I'm not sure about my major...

I am a freshmen biology major, and I’m not sure that I like it. I’m really not interested in biology, I just want to be a dentist. I really only want to be a dentist because I want to have money. I’ve been doing internships with various dentists since 8th grade and I’ve been quite sure that being a dentist is what I wanted for a long time. However, during my junior and senior years of high school I found that my true passion is politics and current events. I would love a major like poli sci. In fact, I’m taking a sociology class right now and its by far my favorite class. The problem is I don’t want to spend four years getting a degree that won’t help me be successful and will hinder my ability to make money. All I hear about liberal arts degrees is how “useless” they are. Now, I know, I’m just a freshman during my first semester, I probably should just keep going and revisit the issue once I’m a sophomore. Especially since college isn’t really enjoyable for anyone right now with distance learning, and distance learning has been my only college experience so far. It just kills me to be questioning what I want to do with my life, especially after being so sure for 5+ years that I wanted to be a dentist. Anyway, any advice?

First of all, you don’t have to major in biology to be a dentist. You can major in anything else, and just take the right pre-dental classes.

Second of all, if you don’t really want to be a dentist, you probably shouldn’t pursue it as a career. There are lots of other ways to make money. You should find something that you are at least reasonably content with that also makes the kind of money that you want to make.

Now, I don’t think at all that there’s anything wrong with knowing you want to make a certain kind of money. I think most of us factor that into our career decision-making. However, like any other kind of career decision point, you need to define what “money” means to you. How much money do you need to make to be happy? Is a $70K salary enough? $110K? What kind of lifestyle do you want to be able to have?

It may be kind of difficult to answer that question at 18 or 19, especially if you’ve never really discussed salary or money with your parents or other adults. But now would be the time to have those conversations. Maybe play with a “how much house can I buy?” wizard with different income levels, and see how that compares to the houses in the places you’d like to live. Talk to your parents and your parents’ friends about money and salaries (in polite ways - not “how much do you make?” but factual questions like how much houses in the area cost, what it’s easy to live on in their city, what it’s hard to live on, etc.)

Political science majors start out making less money than science majors - recent college grads’ starting salary is around $38K (1). However, by the time they have around 5 years of experience, their average salary is around $70-75K (1). Experienced graduate degree holders earn the highest - $99-100K per year. That’s not dentist money, but they are probably also in less debt than your average dentist (although, depending on where they got the graduate degree, maybe not). The Wall Street Journal has similar statistics (2) - political science majors earn about $40K to start out but are at ~$78K once they have more experience.

BTW, that’s actually higher than biology majors’ average. It’s also a little higher than business, accounting, and nursing majors by mid-career.

People talk about how liberal arts majors are “worthless” because most people are not familiar with the wide range of jobs and roles out there. Most people know doctors, lawyers, and engineers - professions they have to see regularly. They know Facebook dude makes lots of money and software developer = computer science to them. And they know their doctor makes a lot of money. So those seem like the only viable options when really they’re just the only options available in your head.

When I tell people I’m a UX researcher, they usually don’t know what that is if they don’t work in tech. They’re certainly surprised to learn it easily pays six figures (particularly by mid-career) but I never see it on the “best jobs for six figures” list, even though you can do it with a master’s degree in the behavioral sciences.

There are lots of other jobs. You just have to find one at the cross-section of your interest and the salary and benefits.

(1) https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/HardTimes2015-Report.pdf

(2) http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-Degrees_that_Pay_you_Back-sort.html

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First of all, everything that @Julliette wrote

Remember that, as a dentist, you will be spending the next 30 years with your hands inside other people’s mouths. This is not a career that would appeal to anybody who does not find teeth and jaws to be absolutely fascinating. If dentistry does not appeal to you and a deep level, I don’t think that you will last through dental school, much less through the years that it will take to get to the point that you will make a decent amount of money.

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I second @MWolf about what @Julliette said. You’re in your first year of college, a perfect time to have an existential crisis. I have a friend that went back to college after practicing law for five years and hating every single minute of it. By that time he had two little kids and it was not easy but he made it work. Do what you think you’ll be content doing. Best wishes!

Just to add - if you are thinking from a monetary perspective - a friend’s daughter is in dental school - $100k a year. That’s a huge upfront investment that will take a long, long time to pay off.