According to a new report, a college degree is well worth it in terms of lifetime earnings. But, the study’s authors noted, not all degrees are worth the same amount: A student’s chosen major has critical, far-reaching consequences.
“The core finding here is that going to college and getting a degree is important, but what you major in can be three or four times more important.” said Anthony P. Carnevale, who co-authored the study and directs Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “The difference in earnings is more than 300 percent.”
Utilizing previously unreported data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, the study authors sampled 3 million college graduates between 25 and 64 who had reported their undergraduate major and subsequent salary to arrive at their findings.
“There’s this tendency in this country to say, ‘I’m going to college. I made it,’” said Carnevale. “Well, yes, you’ve made it to a point. But the most important decision to come is what to major in.”
Titled “What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors,” the study indicates that the earnings disparity between different college majors is substantial. In terms of yearly earnings, petroleum engineers reported making $120,000, while college counselors and psychologists earned an average of $29,000. Over the course of a lifetime, this translated into petroleum engineers making $5 million, while counselors and psychologists earned approximately $2 million.
Of the 171 majors included in the report, engineering, computer science and business reported the highest salaries. Lower earnings were reported in fields such as education, social work and counseling — though they all made about 75 to 85 percent more than individuals with only a high school degree.