If your biggest motivation to earn a bachelor’s degree is to pump up your earning power, the data overwhelmingly suggest you major in one field: engineering. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce analyzed Census Bureau data to determine the average wages for 137 college majors and found that students who focused on architecture and engineering come out on top, with a $50,000 starting salary. Within that group, those who studied the skills needed for oil jobs got paid best. People who majored in petroleum engineering made an average of $135,754 a year by their mid to late 20s—more than any other major.
Then there are the jobs people do more for love than cash: Early childhood education majors pulled in the least, making an average of $39,097 a year. While that’s still a significant bump over high school graduates, who typically pull in $22,000 a year, it’s a drastic cut of what STEM and business majors reported making a couple years out of college.
“A college major isn’t destiny,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Center and the report’s lead author. But it does appear to be a more significant factor than some college counselors and brochures might suggest. “For today’s high school graduates, and an increasing share of middle-aged adults who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, the decision about what to major in will have critical economic consequences for the rest of their lives,” Carnevale said.
Architects and engineers made, on average, $50,000 a year in the first three years after graduating—more than any other group of majors. People majoring in industrial arts, consumer services, and recreation—which includes family and consumer sciences, transportation sciences and technologies, and parks recreation and leisure—made the least.