a student needs to have an average 4.2 GPA just to be considered for acceptance! All that hard work to get into UF and a student majors in a fields that does not translate to a sustainable career.

I see the U.S. News and Forbes ratings about the ROI on a college degree, but we often forget the power of a student’s developmental stage and how that impacts agency. For anyone who has worked with, knows, or has a teenager understands their underdeveloped foresight for life after education. But, can you blame them? Most of a child’s role in life is a student. How could we expect them to know what lay after a college degree?

Picture this: A student will attend a college, they’ll be exposed to various courses because those are the prerequisites at the post-secondary institution, and then they’ll stumble upon something like sociology or psychology. The student will fall in love with the course and switch majors only to graduate with a B.A. degree that will leave them underqualified to acquire a position. Sure, they’ll have that piece of paper that sets them apart from the high school grads, but it does not match up to the applicant with the master’s degree. Instead, they’ll still work at a retail store or restaurant until they decide to enter a master’s program. Or they’ll jump straight into a master’s program after the bachelors. If they did not recieve student debt before then they more than likely will now. Why? Because, if the student was lucky enough to have parents who saved for their college education by the time a student enters a master’s program the bank account has certainly run dry.

College is a game of Russian Roulette. A student enters with all these hopes and aspirations of achievement and future success. They explore all a college has to offer and lands on what they believe to be the lucky major of their dreams. Then the bullet is placed in the revolver and fired. Some end up with the “American dream” and others just end up dead inside, still searching for that career and success that everyone was talking about.