Doing undergrad strictly for the job prospects?
June 26, 2012 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to get an undergrad degree in accounting or finance for the post-graduation salary prospects, even though I might not be interested in the major? (Excessive detail inside!)

I'm kind of in this situation, except I'm 24 and living at home with no degree and only working about 10 hours of work a week at the mall and doing construction. This is not at all the life I want and I'm trying to figure out what career-type job would land me the kind of money I'd want (~$40-50k with growth after a few years of work experience).

From what I've seen from my peers, you need at least an undergrad degree to make this kind of money. Thing is, I've had two failed runs at college. The first time, I was straight out of high school and I spent 2.5 years earning 80 random liberal arts credits with a couple math classes thrown in without ever declaring a major. My cumulative GPA when I left was a 2.0. In the second attempt, I decided to try Mechanical Engineering because my sister told me I'd be a good fit. I spent one year at the local state school but only managed to take one intro-to-engineering class because I kept forgetting about the registration deadline.

So now I'm trying to figure out a career path. My passion is music but I'd rather have a solid job and enough time to do music outside of work than try to make a living in the music industry. I'm thinking a practical undergrad degree like accounting or finance might be the way to go. I have no experience with these fields but the money is the biggest draw. I enjoy math, so that's a plus. My biggest fear is that I won't be interested in the material, or worse, hate the job once I'm in the field. Is it worth it to go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt for this?
posted by bumpjump to Education (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It strikes me that the reasons you failed in your earlier attempts at college was because you weren't all that interested in what you were learning (your sister was the one who thought you'd be into Mechanical Engineering, not you, and you couldn't declare a major first time around); so what makes you think doing the same thing a third time will work out differently?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you are able to do accounts, you will have the knowledge you need to run a business.

Before you go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt, you should look into learning programs that don't require that. I don't know what you need to do to become an accountant in the USA, but I do think that having that skill would open up a hell of a lot of options for you.
posted by tel3path at 8:31 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're going to have any hope of passing college, you need to study material you are interested in. Picking a major because or the money or because your sister or Metafilter or whoever thinks it could be a good fit for you is not going to work out well for you on your third go-round.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:33 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

You may find accounting surprisingly interesting. The good news is that you can dabble in introductory courses at a local junior college for cheap while you decide.

I'm a very creative person, with a BA in English Literature, and I found Accounting very interesting. There are neat off-shoots including forensic accounting, tax accounting, risk and compliance. Interstingly enough, all of the sales people at my company are CPA's, so there are always ways to branch out.

Accounting is one of those things that every company will need., forever. Finance, I didn't like so much and the job prospects are more competative.

If you're super-good at math, consider Actuarial Science. Actuaries make good money and for most of their careers spend a good portion of their time studying for the next level.

Don't go into debt. Take the courses at a JC until you feel good enough to transfer your grades to a University to finish everything off.

Don't worry about your GPA, I've never in my life been asked about it, and my 2.0 got me into an MBA program when I wanted to get into one.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:33 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

My answer is no. Although, I don't think there is much value in going tens of thousands of dollars of debt for any degree.

Caveat: I have an MBA in finance, and was a Teaching Assistant at the undergraduate school of business and so spent a lot of time with those students.

1. Accounting and Finance tracks are tough, and students are very competitive. You need to be very driven and very organized to be successful. That drive can be a real enjoyment of the field, but for the most part it was a drive to make a lot of money -- much more than $40-50k.

2. Accounting and finance jobs do not have a lot of work-life balance. I completely agree that it is practical to not anticipate making a living in music (it is unclear if you are musician), but would you still have the energy to enjoy your hobby if you were working 60-80 hour weeks?

3. Some accounting jobs require a CPA, and that is really really hard.

4. Good that you enjoy math -- how advanced? Finance (maybe not accounting) will definitely require you have or obtain a working understanding of calculus. (Maybe not a problem if you pursued engineering)

I'm not sure this is something to do if you don't really want it. Also, jobs aren't always easy to get. I have an MBA in Finance, but because I'm a little older (31) and don't have job experience I'm currently unemployed and job hunting.

There are jobs that you can do without a college degree where you can make 40-50k -- I'm not the expert, but I knew lots of sales reps without degrees (or with non-practical degrees -- I was a history major) making minimum that. My husband has an associates degree and makes 6 figures. It is possible if you find the right field, and are good at it, but it is hard to advance in a job you hate.

Good luck to you.
posted by hrj at 8:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My biggest fear is that I won't be interested in the material, or worse, hate the job once I'm in the field.

I think you should really try working 40 hours/week and get used to the pace of full time employment. After a while, this may help you learn the self-discipline that will allow you to complete tasks that aren't necessarily "fun" and require you to understand how to meet deadlines. Then you can consider whether you're up for spending the time necessary to get a degree in something "practical" so that you will be able to hold down a job that pays the bills.

You sound like you don't have much discipline or direction, to the point where even if you majored in music, which you say is your passion, I would have doubts about whether you'd be able to complete a degree.
posted by deanc at 8:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Why not take a business/accounting class and see what you think?

I don't think your undergraduate major has to be your 100% Passion 4 Evah, but I do think it's a lot easier to get a degree if you actually enjoy the coursework.

I majored in anthropology. It's a field I find interesting, and it was easy to motivate myself to go to class, complete assignments, and do the required reading. It's not my undying passion, and to be honest, seven years on I don't really use anything I learned aside from the fact that it informs a lot of my underlying approaches to people, culture, and so on. I mean, I also like to visit the Natural History Museum, and I sometimes read popular non-fiction with anthropological undertones. But I don't wake up in the morning and think, "I DEMAND TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT HOW PEOPLE IN BORNEO LIVE," or whatever the stereotype of someone passionate about anthropology would be.
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you mention working construction--is this something you enjoy, or could see yourself pursuing more seriously? If you're reliable, hardworking and willing to learn, advancement can be relatively quick. Construction management is a degree option that leads pretty directly to jobs, especially if you're working in the field already, and the degree programs are usually offered by cheap colleges.
posted by box at 8:43 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

My brother is a tax accountant at one of the big agencies in the US. Do you mind working 60 - 80 hour weeks from Jan 1 - April 15th? And then working some more 60 - 80 hour weeks in August and September? And being bored out of your skull in December? He's in his mid twenties, too, and this schedule makes it hard for him to have any longer-term girlfriends because he has no time or brain-power left at the end of those long days.

My husband was looking to change careers, too, and his main search criteria was "desk job" and "makes close to or more than making now". And that was just frustrating because that's no way to pick a career. We finally talked it out and threw around many many many career ideas and we think we've found something he'll like. He has to go to the local technical college for two years to get certified, but it sounded SO MUCH better than throwing thousands of dollars more and 2 - 4 years more of his life away on stuff he wasn't sure about.

I would recommend going to your local technical college and seeing if there are any programs there that are more hands-on that you might like. I like box's idea of Construction Management.
posted by jillithd at 8:51 AM on June 26, 2012

All accounting jobs are not 60-80 hour weeks. I have worked in corporate and non-profit accounting for many years and usually have a decent work/life balance. It can be a really fun job, and it can be a horrible job. I like that I have portable skills and I've generally been able to find work relatively easily. However, I really love accounting. I would really recommend taking some classes in it and seeing how you feel about it. I can also tell you that it's a field that is starting to require degrees to get jobs- after 12 years of experience I've hit a ceiling where I have to go finish my degree to get above my upper middle management job.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 9:02 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The accountants in my field have the best work/life balance of any department/career path, as far as I can tell. That said, nobody in my field works an 8 hour day. Maybe the fact that the accountants supposedly have it easy is a comment on the rest of us.
posted by Sara C. at 9:05 AM on June 26, 2012

I'm with deanc. I went through a very similar path to you. I wasn't ready to go back to school and finish a degree (I should graduate next year, age 28) until I'd spent a couple of years living on my own and working hard.

A degree does take discipline -- school is not always fun, even if you're interested in what you're studying. If you're the kind of person who has a hard time ignoring the fact that a task is obvious bullshit and just Getting It Done anyway, it's even more difficult.

Working full time is the only thing that gave me the discipline to cut through the BS. It also built my self-confidence and self esteem, up to the point that I realized I better go back to school if I didn't want to sell cigars for the rest of my life.

By the way have you considered the sciences? Lots of jobs there if you take the right track, and it's certainly not dull (to me, anyway). Certainly not as dull as counting other people's money.
posted by Scientist at 9:06 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband has a degree in British Literature and he works in the finance industry managing a commercial mortgage loan portfolio. You don't necessarily need a degree in that particular field, you just have to be willing to work hard and learn.
posted by Ostara at 9:18 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

here's the thing: having a job you hate is completely energy-draining and soul-sucking. if you had a problem staying motivated in college bc you were uninterested in what you were studying, it's not going to get better when you have a job that you're not interested in. money is a piss-poor reason to get into something if you hate what you have to do to get it.
posted by violetk at 9:40 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I believe the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) certification now requires more than a bachelor’s degree now so if you were thinking of pursuing a job that required a CPA you might be in for more school than you think. If you are interested in accounting maybe take a few of the community college level courses and try to get a job as a bookkeeper for a while. That will give you a taste without having to spend 5 years stacking up student loans.

My impression of Finance is that unless you graduate near the top of your class from a prestige school or know the right people it is very hard to break into the field.

Before you choose a path which you are not very passionate about chasing large paychecks be sure you check the actual job prospects in that field. A couple of friends of mine graduated with accounting degrees (over a year ago now) and had a very tough time finding a good position so no degree is really a golden ticket to prosperity. Its best to find something that you really enjoy doing and find a way to make a living doing that.
posted by TeknoKid at 9:49 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know people with no college degree who make more than the figure you're citing. They got these jobs through temp agencies and/or connections. Once in - in some cases - they are able to work on a degree which is partly funded by the company.

Both of the people I'm thinking of are clearly intelligent and very hard workers. They've both been promoted over people with degrees.

My suggestion is to try contacting temp agencies. It can be a good way to make some cash and try some new things while you're figuring yourself out.
posted by bunderful at 9:53 AM on June 26, 2012

People are saying, take some classes, try it out, decide if you like it.
But first, decide that you're doing this. (No try, only do) Throw yourself into this. Pay attention. Know your administrative deadlines, know your homework and test deadlines, and take this seriously. If you're going to go into debt for this education, take a good hard look at what it is you're going into debt for. Is it for the chance to sit in a classroom while somebody talks, and the chance to decide on any given morning if you're going to skip, or try to remember if there was a test scheduled? Or do you want to learn something and get credentials? Figure out what those credentials are worth to you, and how much you're spending on them. You are paying these professors to assign you homework, so there's no reason not to do the work, go to class, and learn the material.

It's only if you've made that decision, that you're really going to take this seriously, that you can actually decide if you like the subject or not. If you're farting around and not doing so well, you'll feel unsuccessful, and come away with the idea that you've picked the wrong area of study. So whatever you decide to do, do it right.

Anyway, on the subject of finance/accounting - the good news is that even if your end resut is that it's not for you, the semester/year of classes you take is going to be really really useful. (first of all, becuase you've taught yourself how to focus, but also...) If your music develops even from a passtime into a money-making hobby, or into a side business, or if you end up doing freelance work of any type, you'll be really glad you've got the extra expertise in taking care of the money side of things, the ability to do your own taxes, pay attention to where the money's going, etc. If possible, arrange your course schedule so you learn small-business accounting and bookkeeping early on.
posted by aimedwander at 11:37 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I sampled bookkeeping in adult ed classes just to learn the basics. Double entry bookkeeping was as fun as crossword puzzles, and if I had been looking for a career change I might have gone back to college for an Accounting degree. In your area, you might look for Community college classes as a relatively cheap introduction.
posted by Cranberry at 11:45 AM on June 26, 2012

Response by poster: OP here. First off, thank you everyone for your responses. It's been tough discussing this with my parents and sister who are understandably concerned about the idea of me going back to school.

The idea is that if I have a fairly specific idea of what kind of job I want and how school will help me get there, I'll be able to get through the shitty parts ("I have to go over these notes for the 50th time because I need an A in this class because I need a good GPA so I can get that internship which will give me work experience so I can get a job that makes $60,000 after I graduate so I can..."). This mental monologue helped me get in shape after being overweight for most of my life so I figure it can carry over into other long-term projects that aren't always enjoyable.

Re: construction: aside from the skills I've learned, I've learned that I actively dislike construction as a job and I've also learned that sometimes you can't half-ass stuff you don't like because then people don't want to pay you. deanc is that the discipline you're talking about?
posted by bumpjump at 4:00 PM on June 26, 2012

The thing about that is that losing weight is a binary proposition. You lose weight or you don't lose weight. It's also fairly straightforward in terms of end goal (make the number on the scale go down) and has relatively high stakes (avoid bad health outcomes later in life).

Careers don't work that way. For one thing, it's entirely possible that you can find something to major in that isn't a constant uphill battle. It's also possible that you will slog through this accounting program, only to find no $60K job waiting for you at the end. Or that you hate the career you worked so hard for.

And then one day you're sitting in the bar, drowning your career sorrows, only to strike up a conversation with a former Music major who now runs a successful [WHATEVER] business and loves life! That bitch! Who does she think she is?

Long story short, undergrad degrees, careers, and paychecks are often not what they're cracked up to be. Life is too short. Find something that works for you now rather than forcing something that's a bad match only to find yourself miserable down the road.
posted by Sara C. at 4:15 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You will almost certainly make more money over the course of your working life with a university or college degree than without one. It's also easier to move between jobs once you have a degree under your belt. (I know that the current employment situation / economy is not excellent, but I believe these statements to still be true enough).

As others have said, there a ways to test out accounting, finance and their ilk without committing to a full program.

You might also talk to some folks who have recently graduated from the program you're considering to get their impressions of it and their new jobs.

I came to add that you should be able to get your previous credits transferred, so you won't necessarily have to do a full 4 years when you go back. Once you've found the program that looks like a keeper, jump through some administrative hoops and save yourself some bucks.

Finally, I would add that lots of people suffer through some component of their studies in order to get a good job, and to varying degrees, that is in fact what growing up is all about - accept some annoying things in order to do things they want to do.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:49 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't need a 4 year year degree to work in the accounting or finance field. What you need is a willingness to start at the bottom with a basic understanding of the fundamentals. So, here's one avenue.

Accounting I and II at your local community college (this is double entry journaling at the transaction level all the way to the trial balance coupled with a basic understanding of statements of financial condition), Quickbooks Pro Advisor on-line certification, and a full and complete understand of IRS Publication 15. Voila, you're a full charge bookkeeper. 20 bucks an hour, and you can choose your employers. This outline takes one-year at a cost of less than $2500 out of pocket for a 45k a year job, or if you want to work part-time, mid 30's. You have do be bondable, so don't drink and drive, steal, or get caught with drugs. The career path goes all the way to Controller or if you want to focus on taxes, an Enrolled Agent of the IRS.
posted by vozworth at 6:47 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

After college, no one cares about your major. (This doesn't apply if you majored in engineering. But basically anything else, it doesn't matter.). Study what you love - unless you are one of the lucky few that is truly passionate about your career field, you will have little time to immerse yourself in something you are excited about doing every day once you begin your career.
posted by lalala1234 at 6:03 AM on June 27, 2012

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