What’s the Return on Your Investment? The Highest Paying and Lowest Paying Bachelor’s Degrees
Posted By Terri Williams on June 8, 2015 at 11:58 am
The average college graduate earns $33,000 at an entry-level position, according to a 2015 study on the economic value of college majors conducted by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. However, depending on the major, graduates may earn much more – or much less than average.
Over a lifetime, the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree earns over $1 million more than an individual with only a high school diploma. However, over the span of a career, the difference in wages between a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering and a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education is $3.4 million.
The Georgetown study provides broad and detailed rankings of majors by super groups, major groups, and sub groups, which we’ll delve into below.
The first table lists the 7 major super groups and ranks them according to wages for recent college graduates:
|Ranking||Major Super Group||Median Annual Wages of College-Educated Workers Ages 21-24|
|5||Teaching and serving||$30,000|
|7||Arts, liberal arts, and humanities||$29,000|
Wages for college graduates increase over their lifetime, but so do the differences in wages among majors for workers ages 25-59. Median annual wages for STEM workers increase significantly from early to mid-career, to the tune of $33,000. Also notice the change in ranking for super groups 5 through 7. Graduates in the teaching and serving professions drop from 5th to 7th place, only experiencing a $16,000 wage increase from early to mid-career.
|Ranking||Major Super Group||Median Annual Wages of College-Educated Workers Ages 25-59|
|6||Arts, liberal arts, and humanities||$51,000|
|7||Teaching and serving||$46,000|
Breaking down the 7 major super groups into 15 major groups provides a more detailed understanding of the value of college majors. Business and health majors are the only two non-STEM groups above the $33,000 average wage for recent college graduates.
|Ranking||Major Group||Median Annual Wages of College-Educated Workers Ages 21-24|
|1||Architecture and engineering||$50,000|
|2||Computers, statistics, and mathematics||$43,000|
|8||Law and public policy||$31,000|
|9||Communications and journalism||$31,000|
|10||Humanities and liberal arts||$30,000|
|11||Agriculture and natural resources||$30,000|
|12||Biology and life sciences||$29,000|
|13||Psychology and social work||$28,000|
|15||Industrial arts, consumer services, and recreation||$27,000|
Lifetime wages for architecture and engineering majors increase by $33,000. Many major groups change in ranking; most notably, education drops from 7th to 15th place, only increasing in wages by $12,000 over a career lifetime.
|Ranking||Major Group||Median Annual Wages of College-Educated Workers Ages 25-59|
|1||Architecture and engineering||$83,000|
|2||Computers, statistics, and mathematics||$76,000|
|7||Agriculture and natural resources||$56,000|
|8||Biology and life sciences||$56,000|
|9||Communications and journalism||$54,000|
|10||Law and public policy||$54,000|
|11||Humanities and liberal arts||$52,000|
|12||Industrial arts, consumer services, and recreation||$52,000|
|14||Psychology and social work||$47,000|
Ranking the majors by subgroups reveals that engineering holds 11 out of the top 15 spots for wages:
|Ranking||Highest-Paying Degrees by Major Subgroup||Median Annual Wages of College-Educated Workers Ages 25-59|
|2||Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and administration||$113,000|
|4||Mining and mineral engineering||$97,000|
|10||Geological and geophysical engineering||$87,000|
|14||Industrial and manufacturing engineering||$81,000|
On the flip side, the lowest-earning majors are primarily in arts, education, consumer services, psychology, and social work.
|Ranking||Lowest-Paying Degrees by Major Subgroup||Median Annual Wages of College-Educated Workers Ages 25-59|
|1||Early childhood education||$39,000|
|2||Human services and community organization||$41,000|
|5||Teacher education: multiple levels||$42,000|
|6||Visual and performing arts||$42,000|
|7||Theology and religious vocations||$43,000|
|9||Drama and theatre arts||$45,000|
|10||Family and consumer sciences||$45,000|
|11||Language and drama education||$45,000|
|12||Special needs education||$45,000|
|15||Art and music education||$46,000|
These are only average wages for graduates with a bachelor’s degree. However, salaries may vary depending on whether graduates work in the private, for-profit, or non-profit sectors. They may also vary depending on the industry in which they work. For example, the Center notes that an engineering major working as a schoolteacher will earn significantly less than other engineers, and an education major that works in business will earn more than other educators.