The report, What It’s Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce uses United States Census data to link undergraduate courses of study with future earnings. The data show quite plainly that some bachelor degrees are worth far more than others, and more surprisingly, that majors are segregated, with women making up the majority of students enrolled in the lower-paying majors while white males select the majors with the highest earning potential.
The degree areas with the highest median earnings were Petroleum Engineers at $120,000, followed by Pharmacy/Pharmaceutical Sciences at $105,000 with Mechanical, Metallurgical and Mining Engineering rounding out the top earners with a median salary of $80,000.
Lowest median earning majors were Counseling/Psychology at $29,000, Early Childhood Education $36,000 (we have heard this before), Theology and Religious and Human Services/Community Organizations both at $38,000 and Social Work with a median salary of $39,000. All of these majors earn less than the median earnings ($47,000) of Liberal Arts and Humanities students.
It comes as no surprise that the majors most often found in social and human services are at the lower end of the earning spectrum. Anecdote after anecdote points to people choosing to work in these and other typically “nonprofit” fields (health care, education, etc) for reasons other than a paycheck. Some leave high-paying, high-powered career tracks for more fulfilling nonprofit work, some are inspired to turn a volunteer gig into a vocation and some (like the author) take the scenic route.
I chose my major, Criminal Justice, because it was an area of study unlike anything I had encountered in high school. It seemed exciting, challenging and it had a tinge of the exotic to a 17-year-old girl from a New England suburban town. In retrospect, perhaps I had read too many detective novels. Six years later (I went directly into graduate school for Criminology – talk about a double-down) I found that I really enjoyed my courses in program planning and evaluation. I could see myself working with agencies to assist them in identifying and measuring their missions and goals. That revelation, combined with the push by funders for higher levels of accountability and outcomes measurement, was what initially led me to the not-for-profit realm.
What led you?
Looking back, perhaps I should have chosen a different major – a business or journalism degree may have been a safer or smarter choice. But chances are that I would have been bored to tears, and the road to where I was meant to be would only have been a longer one.
Did you enter college with a career path in mind or did you simply fall in love with a class and decided to major in it? Looking back, would you have chosen differently?