Georgetown report lists highest-paid and lowest-paid college majors


The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce recently released a report entitled "What's it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors," [PDF file] which examines the difference in earning potential between 171 college majors in 15 categories.

While the report authors say all undergraduate majors are worth the investment--the average full-time, full-year worker with a bachelor's degree can expect to earn 84 percent more over a lifetime than a colleague with only a high school diploma--the benefits vary significantly for different majors. (See a Schools.com infographic of the study results here.)

"The bottom line is that getting a degree matters, but what you take matters more," Anthony P. Carnevale, Director of the Center on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement.

The 10 majors with the highest median earnings are:

  • petroleum engineering ($120,000)
  • pharmacy/pharmaceutical sciences and administration ($105,000)
  • mathematics and computer sciences ($98,000)
  • aerospace engineering ($87,000)
  • chemical engineering ($86,000)
  • electrical engineering ($85,000)
  • naval architecture and marine engineering ($82,000)
  • mechanical engineering ($80,000)
  • metallurgical engineering ($80,000)
  • and mining and mineral engineering ($80,000)

The 10 majors with the lowest median earnings are:

  • counseling/psychology ($29,000)
  • early childhood education ($36,000)
  • theology and religious vocations ($38,000)
  • human services and community organization ($38,000)
  • social work ($39,000)
  • drama and theatre arts ($40,000)
  • studio arts ($40,000)
  • communication disorders sciences and services ($40,000)
  • visual and performing arts ($40,000)
  • health and medical preparatory programs ($40,000)

The report also examines the impact of race/ethnicity and gender. In electrical engineering, for example, African-Americans earn $22,000 less than Caucasians and $12,000 less than Asians with the same major--and in chemical engineering, women earn $20,000 less on average than equally educated men.

In general, the report finds that graduate degrees do lead to higher earnings. The most significant earnings boosts from advanced degrees can be found among those with undergraduate majors in health and medical preparatory programs (190 percent), miscellaneous social sciences (134 percent), and zoology (123 percent). The lowest earnings boosts from graduate degrees are for undergraduate majors in atmospheric sciences and meteorology (1 percent), studio arts (3 percent), and petroleum engineering (7 percent).

Despite the current state of the economy, the following fields offer virtually no unemployment: geological and geophysical engineering, military technologies, pharmacology, and school student counseling.

The majors with the highest unemployment rates are as follows: social psychology (16 percent); nuclear engineering (11 percent); educational administration and supervision (11 percent); and biomedical engineering (11 percent).

The report is based on data from the Census Bureau's 2009 American Community Survey.

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