Most and Least Lucrative College Majors

National Public Radio's program "Planet Money" recently reported the findings of a study by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.  The study, "What's It Worth?  The Economic Value of College Majors," examines the consequences of choosing one academic major over another.  It is a well-established fact that college-degree holders earn substantially more money than people with no more than a high-school diploma: 84% more earnings over a lifetime.  But are all Bachelor's degrees the same?

The answer is a resounding no, according to the Georgetown University researchers.  While any degree is better than no degree, they found that "returns to majors run a wide gamut.  At the extreme, the highest-earning major earns 314 percent more at the median than the lowest-earning major at the median. [...] In some ways, then, a student’s choice of undergraduate college major can be almost as important as deciding whether to get a Bachelor’s degree at all."

But by excluding people with graduate degrees from the analyses, these results may be missing some important details.  Some fields at the bottom of the list for those with only college degrees, like counseling psychology or health and medical preparatory programs, move up to the top of the list when all grads are included: these are majors designed to lead to M.D.s or other graduate degrees, which increases the returns to majors.  But this is not the case in every field, especially where those who go to grad school are more likely to work in academia, where wages are often lower than those in the private sector and more education does not necessarily translate into higher earnings.  As NPR points out, median earnings for petroleum engineers are unchanged when you include those who went to grad school, for example.

Read more: resources:
The Value of College (
Gender in STEM Education: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Education in America (
Education and Earnings: Does Education Pay? (

Frederique Laubepin

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