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Big Bucks, Balance, and Burnout: Why People Change Careers

Growing and changing throughout career
Pam O'Brien
Pam O'BrienUpdated April 18, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
When we head off to college to pursue a degree, many of us assume we’ll end up in a job related to our field of study. But surprisingly, that’s often not the case, according to Lantern by SoFi’s recent survey of 1,000 U.S. college graduates. More than one-third of respondents report that their current careers have nothing to do with their college major.Many chose a different path to make more money, but an almost equal number say work/life balance is what compelled their career change. A job is about far more than a paycheck, our research found. For today’s workers, a good occupation is one they truly enjoy doing. It keeps them challenged, and makes them feel valued. Just as important, a job needs to let them have a life. Female respondents were the most likely to feel this way — and by a large margin. Women were two to three times more likely to say they switched careers for these reasons. Still, despite the twists and turns that so many are making between graduation and the workplace, there’s one thing survey respondents wouldn’t change: going to college in the first place. The vast majority have zero regrets about pursuing their education.That raises a few questions. If we value our college years, why is what we study in school so different from what we end up doing for a living? And does changing careers really get us what we want?  Read on to learn the thought-provoking answers that survey respondents shared with us.Source: Based on a survey conducted on Jan. 24, 2023 of 1,000 U.S. college graduates 18 and older with associates, bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees.Note: Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number, so some data may not add up to 100%. 

Made a Career Change? You’re Not Alone

You earned an English or visual arts degree and then ended up working in business administration. Sound familiar?You’ve got plenty of company. Getting a job unrelated to your degree is common. In fact, more than one-third of the respondents to our survey now work in occupations that have no connection to their college major. And while most are glad they pursued a higher education, they do have some buyer’s remorse on their major: If they could go back and do it again, 61% report they would choose a different field of study.If you’re thinking of going back to school for a second degree or an advanced degree, be sure to explore the financial aid and student loan options available to you. For instance, you may be able to get graduate student financial assistance that could help make school more affordable. 

Why They Made the Switch

Workers who swapped careers — or changed fields entirely — were mainly motivated by money. But almost just as many switched jobs for a better quality of life. This group was followed closely by people who cited a yearning for personal or professional fulfillment as the reason they ditched one career for another.What is this telling us? Jobs need to compensate us financially, personally, and professionally, according to our survey respondents.

The Reasons for Changing Careers

  • 35% wanted a bigger salary
  • 32% were seeking better work/life balance
  • 26% felt driven to do something they were more passionate about
  • 22% wanted more professional growth opportunities
  • 20% were feeling burned out
  • 18% no longer liked their job
Recommended: 11 Ways to Reduce Student Loan Payments 

What Women Want at Work

Compared to men, women are far more likely to say they made a change in their career path for more work/life balance and better pay. Their responses underscore a reality that hasn’t evolved much over the past 20 years. In 2022, women earned an average of 82% of what men did, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2002, the pay gap was 80%. And despite more enlightened millennial and Gen Z cohorts, women — who make up almost half of the labor force — still tend to put in the proverbial second shift at home, doing most of the housework and childcare.

Why Women Change Careers Vs. Why Men Change Careers

The genders show some interesting differences in this area.
  • To do something they were more passionate about: 74% women vs. 26% men
  • Better work/life balance: 61% women vs. 39% men
  • To make more money:  57% women vs. 43% men 

Quick Change Artists

For a big chunk of college grads, the career-job disconnect started immediately after they got their diplomas. Some 40% of people said their first job out of school had nothing to do with their degree.Often their decision was driven by necessity rather than choice. Many of them (41%) couldn’t find a job in their field. But some of the people who said their first job after college was unrelated to their degree actively chose to go in a different direction. For instance, 35% of them searched for and found a position in another field that paid well. Others sought out a line of work that offered a little adventure: 22% of that group took a position that was more exciting than what they’d originally planned to do. 

Serial Shifters

Job changes don’t guarantee satisfaction, however. It seems that 35% of people who have switched careers at least once are thinking about shifting again to another new occupation. Many of these respondents blame their field of study for the reason they keep changing jobs — 59% say they wouldn’t choose the same major because it didn’t serve them well. Those most likely to feel this kind of discontent studied business or social sciences or went to law school.

Younger Workers Are Making Moves

Overall, 65% of survey respondents have had 2 to 5 jobs so far. And millennials and Gen Z-ers are primed for even more changes:
  • 66% of respondents were between the ages of 20 and 30 when they first switched jobs.
  • 41% of those under age 45 are currently considering a new career. By comparison, just 27% over age 45 who are still working are thinking about making a swap.

A Fatter Paycheck

Gen Z is the group most likely to switch careers to make more money: 72% of those who transitioned to a new job for higher earnings were in their 20s.

The Fields Where They Found the Bigger Bucks:

  • Transportation, distribution, logistics
  • Finance
  • Marketing, sales, service
  • IT (information technology)
If you’re interested in a high-paying career, you might want to think about studying for an engineering degree. According to a study by the New York Federal Reserve, 8 of the top 10 majors that earn the most are in engineering, including chemical engineering, computer engineering, and electrical engineering. The good news: You may be able to have your student loans placed in deferment if you re-enroll in college.

College Is Key

A whopping 87% of respondents are happy they went to college. Of the 13% who regret the decision, money is the main reason. More than half say the cost of college wasn’t worth it, 48% feel their degree didn’t do anything for them professionally, and 42% say the price tag wasn’t worth the student loan debt they’re paying off.For help paying off your student loans, you can investigate income-driven repayment plans. These programs base your monthly payments on your discretionary income and family size, and they could save you money. You can also explore federal and state student loan forgiveness plans to see if you might qualify.Another option worth considering is student loan refinancing. When you refinance a student loan, you trade in your current loans for a new loan with different rates and terms. Just be aware that refinancing federal student loans makes them ineligible for federal programs and protections. If you don’t need access to these benefits, you can explore student loan refinance options to find the most favorable rates and terms for you. 

If They Could Turn Back Time

Much as they liked college, a significant number of respondents would make some changes to their college career if they could get a do-over. First and foremost, 41% would choose another major in order to pursue bigger and better opportunities.

What They’d Do Differently the Second Time Around

  • I’d pick a major that would lead to a better-paying career: 29%
  • I’d choose a more general major that had a wider career path: 27%
  • I’d opt for a major with better job prospects: 26%
  • I’d pick a major that’s more specific to a particular career: 24% 

The Chosen Path

Not everyone zigzags from college to career. More than half of those surveyed (54%) work in jobs related to their college degree. And most of them have never deviated from their original plan. Almost three-quarters say their first job right out of school was connected to their field of study.

The Jobs People Stick With

What are the careers that keep so many on track?
  • Business management/administration: 14%
  • IT: 14%
  • Health science: 12%
  • Education and training: 9%

The Good News

Despite all the job hopping going on, plenty of people like what they do for a living. Almost half of respondents (47%) are very happy with their current career, and 38% are somewhat happy. Only 3% are very unhappy with their jobs.

The Takeaway

Most people consider college a wise investment, but there’s often a disconnect between what they studied in school versus what they do for a living. Many people have jobs unrelated to their college degree, whether by necessity or choice. The bottom line is they’re willing to switch careers as often as it takes to find a job that pays well, delivers professional fulfillment, and gives them a good work/life balance.Some survey respondents are struggling with repaying their student loan debt. If paying back what you owe is causing you anxiety, especially with the pause on federal student loan payments likely to end in 2023, you may want to consider student loan refinancing. Lantern can help you through the student loan refinancing process. If you can qualify for a lower interest rate, refinancing could save you money. That means you could bank more of the earnings you make on the job.  
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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About the Author

Pam O'Brien

Pam O'Brien

Pam O’Brien is an award-winning editor and writer who has covered personal finance, budgeting, small business, and money issues. She is also an expert in health and wellness whose work has appeared in O Quarterly, Shape, Health, and More magazines, among others.
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