We’ve been working this online college series for a long time, focusing exclusively on what it takes to go to college affordably. Today I want to switch gears and talk about what you should be doing once you get there, with a review of the best and worst majors for income and employment. There are a lot of qualitative reasons to choose a major – aptitude, interest, etc… In a perfect world we could choose any major we like, study interesting subjects, learn philosophy, art, math and science and then head on to the real world to pursue our dreams.
In the real world it’s not so simple. We have to consider our opportunities post college. For example, petroleum engineering undergrads earn a median $4.8M over their lifetime ($136k a year) which is three times the $1.4M (or $39k a year) for an early-childhood education graduate. These are real practical considerations that you need to consider that will have significant long-term impact on your lifestyle, financial position, and social strata.
Unemployment is already much lower for college graduates that those without a degree. For recent high school graduates the unemployment rate peaked at 18.9% and is still incredibly high at 17.8%. Recent college grads have fared much better. According new a new study by Georgetown, unemployment for college grads fell from 7.9% in 2009-2010 to 7.5% in 2011-2012. The report also states that unemployment among experienced workers with a high school diploma aged 35 to 54 peaked at 10.7% and has since declined only slightly to 9.9%.
10 Majors with the Highest Unemployment Rate
As you can see below there’s a clear trend. The liberal arts dominate the unemployed with psychology picking up four spots! The field of psychology dominates here, with extraordinarily high unemployment rates. Most of the rest seem largely geared toward education.
Clinical Psychology – 19.5% unemployment
Miscellaneous Fine Arts – 16.2% unemployment
United States History – 15.1% unemployment
Library Science – 15.0% unemployment
Educational Psychology – 10.9% unemployment
Military Technologies – 10.9% unemployment
Architecture – 10.6% unemployment
Industrial and Organizational Psychology – 10.4% unemployment
Miscellaneous Psychology – 10.3% unemployment
Linguistics and Comparative Language and Literature – 10.2% unemployment
10 Majors With the Highest Employment Rate
The majors below are quite in demand. There’s a lot of STEM in there plus a bit of education. Surprisingly there are less engineering majors in there than I would have thought and nothing for business majors. It’s quite varied.
Actuarial Science – 0.0% unemployment
Pharmacology – 0.0% unemployment
Educational Administration and Supervision – 0.0% unemployment
School Student Counseling – 0.0% unemployment
Geological and Geophysical Engineering – 0.0% unemployment
Astronomy and Astrophysics – 0.0% unemployment
Teacher Education: Multiple Levels – 1.1% unemployment
Agricultural Economics – 1.3% unemployment
Medical Technologies Technicians – 1.4% unemployment
Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology – 1.6% unemployment
Looked at in terms of dollars and cents, earnings among recent bachelor’s degree holders aged 22 to 26 range from $31,000 for Arts and Psychology and Social Work majors to $57,000 among those who majored in Engineering.
College grads in general do better than high school only by a good margin. They average college graduate earns $1.2M in a lifetime while a high school graduate only hits $580k. That’s a 200 percent increase! However we do need to keep in mind that causation does not equal correlation. It’s quite possible that because college is for the more prestigious route and requires a higher standard, you are getting a better caliber of talent and ambition. The difference in earnings also varies widely by major and university.
Average annual income of the 10 highest-paying majors
Clear trend here. Go to school for engineering. It’s that simple. Your career prospects are incredibly high, as is your starting and median salary. What’s not mentioned here is you will also work for some of the last companies in the U.S. that have incredibly generous benefits (bonus, 401k, matches, pensions, stock, etc…).
Petroleum engineering: $136,000
Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration: $113,000
Metallurgical engineering: $98,000
Mining and mineral engineering: $97,000
Chemical engineering: $96,000
Electrical engineering: $93,000
Aerospace engineering: $90,000
Mechanical engineering: $87,000
Computer engineering: $87,000
Geological and geophysical engineering: $87,000
Average annual income of the 10 lowest-paying majors
What doesn’t do well? Exactly what you would picture. Liberal arts, education, and other degrees without clear career paths.
Early childhood education: $39,000
Human services and community organization: $41,000
Studio arts: $42,000
Social work: $42,000
Teacher education, multiple levels: $42,000
Visual and performing arts: $42,000
Theology and religious vocations: $43,000
Elementary education: $43,000
Drama and theater arts: $ 45,000
Family and consumer sciences: $45,000
Hope to keep discussing majors. Obviously science and engineering isn’t for everybody and you can take anything out there and build an amazing career. Here I wanted to just explore some basic numbers because I don’t think that most college freshman consider these issues when they start exploring majors, particularly when debt and student loans are involved.