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How Much Is Your College Degree Really Worth?

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We’ve all read the statistics that a college graduate earns $1 million more over their lifetime than a non-college grad. That’s a pretty compelling reason to go to college, isn’t it?

But is it accurate? Or does it depend on what you study? And therefore, what kind of career you will pursue when you graduate?

A new Georgetown University study has found that yes, indeed, earnings do break down for college graduates according to major.

Their study was extremely in-depth – it looked at 171 different majors! And it went beyond starting salaries to examine salary data for people over the course of their careers.

On the low-end, they found that people with a degree in counseling and psychology earned an average of just $29,000 per year. On the opposite end of the spectrum were petroleum engineering majors, who earned an average of $120,000 per year.

The top 10 majors with the highest median earnings are:

  • Petroleum Engineer ($120,000)
  • Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration ($105,000)
  • Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000)
  • Aerospace Engineering ($87,000)
  • Chemical Engineering ($86,000)
  • Electrical Engineering ($85,000)
  • Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering ($82,000)
  • Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical Engineering and Mining and Mineral Engineering (each with median earnings of $80,000)

The 10 majors with the lowest median earnings are:

  • Counseling/Psychology ($29,000)
  • Early Childhood Education ($36,000)
  • Theology and Religious Vocations ($38,000)
  • Human Services and Community Organizations ($38,000)
  • Social Work ($39,000)
  • Drama and Theater Arts, Studio Arts, Communication Disorders Sciences and Services, Visual and Performing Arts, and Health and Medical Preparatory Programs (each at $40,000)

Advanced degrees bumped earnings – these figures are for those with Bachelor degrees only.

Read the full version of the study and its findings here.

So, what does all this research mean to you? Should you major in petroleum engineering even if your heart is leading you to psychology?

No! I believe your choice of major should be just as much about your passion and interest as it ever was.

But you do have to ask yourself: Is a $100,000 student loan really prudent if you’re planning to major in counseling? And you know that, statistically, you will only earn $29K a year?

Beyond the question of student loans, this study may also help high school students make more informed decisions about what universities to attend.

Perhaps the best news in the study was that there are some fields with virtually no unemployment. So, if you are wondering what to major in and put a premium on job stability, you might want to consider:

  • Geological and Geophysical Engineering
  • Military Technologies
  • Pharmacology
  • School Student Counseling

Oppositely, the majors with the highest unemployment rates might help steer you away from:

  • Social Psychology (16 percent)
  • Nuclear Engineering (11 percent) – I found this one especially surprising!
  • Educational Administration and Supervision (11 percent)

Would salary or job stability affect your choice of major? Would it make a difference  in your choice of school? What about how much student loan debt you would be willing to take on?

How do you think this study can help you make good choices for college and your choice of major?

Weigh in with comments!

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