Choice of a degree program is an expression of an individual’s future career plan. That’s why, when considering going back to school, it’s important to assess your priorities in regard to future aspirations. Earning money may be a major factor in what draws some people to specific careers, but by no means is it the most important reason to choose one career path over another. For many, altruistic professions provide higher levels of personal satisfaction.
Research out of the psychology department at Colorado State University suggests that there are complex elements involved in satisfying professional achievement needs. While the value of work is often perceived as a way to make a living, it has also been observed that “the best work experiences add value to people’s lives…Ideally, work also is enjoyable, provides a desirable sense of challenge, and both cultivates and makes use of people’s strengths. At its best, work also contributes to the health and equity of organizations, communities, and societies.”
More people than you may realize prioritize community and societal contributions over high salaries when it comes to career objectives. A 2012 nationwide survey found that 72 percent of students and 53 percent of workers want a job that makes, what they would consider, a positive impact on the world. Moreover, 45 percent of people would take a 15 percent pay cut to work at a job that makes a “social or environmental impact.” Simply stated, the bottom line is not always the bottom line when it comes to job satisfaction.
If you’re thinking about which degree and career plan will fulfill your noble ambitions, consider the results of a 2006 national survey on job satisfaction. It found that the following “altruistic” professions offer people some of the most personal fulfillment:
Law enforcement personnel and firefighters – From firefighters and police officers to correctional guards, forensic specialists, crime scene investigators and victim/witness counselors, law enforcement careers offer individuals the opportunity to assist people who are often experiencing the worst trauma in their lives. Police and firefighters must be able to quickly evaluate risks to personnel and the public, be decisive under pressure, and able to exercise compassion to victims while presenting a strong, confident and in-charge manner when dealing with dangerous situations. Almost 59 percent of police officers and detectives reported being very satisfied with their jobs, and 80 percent of firefighters surveyed conveyed satisfaction with their careers. Not all emergency services jobs require a degree; however, if you’re looking to eventually move into an administrative or leadership role, it’s necessary that you have a degree that gives you the right credentials.
Medical/Healing professions – Careers in medicine and therapy are some of the most respected and appreciated in the world. Whether a doctor, nurse, mental health practitioner, or other specialist, the common goal of each is to provide support for the purpose of restoring individuals to physical and mental wellbeing. The professions of physical therapist and psychologist ranked second and third respectively for job satisfaction on the survey, and 53 percent of registered nurses reported high job satisfaction. Training requirements for such professions range from several to many years. If you’re considering taking this route, it’s a good idea to start your career preparation by taking foundational courses often required for admission to medicine-related programs.
Educators – Careers in education benefit each new generation by helping them prepare to be competent, productive members of society. As with other professions, education requirements vary from very little to many years working through degree levels. The minimum education level required to be a tenured professor is a doctorate, which may take eight-plus years to attain, or a terminal degree, such as a Master of Fine Arts. Secondary and elementary teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in education. Increasingly, pre-school teachers are also required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Principals must have a master’s degree related to education administration. Sixty-eight percent of education administrators, 70 percent of special education teachers and 69 percent of teachers reported very high job satisfaction.
Clergy & spiritual jobs - Ministers, priests, and those who teach religious doctrine or spiritual practices can make a considerable impact in the lives of those who are seeking comfort both in everyday situations and times of distress. The survey found those who worked in this profession were the happiest, with 87.3 percent reporting satisfaction with their jobs. The process of becoming a member of a clergy member varies depending on creed and institution, but for many, a master’s degree in divinity or theology is required.
Saving the world may not be part of everyone’s career plan, but, for many, gaining a sense of fulfillment from contributing to the wellbeing of society is as important, or more important, than a fat paycheck. What motivates you? Get started thinking about your education and career plan with this free worksheet.