Unveiling the importance of choosing a major

By Samantha Jacobs
March 9, 2016

Graphic by Sam Jacobs.

Choosing a major is an important decision.

For a senior Penn State University student, choosing a major in mechanical engineering seemed like the best choice as a freshman.

“I always enjoyed building things. Santa got me three K’Nex toys for Christmas and I built them all in the same day,” Montes de Oca said. “I pursued engineering because I thought it was the best for me.”

Students may struggle to define what ‘best’ really means when deciding what major to study. A recent Georgetown University study found that engineering majors such as Montes de Oca can earn salaries of $83,000 with a bachelor’s degree. That’s $23,000 more than what graduate degree holders in education typically make.

The study found overall that engineering majors had huge potential for higher starting salaries and wage growth over liberal arts majors. Although Montes de Oca has struggled with the material in her major, she still continues with industrial engineering.

“I intended to study mechanical engineering but wasn’t really enjoying it. I switched to industrial engineering because of what it offers,” Montes de Oca said.

According to the Georgetown study, mechanical engineers can make more $20,000 more a year between the ages of 25-59 than industrial engineers. For Montes de Oca, this potential salary increase was not worth the stress.

“I lived at home my first two years of college and attended Penn State Brandywine. Classes were easier and smaller. It was essentially high school 2.0,” Montes de Oca said. Transferring to University Park was overwhelming. The classes were bigger, even though I was in my major courses, and the professors were tougher.”

With such major potential for a career with a strong salary, Montes de Oca pushes through the ups and downs of studying a challenging and stressful major. Students still choose to make potentially low salaries by studying education though.

A senior education major chose her major because she loved children and was inspired to become a positive role model after having a terrible teacher in grade school.

“I like that I will get to have a positive role in a child’s life,” Francie McPeak said. “I don’t like all the work and tests that need to be done to become a teacher. I have thought about switching but never did.”

Although thoughts about switching her major occurred mostly when she was a junior, McPeak was too far into her studies to truly consider another major where she might be happier and more likely to have a higher salary.

For Montes de Oca on the other hand, studying Industrial Engineering can lead into a multitude of careers in manufacturing or analytics, but the building and creating of the manufacturing side excites her more.

“It’s hands on and building/creating, which is what I enjoy most about engineering,” Montes de Oca said.

“In five years I hope to see myself settled into a good job, hopefully enjoying it. But to be honest right now I don’t really know where I see myself,” Montes de Oca said.

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Samantha Jacobs

Samantha is a Digital Communications and Social Media Major, Spanish minor, Web and Multimedia Editor for Loquitur, Director and Multimedia Manager for LOQation News. She has an interest in rock music and her favorite stories to write are about music news and reviews.

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