the value of your college major

The American Community Survey has great data on college major, employment, and income. A research group at Georgetown has analyzed this data to show correlations between college major and income. Let’s get straight to it:

  • Math and computer science (as a group) tops it off at $98k.
  • Studio art, some esoteric types of engineering, and some kinds of youth counseling have the lowest incomes and high unemployment.
  • Among the social sciences, econ is on top ($70k) while soc is at the bottom ($45k).

The report by Jeffrey Carneval, Joeff Strohl, and Michelle Melton,  is here (it’s 182 pages – so a slow download). Some correlations are real supply and demand. Nuclear engineering, which has very high unemployment, reflects a shrinking industry. Art is well… art. There’s selection effects as well. Having taken a math major myself, I can attest that topology isn’t useful in the labor market, but it probably acts as strong signal. There are also personality selection effects. Most sociology majors could earn more money, but they insist on service oriented jobs, like teaching and social work, that suprress their wages.


Written by fabiorojas

May 25, 2011 at 12:48 am

Posted in economics, education, fabio

8 Responses

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  1. I didn’t get a chance to look in detail, yet. Were there any controls in their study for any kind of student quality/aptitude? I’m guessing not. Looking at possible selection effects about who chooses particular majors (and why) could make the picture a lot more complicated.



    May 25, 2011 at 1:02 am

  2. KMD: The report is mostly descriptive stats on major, employment & income.



    May 25, 2011 at 2:11 am

  3. It would be interesting to see from that dataset if earning a graduate degree (other than a PhD) increases insertion in the labour market and income for people with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. I followed this path and so far I’m satisfied with my career choice. I don’t remember ever seeing a study on it, though.



    May 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  4. […] Maybe we should have rules barring financial aid for degrees that have horrible job prospects (see here). My goal isn’t to discourage able and committed people from college. Instead, I would like […]


  5. The Student Loan Corporation had a recent infographic on the ROI of particular majors. At the end of the day, it’s the major that will determine the career, although the school you go to has a lot to do with the type of job you have as well. Take a look at the SLC infographic here:


    Nuno Andrade

    June 30, 2011 at 8:35 pm

  6. […] is one of those cheesy magazine articles on careers, but it is consistent with prior research on college majors and income. Sociology is a feeder into service professions. That’s a good thing, though I do wonder how […]


  7. Really, it’s not about the major. It’s about what you got from your major, and here is the thing: Statistics.



    March 29, 2013 at 2:31 am

  8. Well, it is true that nowadays it’s hard for nuclear engineering students to find jobs, but people disregard the fact that the abilities (or whatever capital you call it) they have can easily help them make the transition, say to become a data analyst or computer/IT professional without having to obtain a degree in those areas. But it would be much more difficult for art or humanity students, who in general turn to those areas because of some academic deficiencies. By the way, I am not a math-snob, just stating a fact.



    March 29, 2013 at 2:46 am

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