ELHAM NUMAN/THE VARSITY

If every career was paid uniformly, would all students still pursue their choice of degree? Educational and career choices seem to be no exception to the rule that money controls everything. With an increasing number of articles floating around the Internet to categorize the highest-paying careers, it is clear money continues to play an important role in this decision-making process.

While many students are reluctant to admit the influence that money has on their aspirations, research supports a strong correlation between financial concerns and career goals. For instance, the exponential rise of oil prices in the United States in the last five years has caused the field of petroleum engineering to flourish, both in job opportunities and salary growth.

Enrolment in the petroleum engineering program at Pennsylvania State University, for instance, has reached record-breaking levels; critics call into question whether this is truly because students are pursuing their passions.

Similarly, in the Canadian healthcare industry, the number of applicants to Ontario medical schools has increased by 41 per cent in the last decade, following a significant increase in total payments of clinical services to physicians. Although these are isolated cases, this is not a trivial trend.

Education is certainly an investment, and it is logical that monetary incentives are an influential factor in students’ career choices. However, an overwhelming emphasis on money when deciding on a career can negatively impact mental health, workplace ethics, and the development of job diversity.

Undoubtedly, the pursuit of financial success also heightens competition in certain university fields. This raises the bar for students, by intensifying GPA requirements, workloads, extracurriculars, and other expectations. Competition may fuel development and innovation, but it also threatens the mental health of students within highly competitive fields.

According to studies conducted on stress, those pursuing medicine and engineering demonstrate consistently higher stress levels than students in other programs of study. Careers in these two fields are recommended as some of the best paid professions in online articles.

Career choices do not only affect students; ethical concerns also come into play when professionals are motivated primarily by monetary gain and not solely by the well-being of their client.

In the healthcare industry — where sincere patient care is critical — this concern is particularly troubling. Dr. Ido Weinberg, an established medical professional in Massachusetts, wrote an article on the significant role money often plays in patient care. Weinberg described how it can affect a professional’s ethical responsibilities: unethical doctors may prefer to devote less time to more patients or conduct unnecessary time-consuming procedures, merely for the purposes of maximizing profits.  

Government grants and research opportunities in otherwise neglected fields should be pursued on a larger scale. These initiatives encourage job diversity and shift the focus away from money-driven careers.

In the long term, financial preoccupation within the workplace hinders job diversity and development, as certain careers are continually preferred over others that make less money. In 2014, 24,996 and 10,423 students applied to the sciences and engineering at the University of Toronto respectively, compared to the 252 who applied to applied arts and the 590 who applied to music.

Applied arts and music are extremely valuable programs to society, despite the fact that they don’t always involve a stable paycheque. However, the low demand for financially unattractive fields can result in smaller classes, fewer instructors, and fewer educational resources overall. These programs may dissipate over time, and their development will become hindered.

The strong association between money and career goals often discourages students to take a step in directions that appear to be less profitable. Instead, students ought to be pursuing what they truly enjoy, in order to gain satisfaction in the long term. The hope is that many students at the university will begin to follow this advice, given the immense selection of opportunities the institution has to offer.

Government grants and research opportunities in otherwise neglected fields should be pursued on a larger scale. These initiatives encourage job diversity and shift the focus away from money-driven careers. It may be well-accepted now that money drives progress, but it need not be the only thing that drives us. 

Steven Choi is a third-year student at New College studying human biology, nutrition, and chemistry.

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