Studying what you love vs studying for an occupation

Two articles in the Herald last week gave conflicting advice for career planning. One said that you should study what you’re interested in, and another said you should study for the jobs that are available.

Which advice should you take? Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

Studying what you find interesting, even if it’s a non-vocational course

Examples: history, zoology


  • You’re likely to do better at a subject you have a genuine interest in
  • You’ll meet like-minded people
  • You can craft a career around your interests or find a use for your degree if you think outside the box


  • You might struggle to get a job in that field if you study an obscure topic
  • If lots of other people are studying it as well, then you will have more competition for few jobs

Studying for a specific job

Examples: radiography, law, medicine


  • You’ll have something specific to work towards
  • There will be jobs to apply for when you’re done


  • You don’t know what jobs will be available in a few years’ time or what the job market will be like – will your skills be transferable?
  • It is rare for people to stay in the same job, or even the same industry, their entire working life

So, which strategy is best?

Obviously there are good and bad points for each – so perhaps a mixture of the two is the way to go. There’s always a way to mix your interests with sensible career goals. Not everyone can be a doctor, but on the flip side, not everyone can be a media researcher, an electrician or artist. Career decisions aren’t one dimensional and everyone has different values – a big pay packet might be what you’re after, but others want a good life-work balance.

When I enrolled for university, the job I have now didn’t really even exist – I hadn’t wanted to be a web editor since I was five. However, I had always been interested in writing and language.

Therefore, think big, think long term and most of all, think about what will make you happy.

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  1. edtechreviews

    I believe students should do more research on how to combine what they love with what jobs are available and profitable in the work force they are entering. Times are not so simple any more and the positions that companies are hiring for require more skills and knowledge than ever before. There are many vacancies for excellent jobs out there, but you have to be willing to put in the time, energy, effort, and investment in order to obtain them. You are not privileged to a job simply because you finished your undergraduate degree and we are educators, parents, and mentors need to give our young students some tough love so that they will have more realistic expectations about the professional world.

  2. laurencareers

    Thanks for your comment. You are right, there is a lot to think about when planning for your future.

  3. Tim Lee

    We change our values over time which also complicates things. When i was younger i studied what i enjoyed, now i just want to make more money to clear the mortgage!

    Hindsight is great, but young me would never listen to what old me had to say even with all the facts.

  4. Rebecca Fraser-Thill

    I agree that a mixture is probably best. I encourage my students in the US to narrow first based on interest and then do the practical research (e.g., occupational outlook) second to narrow further.

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