In my previous blog, I cited a research study that found many college students expressing the view that they would be achieving greater success if they had chosen a different college major. I have found much reason to agree with them. The research that I did for the third edition of the College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs: The Actual Jobs, Earnings, and Trends for Graduates of 50 College Majors showed me that graduates of certain majors achieve much higher rates of pay, employment, and satisfaction than graduates of other majors.
If you want to see the variations among individual majors, you’ll need to examine the book, because I can’t cover all 58 majors in a blog. (Yes, despite the subtitle, the book actually covers 58 majors.) However, I can summarize some of my findings here by dividing the majors into the 7 divisions that are used to organize the book: Behavioral and Medical Sciences; Business and Administration; Education; Engineering; Humanities and Social Sciences; Natural Sciences; and Technology.
Using data from the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, I compared these 7 divisions in terms of the earnings of graduates (those whose highest degree is the bachelor’s). Specifically, the figures are the weighted means of the medians for each major within the divisions. (This approach gives extra weight to majors that have a large number of grads.) The dollar figures have been inflated from the year of the survey to 2010. As you can see, earnings vary considerably among the 7 divisions:
Here's another comparison, this time based on the job-growth projections of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the occupations employing the graduates. For the graduates of each major, I inflated (or, in some cases, deflated) the number working in each occupation by the job-growth (or -shrinkage) figure that BLS projects for that occupation for the years 2010–2020. Then I collapsed the number of actual workers and the number of projected workers for each division and created a graph comparing the rates of projected growth:
Lastly, here’s a comparison of the level of job satisfaction expressed by grads of the 7 divisions. Again, I used weighted averages:
It’s interesting to note that the highest-earning divisions are not the fastest-growing divisions, and vice versa. Nor does job satisfaction correlate perfectly with either of these measures. However, it’s not necessary to choose between income, job opportunity, and job satisfaction when you choose a major: It is possible to find individual college majors that combine all of these payoffs. To identify them, read the book.