What College Degree Will Make You Happy?


Six college graduates tell us why they're satisfied with their degree choice.

By Deanna Ting

Are you currently in school or thinking about going back to school, but don't know what to major in?

Choosing the right degree - one that makes you happy and helps you follow your desired career path - can be a challenge. But what helps, says career expert and recruiter Abby Kohut, is doing your research beforehand.

"My recommendation is that, if or when you know what career you want, you should have informational interviews with people in that particular field to know what career and, by extension, what degree you should be aiming for," says Kohut.

To help you get started, we spoke to six college graduates who shared how their college majors have played a successful part in their current career paths.

Degree #1 - Business
Graduate: Dennis Wee, University of California, Berkeley, Class of 2006*

If you want to pursue a degree with versatile career potential, a bachelor's degree in business could be a great option.

In fact, that's what attracted Dennis Wee, a client services representative for a Los Angeles-based investment management firm, to this degree.

"I felt that a business degree would give me the most practical skill set for the largest variety of jobs," says Wee, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in business from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2006.

Kohut agrees. "Everyone who goes for business degrees wants to get into any kind of business," she says. "Business is business; it relates to any kind of company."

Click to Find the Right Business Program Now.

Degree Basics: Business majors could learn all about the buying, selling, and producing of goods, as well as the bread and butter principles associated with businesses, according to the College Board, an educational organization that administers aptitude tests like the SAT. Typical courses may include accounting, business communications, business law, computer applications, economics, marketing, and managerial finance.

Insight from this Happy Grad: Wee says that group participation is a key to succeeding as a business major. "Business classes will promote lots of group projects just to make sure you get lots of experience working with others and knowing how to operate as a team," he says. "So, if you are someone who really requires a lot of alone time, then business might not be the most suitable major; you will rarely be alone."

Degree #2 - Education
Graduate: Laura Sharp, University of California, Davis, Class of 2008 and 2009*

Are you someone who delights in helping others learn something new? If so, a major in education could help you prepare to pursue a rewarding career path as a teacher or educator.

While Kohut says the job prospects for teachers in some major U.S. metropolitan areas remain relatively challenging, she says passionate students should still pursue their enthusiasm for teaching.

And that's exactly what Laura Sharp did. A high school Spanish teacher in Northern California, Sharp says that while her master's in education program was very challenging, she's very happy she completed it. Sharp graduated with her credentials in foreign language and her master's in education from the University of California, Davis, in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

"My master's program was designed to be taken concurrently with the first year of teaching," she explains. "By the time I had finished my first year of teaching and my master's thesis, I felt so ready to begin finding my niche in teaching."

Click to Find the Right Education Program Now.

Degree Basics: As an education major, you'll likely take a variety of classes that explore education, educational psychology, and teaching methods, according to the College Board. These courses could include education in a multicultural society, philosophy of education, and education of the exceptional child.

Insight from this Happy Grad: "There are always people who break the mold, but I believe that people who are kind, assertive, respectful, and have an interest in how the human brain learns may be a good fit for an education major," says Sharp. 

Degree #3 - Nursing
Graduate: Jignisha Patel, Los Angeles Harbor College, Class of 2009*

Are you the type of person who has a knack for science and a passion for helping others? If so, a degree in nursing may be an ideal fit.

It certainly was for Jignisha Patel, who completed the associate's degree in nursing program at Los Angeles Harbor College. And while she found it very rewarding, Patel says that it definitely came with challenges.

"It was probably the most challenging thing that I've done in my life," says Patel, who graduated with her associate's in nursing degree in 2009, and now works as a treatment nurse in Southern California.

"I feel like my program overprepared me to be an amazing, competent nurse by learning the proper documentation, developing professionalism, and other necessary skills," says Patel. "The program also really helped me prepare for the boards."

Click to Find the Right Nursing Program Now.

Degree Basics: Be prepared for coursework that's heavy in the sciences, as well as in human behavior and psychology, with classes in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, nutrition, microbiology, and more, according to the College Board.

Insight from this Happy Grad: To work as a registered nurse, commitment is key. "You have to be someone who's really dedicated to your work," says Patel. "When you're in school, you learn the fundamentals and proper skills, but in the real world, things are different. You have to be dedicated and be flexible."

Degree #4 - Graphic Design
Graduate: Annie Huang Luck, Art Center, Class of 1991*

If you're creative and love to express that creativity visually, you might be well suited for a degree in graphic design.

For Annie Huang Luck, a 1991 Art Center grad, it's a degree she's still happy with today. Even though she describes her bachelor's degree in graphic design program as similar to boot camp, the Southern California-based creative director says she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I was given a lot of real-life projects to tackle in terms of quality and quantity but, all in all, they were so worthwhile - they made the experience so real so that when I went to the work force I felt so familiar with it," says Luck, who's also an adjunct professor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

"That exposure was so important."

But that's not all. Luck also says that she learned to "solve problems with a visual communication basis. That's probably the reason why I chose graphic design instead of fine art or illustration."

Click to Find the Right Graphic Design Program Now.

Degree Basics: "Graphic design majors learn the design and computer skills necessary to create the look for books, magazines, CD jackets, websites, and more," says the College Board. To gain these skills, students often take commonly offered courses that include graphic design studio, photoshop for designers, and typography.

Insight from this Happy Grad: "To be a great designer, you have to be constantly learning," says Luck. "You have to know how to relate to people; you understand the psychology of how people think and relate."

Luck also recommends pursuing more than one internship during this degree program. "The more you know about how graphic design works in the industry, the better you prepare yourself for the eventual working experience," says Luck.

Degree #5 - Accounting
Graduate: Daniel Hamm, California State University, Fullerton, Class of 1999*

If you have an interest in numbers and finance, but you're not exactly sure what specific career you want to pursue, a bachelor's degree in accounting could provide you with a great foundation for a variety of careers.

 "It's cross industry," says Kohut. "You can jump from industry to industry and find what fits you best."

Daniel Hamm, a chief financial officer for a major consumer products company, echoes similar sentiments.

"Accounting gave me the roots to do just about anything financial," says Hamm, who earned his bachelor's degree in accounting from California State University, Fullerton, in 1999. "I started out as an analyst for Lehman Brothers and eventually moved to corporate finance, controller, and CFO. My resume certainly wouldn't have been as successful without my accounting degree."

On top of preparing him for an array of career options, Hamm also had some fun while earning his accounting degree. "I had a great time with my major," he says. "I joined the accounting society; I networked and met a lot of great contacts that I still keep in touch with."

Click to Find the Right Accounting Program Now.

Degree Basics: "Accounting majors learn how to gather, record, analyze, interpret, and communicate information about an individual's or organization's financial performance and risks," notes the College Board. Coursework typically includes auditing, tax accounting, business law, and accounting information systems, among others.

Insight from this Happy Grad: Hamm advises anyone considering an accounting major to think big picture. "Very high levels in this field will require something additional - either a master's in business administration (MBA) or a certified public accounting title," Hamm says. The more Hamm worked in accounting, he became more interested in analytical finance and went back to obtain an MBA.

Degree #6 - Computer Science
Graduate: John Lynch, William Paterson University, Class of 2002*

Do you love computers and technology? If so, computer science might be a major worth considering.

In fact, John Lynch's fascination with computers is what drew him to this techie degree field.

"I always had an interest in computers and was already working with computers as a graphic designer," says Lynch, a New York-based web project manager. He graduated with his bachelor's degree in computer science from William Paterson University in New Jersey in 2002.

And like many majors, Lynch says that he needed to have determination to complete his degree.

"You need to have drive," says Lynch. "You really have to pay attention to detail, and it helps if you're really willing to dig down to the books and to study everything as deeply as possible."

Click to Find the Right Computer Science Program Now.

Degree Basics: What exactly might you be digging dip into? The College Board notes that computer science majors typically take a wide range of courses. This could include artificial intelligence, computer system organization, and software engineering. The goal of these courses: to learn how "humans interact with computers from a science perspective," adds the College Board.

Insight from this Happy Grad: "If possible, you should try to do internships to do more of the technology work," says Lynch. "Go for a higher-level degree like a master's, too, because there are so many bachelor's degree majors. Or combine the bachelor's degree with something like business or finance."

*These stories are just examples and are not typical for all graduates. A college graduate's career outlook may vary depending on a variety of factors like degree type and experience.

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