The Highest and Lowest Paying College Majors: What Matters and What Doesn’t

CollegeWhen you go to college, the big discussion is always about your field of study and ideal career field. All majors are not considered equal. There are certain majors that merit higher paying jobs and let’s face it, everyone would love to earn more money.

Last year Entrepreneur.com generated a list of average income of the top 10 highest-paying majors. Their list included the following:

1. Petroleum engineering: $136,000
2. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration: $113,000
3. Metallurgical engineering: $98,000
4. Mining and mineral engineering: $97,000
5. Chemical engineering: $96,000
6. Electrical engineering: $93,000
7. Aerospace engineering: $90,000
8. Mechanical engineering: $87,000
9. Computer engineering: $87,000
10. Geological and geophysical engineering: $87,000

Here are the top 10 lowest paying jobs according to their list:
1. Early childhood education: $39,000
2. Human services and community organization: $41,000
3. Studio arts: $42,000
4. Social work: $42,000
5. Teacher education, multiple levels: $42,000
6. Visual and performing arts: $42,000
7. Theology and religious vocations: $43,000
8. Elementary education: $43,000
9. Drama and theater arts: $ 45,000
10. Family and consumer sciences: $45,000

What I Don’t Like about These Lists

While it’s great that data like this exists to give people a somewhat realistic expectation of the money they can earn in a particular field, it makes it seem as if you have to study a specific subject in order to earn a higher income. Engineering jobs clearly dominate the list of high paying jobs even though there are dozens of other fields that allow you to earn six figures or more. In addition, if you’re not passionate about that field of study, you won’t be motivated to do well and even if you land a job in one of these high-paying fields, you may not be happy in the long run.

Your Major Isn’t Everything

Contrary to popular belief, your major may not hold a lot of weight after you graduate and get into the workforce. For specialized and technical fields, you will probably need a certain level of education, skills and credentials, but for the wide variety of fields available today, your professional experience will start to outweigh your college major and the university you attended the older you get.

For example, if you majored in history 5 years ago, but you have extensive experience as a florist for the past 4 years and wish to land another job in that field, employers are going to look at your experience over what you studied years ago. There are so many people who change career paths after college and that’s OKAY. Even if you stay in the same field, you’re not guaranteed to earn as much as these lists claim you will earn. Law, is a prestigious field of study that leads to the common assumption that all lawyers are rich even though plenty of lawyers earn salaries similar to what social work majors earn.

Listen to your Passion, Weigh your Ability, and Hone in on your Talents

I know that passion doesn’t pay the bills, but it’s important to be happy with the career field you chose and to move on if you aren’t. Taking out student loans and investing your time in college should prompt you to want to earn more money, but still maintain your health and happiness at work.

Your college major is only one of the factors in determining how much you will make. Which is why you should take lists with information about the highest and lowest paying jobs and college majors with a grain of salt. These lists can prove to become helpful if:

  • You would like a general idea of what graduates in your field of study tend to earn after college
  • You are not sure which major you’d like to go with and your projected earnings is a significant factor
  • You’re interested in learning about how those numbers were generated and how it may apply to you particular situation. Different career fields pay more or less depending on where you live so this may be a defining factor.

Aside from your college major, you also need to have skills and talents that are in demand, have a strong work ethic and be compatible with others when it comes to work. According to an article from Inside Higher Ed, employers find issues with recent graduates’ set of skills, not their major. Some employers claim that post college candidates do not possess enough soft skills or professional skills to thrive in the workforce and are hesitant about hiring them.

This is why it’s important to have wide range of capabilities and assets aside from your major when it comes to securing high-paid work in your field. Only then will you be able to showcase your value and earn more over time.

How big of a role do you think college majors play in someone’s ability to establish high-paying work?

Posted in: Career and Work, Education

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