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New Report Analyzes Worth of Undergrad Majors

Tony Carnevale

Tony Carnevale, research professor and director of the Center on Education and the Workforce, says the new “What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors” report "answers key questions that students may ask themselves about choosing a major."

May 24, 2011 – A new report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) finds significant earning differences by race and sex for bachelor’s degree holders with the same major. 

“What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors” analyzes earnings data on 171 different majors. 

The report showed, for example, that women working full time who majored in medical assisting services earn $45,000 less than men with the same major.

Whites with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering make $92,000, compared with $75,000 for Hispanics, $60,000 for African Americans and $66,000 for Asians, the report states.

First of a Kind

Other studies have shown that college graduates, on average, make 84 percent more over a lifetime than their high school counterparts. But the CEW report is the first to examine the worth of specific bachelor’s degree majors in terms of post-graduate earnings.

“This report is important because we now know definitively what different majors earn in the job market,” said Anthony Carnevale, research professor and director of CEW, a research center at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. “The report answers key questions that students may ask themselves about choosing a major, such as what their salary is likely to be, what kind of jobs they can get and whether they should go to graduate school.”  

What They’re Worth

The report demonstrates how critical the choice of an undergraduate major is to a student’s potential earnings, Carnevale says. 

At the low end, median earnings for school counseling majors are $29,000, while petroleum engineering majors see median earnings of $120,000.

Also analyzed is the likelihood that someone with a specific major will obtain a graduate degree and the subsequent earnings that confers.

Other major findings include: 

  • The highest-paying major group is engineering, with median earnings of $75,000.
  • The lowest paying major group is psychology and social work, with median earnings of $42,000.
  • Science majors are the most likely to go on to graduate school (52 percent), followed by education majors (44 percent).
  • There are some fields with virtually no unemployment such as geological and geophysical engineering, military technologies, pharmacology, and school student counseling.  Majors such as social psychology, nuclear engineering, and educational administration and supervision have the highest unemployment rates.
  • The largest earnings differences between women and men are in social science majors ($18,000), while the smallest are in humanities and liberal arts majors ($7,000).

The full report can be downloaded from the CEW website.

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