Here’s a scenario: You’re an economics’ college student who recently became involved in your local theatre club as a costume designer. A few days in, you realize your love for theater and the craft of costume design. Now you’re considering switching majors and following your passion. After all, costume design is creative, hands-on, and leaves you with something tangible at the end of the day—unlike economics. But then reasoning kicks in. If you switch to costume design, will there be a way to make a decent living? College isn’t cheap, so could you afford to make the switch, and more importantly, should you?
This situation is extremely common, and the question usually boils down to whether you can incur the cost of committing to a curious major — one that you are tremendously passionate about despite its impracticality.
Thousands of students face this conundrum every year. You’ve discovered your passion—or one of them, at least — and you know you want to pursue it. Great, right? Well, not so fast. Like everything else in life, you’ll need to navigate between your passions and your responsibilities. In the above situation, it may seem like there are only two paths to choose from—continue as an economics student or switch to costume design. The reality is, however, there are many paths ahead. College tends to slot you into a single occupation, but the truth is that occupation is not guaranteed by the piece of paper you hold in your hand after four years.
No major guarantees that you will get a job. Even if you major in a field as common as economics and spend four years studying investment banking (one of the most lucrative fields in the world), you won’t end up an entry-level analyst if you don’t burn shoe-leather trying to land internships and make the connections that lead to a placement. The same goes for costume design; you need to work every angle you can to end up a designer. Costume designer Ann Foley gives a pretty good idea of the type of networking that lands those first gigs. A major will teach you to do what you want to do, but nobody is going to come to you with the promise of a paycheck when you get your degree. You will have to be the one knocking on doors, whether that means interning in New York or working on theatre shows in Brisbane.
Furthermore, few people getting employed right out of college will end up working in the field of their major, as any teacher with a biology degree or video-game designer with a philosophy degree will tell you. Just because you majored in costume design does not mean that you will spend your life sewing dresses for showgirls. You could end up teaching at a university or working for a company to design beautiful graduation dresses. The same goes for an economy degree: what’s to stop you from working at a nonprofit, for example? Rather than focusing on the major, concentrate on developing hard skills, whether that means drapery or excel spreadsheets. That way, you have the flexibility to look for jobs that match your skills, rather than jobs that only fit the description of your majors.
The truth is, you have many options for your college career, and asking if you can afford majoring in something atypical is less important than asking what you will do with that major. Can you afford the cost? Yes, you can. You can make a living no matter what degree you earn. Which major you choose is up for you to decide, but, unless you are going into a very specialized field like chemical engineering or medicine, the major is less important than how you pursue the things you want. One way to make that decision is to talk to professors in the departments you are interested in to get an idea of their field. Seniors and recent graduates are also valuable sources of information. The variety of answers will probably surprise you, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Just keep in mind that whichever field you choose, you’ll have a bright future with countless opportunities and possibilities ahead.