Deciding What’s More Important…Your Passion or Your Paycheck

The Value of your college major: By the Numbers

The question of whether college is really worth the rising cost (and the inevitable student-loan debt) has been hotly debated in recent months. The answer, according to new research out of Georgetown University, largely depends on whether students choose a lucrative major. The study used census data to compare earnings across 171 college majors, which were then grouped into 15 more general categories. Here, a brief guide to the findings, by the numbers:

Percent increase in lifetime earnings for a college graduate, on average, over the lifetime earnings of a high school graduate. “One flaw in the anti-college argument is that, even if a college degree is just a pricey piece of paper, it’s a piece of paper that’s worth paying for,” says Brad Tuttle at TIME.

Median salary for petroleum engineering majors — the major with the highest median earnings. Other highly profitable majors include pharmacy/pharmaceutical sciences ($105,000), and mathematics and computer sciences ($98,000).

Median salary across all engineering majors

Difference in salary between African-Americans who majored in electrical engineering and their better-paid white counterparts. “Unfortunately, race and gender earnings gaps still exist in almost all fields,” says a press release for the study.

(SKA comment: Will your generation be the one to start changing this totally embarrassing statistic? After all, it’s 2011 isn’t it?)

Median salary for counseling/psychology majors — the major with the lowest median earnings

16 percent
Unemployment rate for social psychology majors, the highest of any field. Some fields — including geological and geophysical engineering, military technologies, and pharmacology — had “virtually no unemployment.”

Number of the top 10 most remunerative majors that fall into the engineering, math, or science categories

At least $80,000
Median salary for each of the majors in the top ten

No more than $40,000
Median salary for those who major in fine or performing arts, religious vocations, or social work

Median salary for those with an undergraduate major in the business category, the most popular major group

Median salary for those with a graduate degree in business

Median incomes for liberal arts and humanities majors, the third most popular major category. “I don’t want to slight Shakespeare,” says says Anthony P. Carneval, the director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “But this study slights Shakespeare.”

40 percent
Share of liberal arts and humanities majors that go on to earn a graduate degree, boosting median salaries to $65,000

Average student-loan debt that a 4-year college graduate has incurred upon graduation. “This research is important, not because it invalidates the degrees of humanities majors, but because it provides something sorely lacking in the college application/matriculation process: data,” says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

Sources: MSNBC, TIME, Georgetown University (2), The Atlantic

So what’s more important to you? Working in a field that brings you satisfaction and excitement or one that will provide you with the financial rewards and benefits that you desire? As you position yourselves for college and your career path, you must devote much time and consideration to answering this fundamental question. 

SKoolAide will do our best to help you find your path.


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