Headed back to school, and uncertain what to major in? It might help to check out a hefty new paperback tome, College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs. The 546-page book is packed with detailed career information on 58 majors, including the kinds of jobs each major is likely to lead to; how closely related grads’ work usually is to the subjects they studied; how much (or little) degree holders in each field report enjoying what they do; and how much they earn.
The four co-authors — led by Drexel University research professor Neeta P. Fogg and by Paul Harrington, director of Drexel’s Center for Labor Markets and Policy — mined the data from mountains of Census Bureau statistics, U.S. Department of Labor studies, and a 2011 National Science Foundation survey of 170, 000 college grads.
Median pay for a recent college graduate with a full-time job in 2010, the researchers found, stood at $53, 976. But these 15 majors commanded substantially more:
1. Pre-med $100, 000
2. Computer systems engineering $85, 000
3. Pharmacy $84, 000
4. Chemical engineering $80, 000
5. Electrical and electronics engineering $75, 000
6. Mechanical engineering $75, 000
7. Aerospace and aeronautical engineering $74, 000
8. Computer science $73, 000
9. Industrial engineering $73, 000
10. Physics and astronomy $72, 200
11. Civil engineering $70, 000
12. Electrical and electronics engineering technology $65, 000
13. Economics $63, 300
14. Financial management $63, 000
15. Mechanical engineering technology $63, 000
Clearly, engineers are hot properties, but even the five non-engineering majors on the list require a strong mathematical bent. What if you’re not inclined toward math and science? Luckily for liberal arts mavens, College Majors Handbook notes, “Salary is not the only form of payoff from a college education.”
Consider: Despite relatively modest median pay of $44, 000, well below the roughly $54, 000 average for all 58 fields of study, English majors report job satisfaction that is on a par with that of people who make far more money. Likewise, recent grads who majored in history, although they earn $48, 000 on average — and often end up working in unrelated fields like sales and marketing — report higher-than-average satisfaction with their chosen path.
Moreover, even at the lower end of the salary scale, the authors point out, higher education leads to more earning power: “The average employed young person with a bachelor’s degree earned 81% more in 2011 than his or counterpart with a high school diploma. The earnings premium of individuals with college degrees persists over their lifetime.” Given the often jaw-dropping price tag on a sheepskin these days, that’s good to know.

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