The choice of undergraduate major in college is strongly tied to a student’s future earnings, with the highest-paying majors providing salaries of about 300 percent more than the lowest-paying, according to a study released May 24.
Based on first-of-its-kind Census data, the report by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., also found that majors are highly segregated by race and gender.
College graduates overall make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only high school diplomas, the study said. But further analysis of 171 majors shows that various undergraduate majors can lead to significantly different median wages.
Petroleum engineering majors make about $120,000 a year, compared with $29,000 annually for counseling psychology majors, researchers found. Math and computer science majors earn $98,000 in salary, while early childhood education majors get paid about $36,000.
“It’s important that you go to college and get a [bachelor’s degree], but it’s almost three to four times more important what you take,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “The majors that are most popular are not the ones that make the most money.”
“What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors” analyzes data from the 2009 American Community Survey, whose results were released last year. It’s the first time the Census asked individuals about their undergraduate majors, enabling researchers to tie in salary data, Carnevale said.
The study found that white men are concentrated in the highest-earning majors, including engineering and pharmaceutical sciences, while women gravitate toward the lowest-earning majors like education, art, and social work.
The report also categorized the 171 majors into 15 fields, discovering different majors led to different industries. About 43 percent of law and public policy majors end up in public administration, but only 13 percent of social science majors do. A higher portion of social science majors end up in finance, researchers found.