MY FAVORITE QUESTION: “How much does a _________ make?”

I always have to hold back when a student comes into my office trying to decide a career path and the only questions they have are, “How much does a (fill in the blank) make? Well, what about a ______?” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, money isn’t everything but it is an important factor to consider.

There was an article in The Wall Street Journal that addressed the difference between earnings of people with and without a college degree. It argued about the actual number that one person makes over a lifetime and eventually came to the conclusion that a person with a college degree makes, on average, $450,000 more than someone without a degree, over his/her lifetime. This may seem like an impressive number that would put any college student’s mind at ease, but they fail to mention that a number of careers that require a degree are with not-for-profits who can’t pay a high salary.

Put It Together

So what does this mean? It sounds like it’s smart to ask the salary question, and it is. But, what are the reasons for asking this question? If you ask the salary question because you want to be rich or “live a good lifestyle,” then I ask you to first do a budget. Think about the type of lifestyle you want to live and how much the student loans, house, car, family, and retirement is going to cost you throughout your lifetime. That will help determine your needed salary to live the desired lifestyle.

The next step is a little harder. Look inside yourself and determine a career that will be a good fit and you’ll enjoy. If you’re not good at a certain subject, then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll succeed in that career path. I can’t tell you how many times a student has told me they were considering being a nurse but biology and anatomy were their hardest subjects. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a nurse or doctor working on me if he/she could barely pass anatomy. So, consider what you like and are successful doing then do research the types of careers that fit your strengths.

Do Your Research

There are some great resources out there that help you do the research and will even tell you related job titles, just in case the salary of the career you’re researching doesn’t match your desired lifestyle. These will give you alternatives that could help reach your goals, or you may find that a certain career is worth adjusting the budget and even lowering your overall lifestyle.


Research specific job titles or keywords, like the skills required. It produces a list of careers related to your search. Click on a career title that’s of interest and it gives you the skills, knowledge, and interests needed, plus additional related careers, educational requirements, future trends, and average salaries. It also links you to research state salaries through Career One Stop.

Career One Stop

Provides a video on careers and their typical days, specific state information and how it compares nationally. It also gives some good resources for resumes, interviewing, and even military transitions.

Occupational Outlook Handbook –

Provides information on the training and education needed, earnings, expected job prospects, what workers do on the job, working conditions, and information on the job market in each state.

What Can I Do With This Major?

A great resource from the University of Tennessee Knoxville that helps connect majors to related career titles. It explains the different areas one could work, the types of employers that hire, and strategies to help you break into that career.

Riley Guide

Gives you a different perspective on researching careers. Provides information on how to target employers, coping with job loss, how to properly job search including networking, and even sites with job listings.

Cost of Living

A resource to help compare how much real estate, rent/mortgage, and other typical expenses cost in various cities. It also provides information on local climate, area schools, and crime rates. This will help you when creating a preferred lifestyle budget.


Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. Connect with Karen via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Related posts:

  1. The Holidays Loom…Can You Answer the Job/Internship Question?
  2. The #1 Question to Ask Before Applying for a Job
  3. Your Future Career: Consider Now What Will Make You Happy Later

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

  • Connect With Dan

  • Chelsea Rice

    Chelsea Rice is the editor-in-chief of the Student Branding Blog. She began her work for just before graduating from Boston University, where she studied journalism and minored in international relations.

  • Connect With Chelsea

  • Recognition

    • Recommended resource - The Washington Post
    • "A terrific way for students to learn about branding" - Lindsey Pollak
    • "Worth checking out" - Psychology Today
    • HR World's top 100 management blogs