Thursday, August 12, 2010

Choose Your Major

As a service to all incoming college freshmen, who I know are just big fans of the blog, I decided to take a look at the best and worst paying college majors. Ok, Yahoo looked into it and I’m just copying it to my blog. Anyway, it is fascinating to see what you should major in if you want to make a good living upon graduation or, alternately, have a lot of fun in college and live in your parents’ basement until you are 27.

Here are the worst paying majors (with average starting salary):
1) Child and Family Studies: $29.5K
2) Elementary Education: $31.6K
3) Social Work: $31.8K
4) Athletic Training: $32.8K
5) Culinary Arts: $35.9K
6) Horticulture: $35K
7) Paralegal Studies/Law: $35.1K
8) Theology: $34.7K
9) Recreation and Leisure: $33.3K
10) Special Education: $36K

First off I have never even been aware of horticulture as a major. Isn’t that a fancy term for flower arranging? Is this the major for basket weavers? Also, I am assuming that the paralegal studies refers to paralegals and not people who actual go on to become lawyers as that should be much higher paying. Beyond those you can really classify these into three main categories: 1) working with children (child studies, elementary education and special education), 2) noble causes (social work, theology) and 3) guys who will be working at 24 hour fitness (athletic training, recreation and leisure).

Now it doesn’t surprise me that these are low paying careers. The working with children ones should probably be paid more due to the importance but suffer from the fact that a lot of people like kids so there is demand for these jobs. (Also, these jobs have historically been low paying or one of the few options for women to work so there is a lot of unneeded historical pressure on low salaries.) The noble causes pay little because theoretically you are not doing those jobs for financial benefit. That and being a good person really doesn’t pay well in the whole scheme of things. Finally, hanging out in a gym explaining how to properly perform a lunge while showing off your six pack abs isn’t a career worth pursuing no matter what those kids on the Jersey Shore say.

Here are the best paying majors:
1) Petroleum Engineering: $93K
2) Aerospace Engineering: $59.4K
3) Chemical Engineering: $64.8K
4) Electrical Engineering: $60.8K
5) Nuclear Engineering: $63.9K
6) Applied Mathematics: $56.4K
7) Biomedical Engineering: $54.8K
8) Physics: $50.7K
9) Computer Engineering: $61.2K
10) Economics: $48.8K

As a point of reference when I graduated with my electrical engineering degree in 1995 my starting salary was $36K, which basically put me at the median of my class at Illinois. That will also tell you what the inflation rate has been over the past fifteen years.

So what does this list teach us? Learn math if you want to make money. Seven engineering majors, one math, one physics and one business. At Illinois, eight of these majors would be housed on the Engineering campus with the ninth being directly across the street. Based on my knowledge of these majors I can’t even quibble about the pay though I have to explain a few things.

First off, there are very few petroleum engineers and they make good money because you typically end up living in oil fields or on deep sea rigs. I’ve never met one in my life. Aerospace pays if and only if you can actually find jobs, which are historically hard to come by especially now that NASA had their budget cut to basically nil (thank you Mr. Obama for getting rid of our manned space program.) Chem Es were always considered the highest paid while EEs had the toughest major. We EEs took that as a point of pride making us quite possibly the only major that required a masochistic streak in order to be successful. But basically this list just proves what I have always said: if you are good at math and science you can go on to make good money right out of school.

Just remember that none of these majors are easy (well, except for maybe economics.) You tend to have to work your butt off in them. They also might not be as personally rewarding on an intrinsic level as being a teacher or demonstrating a proper squat technique. I have never felt that I have moved closer to a state of grace due to the drawing of a circuit diagram. That is the trade off you make when your goal is a top salary. Your mileage may vary.

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