As if choosing a college major isn’t difficult enough for many students, new research from Georgetown University puts a price tag on what it might be worth to you down the line.
The findings from the study, “What’s it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors,” aren’t terribly surprising. In a nutshell, they suggest that college students majoring in subjects like social work, performing arts and theology can expect to make less money than peers majoring in engineering, computer science or business. It also indicates that grads in humanities, arts, education and psychology not only won’t earn as much right out of college, they’ll earn less over the course of their lives.
The Georgetown researchers based their findings on previously unreported census data linking college majors to career earnings. It notes that while earlier studies looked at salaries immediately after graduation, the new report is the first to cover earnings throughout a person’s working life.
The study’s author, Anthony Carnevale, told The Washington Post that although his research “slights Shakespeare” (despite his intent not to), he felt students have a right to know what kind of career awaits them. The job market, he asserted, is what determines what’s valuable. “The engineering major makes more money because he or she is more productive. In the end, the market is very discriminating.”
“This study does not ‘slight’ Shakespeare, who himself never set out to raise the expected earnings of 21st century teenagers,” The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson writes. “Many of the students who love Shakespeare – or Hart Crane, or Latin American anthropology – study those subjects to enrich, not to get rich. College is an investment. But it's also an experience that can't be charted by The Washington Post graphics department.” What makes this research important is not that it invalidates some courses of study, but that it provides much-needed data. In fact, he proposes, the government should require universities to furnish students with fact sheets about what they can actually expect from various majors.
But before you start pushing your Shakespeare-loving teen into engineering, keep in mind that the study is based on undergraduate majors – not the graduate degrees that ultimately bump up many humanities majors’ salaries. The study notes that about 40 percent of Liberal Arts and Humanities majors obtain graduate degrees. About 44 percent of education majors earn graduate degrees, raising their incomes by around 33 percent. Importantly, notes Time’s Brad Tuttle, “English majors who went on to be lawyers, for instance, and Sociology majors who later earned MBAs are not represented in those main figures.”
Still, armed with this latest research, would you as a parent try and influence your child’s choice of major? Is it more responsible to try and boost your child’s earning power based on a study of undergrad degrees, or let them take their own path?