To all students questioning the value of their college degree, rest assured. It is projected that a college degree will reward a salary double that of a high school graduate. However, the value of a chosen major varies.
Last month, The Hamilton Project, a think-tank, published a comprehensive report outlining the economic rewards of 80 majors titled “Major Decisions: What Graduates Earn Over Their Lifetimes.” The report sought to create innovative policy proposals in an effort to better the economy for more people.
According to the report, quantitative skills learned in physics, engineering, or computer science majors are the most lucrative. Chemical engineering majors have median lifetime earnings of about $2.1 million, with other engineering majors following close behind.
Finance, economic and health-related majors are all above average for all majors, with nearly $1.2 million in a lifetime. At the low end of the spectrum, humanities majors, including education and fine arts, were amongst the lowest earning college graduates with more than $500,000.
The Hamilton Project previously estimated the cost of an undergraduate degree to be $102,000. Included in this number was tuition and fees, room and board and the average salary a 20 or 21 year-old could have made, which annually averages at $15,400.
A calculation of the Queens College undergraduate degree indicated the cost to be significantly lower than average at an estimated $40,520 for four years. QC, which was rated second in “America’s Best-Bang-for-the-Buck Colleges” by Washington Monthly, is surely an example of paying less for a college degree.
Many students opt to major in the humanities, even though such majors are on the bottom of median lifetime earnings. A general liberal arts graduate will make only half of an engineers’ salary.
Junior, Mimi Nissan loves her two majors, political science and English, choosing them because of her passion as well as their flexibility. However, she realizes that there is a large pay gap between the majors.
“If I go into law, that’s profitable, but if I become a teacher, then no,” Nissan said.
Similarly, Alina Levine, a math major recognizes the wide variety of potential careers. She is trying to decide between biostatistics, which has a low median salary, or becoming an actuary, which pays rather well.
“I do not think majoring in math is an indicator of a salary because there are so many options for jobs and the pay range is so large,” Levine said.
QC sophomore, Marilyn Moy said “I didn’t really know what I wanted” but chose a major by “exploring different types of classes.” She chose psychology; the most popular major at QC, because she found it interesting. Moy is not worried that a psychology major is on the bottom tier of projected incomes as she intends to earn a graduate degree perhaps in an unrelated field.
Talya Adler was also drawn to the psychology major because it was interesting. But, she later switched to graphic design with a minor in business because she was thinking about her future salary and thought this was a better option. Still, Adler is glad to be pursuing a major that she said “interests [her] and will make money.”
“This way hopefully I have options [and] they are all applicable to potential career paths,” Adler said.
It is admittedly difficult for students to choose majors based on uncertain career plans, and many will switch majors at least once throughout college. However, as the report noted, it is the value of education itself that provides opportunity for graduates.
“The good news is that no matter what their major, [graduates] are likely to earn more over their careers than those with less education,” the report said.