By Ana Veciana-Suarez

Like so many college-bound kids, my youngest son has been busy fielding The Question: What are you majoring in?

For an 18-year-old who still needs to be reminded to pick up his clothes, this is a loaded query. It can mean many things -- What do you like to do? Where do your talents lie? Are you following in your parents' footsteps? -- but in tough economic times, it also carries an undercurrent of worry.

Can you get a job with that (fill-in-the-blank) degree? If so, will it pay enough to cover the bills?

I've just returned from a two-day college orientation for my high school senior, the fifth I will send off to an institution of higher education. Majors and how they will translate to the job market was the topic du jour among both teenagers and parents. Though we like to believe that college is a time of exploration, a bridge between adolescence and adulthood, more and more we view these years as an opportunity, albeit an expensive one, to improve job prospects.

Few have survived The Great Reality Check with their dreams intact.

Gone is the hope of studying an obscure language or dabbling in the classics. It's all about the jobs, honey -- and how best to position yourself to land one.

On this matter, I can breathe a sigh of relief. My son plans to study math, with a possible double major in statistics. This does not surprise me. Years ago, he came home from elementary school crowing that his teacher had labeled him "Mr. Mathematics." When he graduates, he'll probably have a job.

"Math majors, rejoice," a recent article in The New York Times begins. "Businesses are going to need tens of thousands of you in the coming years as companies grapple with a growing mountain of data."

It's a rare gift, my son's clarity of purpose. But what about the student whose path has yet to become clear or whose interests (I'm thinking of the arts here) tend to be neither well remunerated nor appreciated?

Three words of advice: Follow your passion. And five more: Do this despite the odds.

I write this even as I tell my two college-age students to keep an eye on the job market, to hunt for internships, to improve their communication and leadership skills. I write this, too, knowing full well that my chosen profession, print journalism, has shed tens of thousands of jobs and is undergoing changes no one could have predicted when I graduated.

Nevertheless, it bears repeating: Follow your passion.

Choose something you find meaningful, a field that will challenge your mind and resonate in your heart. It's the only way to survive the relentless routine otherwise known as work.

My oldest son, who wandered the career maze until earning a second degree in accounting, got a great piece of advice recently from his boss. I paraphrase: A coach can coach his players all he wants, but the best environment is created when the player wants to learn.

In other words, the best and most satisfying work occurs when the player -- the employee -- has passion, when success carries an intrinsic reward beyond money, when, even on the worst days, a tough career proves more gratifying than a safer and more predictable choice.

When you follow your heart, you may not get rich. You may not achieve fame. But you will, I promise, nurse no regrets for trying.



Education & Professional Development


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