Published May 24, 2011
A new study by Georgetown University advises college-bound students to be choosey when selecting a major, as some can yield earnings that are 300% higher than others.
“The bottom line is that getting a degree matters, but what you take matters more,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which conducted the study using U.S. Census data.
The top five Bachelor Degree majors by median earnings are petroleum engineers with an average salary of $120,000, pharmacy and pharmaceutical science and administration with earnings of $105,000, math and computer sciences at $98,000, aerospace engineering at $87,000, and chemical engineering at $86,000.
Rounding out the top 10 are electrical engineering, naval architecture and marine engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgical engineering and mining and mineral engineering.
Some of the biggest public companies that could dole out some hefty salaries to engineering majors are Lockheed Martin (LMT), Northrop Grumman (NOC), Jacobs Engineering (JEC), Fluor (FLR), Stantec (STN), Willdan (WLDN), URS (URS) and The Shaw Group (SHAW).
The lowest median earnings are counseling and psychology at $29,000, early childhood education at $36,000, theology and religious vocations at $38,000, human services and community organizations at $38,000, and social work at $39,000.
Following closely with average salaries of $40,000 are majors that study drama and theater arts, studio arts, communication disorders, visual and performing arts, and health and medical preparatory programs.
Liberal arts and humanities majors continue to be a popular choice among college students and yield average salaries of about $47,000, though 40% of those students will ultimately obtain a graduate degree, which could bump their earnings up 50%, according to the study.
Unfortunately, race and gender earnings gaps continue to exist in almost all fields.
Even in the highest paid major, electrical engineering, African-Americans still earn $22,000 less than Whites and 12,000 less than Asians, while women earn about $20,000 less than equally educated men.
But in today’s economy, it’s not just about salaries.
There are some fields with virtually no unemployment, including geological and geophysical engineering, military technologies, pharmacology and school student counseling, while others have sharply higher unemployment rates such as social psychology, nuclear engineering and education administration and supervision.
Also, graduate-level degrees do not necessarily lead to higher earnings.
The highest bump in earnings, according to the study, comes from graduate degrees in the health and medical fields, which can boost a salary 190%, as well as miscellaneous social sciences and zoology, which can add 134% and 123%, respectively, to earnings potential.
Studying atmospheric sciences and meteorology, studio arts and petroleum engineering in graduate school, however, will do little to boost salaries.