Money figures into plans

Tri-State students say prospective salary is a factor in their chosen career paths

Tri-State students say prospective salary is a factor in their chosen career paths

June 02, 2003|By JULIE E. GREENE

CLEAR SPRING - Alicia Cornwell was thinking about majoring in music in college, but after undergoing knee surgery earlier this year, she decided she'd rather study physical therapy.

"Well, how am I going to make a buck?" was the thought that crept into the Clear Spring High School senior's mind when thinking about a music career, she said.

"I just want to like what I'm doing. I want to at least make a living," said Cornwell, 17, of Greencastle, Pa.


Money often isn't the main driving factor when seniors choose a college major, several high school seniors and Tri-State area educators said. However, the seniors interviewed said salary was something they ended up researching after they picked a field of interest because they wanted to ensure they could live comfortably within that salary range.

At Clear Spring High, students use the Occupational Outlook Handbook to research their fields of interest, guidance counselor Carolyn Barkdoll said. The online guide through the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a description of the job, working conditions, job outlook and salary range, and notes related jobs.

The online guide shows the median salary for a physical therapist in 2000 was $54,810.

Martinsburg (W.Va.) High School guidance counselor Les Smith said some students say money is the only issue when considering a career path, but generally money isn't the top deciding factor. A career that interests them is the top factor, Smith said.

Often, salary doesn't become an issue until the student is about to graduate from college and is looking for a job, he said.

The seniors Jefferson High School guidance counselor Carla Hunter has talked to didn't mention money, she said. Mostly, she helps them select a college and a major. Then the Jefferson County, W.Va., students research their field of interest using a computer.

Chambersburg (Pa.) area school district students start planning a career course in eighth grade, said Eric Michael, assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction.

They determine what high school courses they need and, as they get further into it, they do more research, Michael said.

"Students that age all think they want to make a lot of money. I don't think it really sinks in, 'this is the amount of money I'm going to need to survive, to pay rent, mortgage, and how much is left over,'" Michael said.

The $100 a week students can make at a fast-food restaurant may seem like a lot of money to them, but they don't have the expenses of room and board, he said.

On the other hand, students may look at the salaries of professional athletes and think they could make that kind of money, Michael said. Then they see what the annual salary is like for social work - around $28,000 to $32,000 - and it's a reality check.

Charly Mulligan, 17, who lives in the Huyetts area, is going to major in foreign languages so she can be a translator. Mulligan said studying languages is a good way to learn other cultures, which has always interested her. She wants to move to Europe.

"I think money did come into play a little bit. I don't want to be stuck with a job where I'm struggling (financially)," Mulligan said.

"Translators make pretty good money," depending on the language, she said. Mulligan is learning French and German.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook doesn't have a detailed description for translators, but bachelor's degree candidates in humanities in 2001 were being offered an average starting salary of $30,653, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ashley Decker, 17, of the Clear Spring area, wants to study nursing.

"You always need nurses and it would be an easy job to get into. You can work your way up and the pay is pretty good," Decker said.

When asked what she thought the salary or pay range for nurses was, Decker said she had an idea but couldn't provide any guesses.

When some schoolmates suggested nurses make from $20,000 up to $60,000, Decker said she would hope to make the higher end of that range.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, registered nurses had a median annual salary of $44,840 in 2000. The highest 10 percent earned more than $64,360 and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,890.

Aspiring to be a pediatrician, Heather Yost said she probably could make more money working at a hospital. But the Clear Spring-area resident would prefer to have her own practice so she can work regular hours.

Yost, 17, who interned at a pediatric practice this semester, said she learned the starting salary is around $50,000 to $70,000, with some doctors working their way up to $300,000 a year.

Usually, the more schooling you get, the more money you can make.

Alex Ullrich, 18, has wanted to be a paleontologist since he was in preschool. Such a career would require a bachelor's degree in geology and then a master's or doctorate in paleontology, he said.

A paleontologist can make from $30,000 to a six-figure salary, Ullrich said. Plus, he has other career options with possible lucrative income once he earns a bachelor's in geology if he chooses a different career path.

Ullrich said he realizes that even with all that schooling, some paleontologists don't make grand amounts of money because their work is dependent upon grants.

"If I really like what I do, then the money's not as important," Ullrich said.

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