A Major Decision

Registration and advising appointments for second semester are on the docket here at Puget Sound. In fact, I just signed up for one myself. I expect to discuss what classes I want to take next semester and how they fit into my overall academic plan. We will probably touch on my intended major and make sure I’m still on track to achieve it. In discussing my academic plan, I expect to be asked about how well I am doing in my classes and how much I enjoy them. This is how the discussion went in September. And also, judging from the many discussions I have had about intended major (a great icebreaker and silence-filler), those criteria—passions and strengths—seem to be how most students pick their path. A few worry about how hard it will be to get a job in their intended field, but even fewer mention how much they might earn. I do not anticipate money being mentioned at all, even in passing. But, it seems, selection of college majors can have profound financial impacts. NPR’s Planet Money ran a story last month about the link between median yearly earnings and college major choice, which they updated recently on their blog. Below are their findings. The first graphic shows the median income of all graduates of a particular major. The second shows the median income of graduates who do not pursue further degrees (they only receive a bachelor degree).


source: http://www.npr.org/news/graphics/2013/10/pm-top_lowest-624.gif


source: http://npr.org/news/graphics/2013/08/majors-earnings.jpg

Of course, there’s a lot of interesting analysis to be done comparing the earning potentials individual majors and broader disciplines against one another. One trend that sticks out particularly clearly is the prevalence of engineering degrees near the top of the list. However, what really grabs my interest is how major of an impact on future earnings major choice can have. On both of these charts, Petroleum engineering has a 300 percent earnings advantage over early childhood education. According to Anthony Carnevale, a  research professor at Georgetown University, even which university you attend influences future income less than the major you choose. I am most surprised, however, that by many students leave these money matters so unexplored. They had not occurred to me, an economics-interested student, when I first began contemplating my coursework. Certainly, passion and ability are essential considerations. And I’m sure most everyone at a liberal arts college like Puget Sound would agree that higher education achieves important ends beyond increasing earning potential. But personally, I plan to at least consider money matters during my appointment.

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