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College Majors: Do They Really Matter?

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In 2009 President Obama set the goal that the United States should have more college graduates than any other nation in the world by 2020. With that in mind, any type of college degree seems like a big achievement, but some are worth more than others.

Most of us accept the fact that certain careers come with higher salaries, but your choice of college major might play a bigger role in your future opportunities than you realize.

While it might seem rude and probably offend the hordes of people out there who majored in the humanities, a 2011 Washington Post column retells an old academic joke that pokes fun at the limited job opportunities associated with majoring in the arts:

  • The scientist asks, “Why does it work?”
  • The engineer asks, “How does it work?”
  • The English major asks, “Would you like fries with that?”

Job or No Job? What’s Your Major?

In another Washington Post column, the author describes a “game” she likes to play when meeting college students for the first time: after asking the young adult their major, she factors in a few other details like whether or not the student has done any internships to mentally decide whether or not a job is on the horizon. This process might also seem a little rude, but it’s not really all that farfetched since research shows that not all degrees are created equal.

With statistics showing that roughly nine percent of recent college graduates with bachelor’s degrees are unemployed, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce reports that choice of major determines unemployment and employed college graduates’ salaries also depend on field of study.

Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal, released this past January, attempts to answer the question of whether or not college is still worth it. Detailed findings show that college graduates’ salaries depend heavily on their college major: median earnings among new grads range from $55,000 (Engineering majors) to $30,000 (Arts, Psychology and Social Work majors.)

Graduate Degrees Raise Earning Potential

Despite the vast pay difference among bachelor’s degree recipients, earning potential tends to raise fairly evenly among those with graduate degrees. With the exceptions of Arts and Education, employees with graduate degrees typically earn between $60,000 and $100,000 annually.

So is college worth it? Will you get a better a job and make more money than a high school graduate? Probably, but we’re all unique individuals. What does that mean? Your personality, desire to succeed, and experiences outside the classroom will all play a role when it comes time to job hunt—employers care about things besides your grades.

The college years are supposed to be one of the best experiences of your life, but they can wind up being pretty darn expensive. So if you’ve got your heart set on a particular field of study, do yourself a favor and research salary potential and current unemployment rates before declaring your major. You might save yourself a lot of money as well as plenty of heartache and regrets down the road.

Related Posts:

Best College Degrees 2012

Wondering How to Choose Your Major? Check the Unemployment Rates


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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