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The ‘right’ college major can mean big bucks, according to Census data


College students who earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering earn about $1.6 million more than education majors over the course of their career, according to new data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

There’s nothing revelatory in the notion that engineers generally make more than teachers, or that business majors earn more than performing artists, but here’s some data from two newly released reports (here’s one and here’s the other) taken from the results of the 2011 American Community Survey.

Fields of study that have higher work-life earnings than the average for all people with bachelor’s degree include engineering, computers and math, science and engineering-related majors, business, physical sciences and social science. Furthermore, people more likely to be employed full-time and year-round are those who majored in a science and engineering field or business.

The lowest earning majors for those who had a bachelor’s degree included visual and performing arts, communications, education and psychology, with median annual earnings of $55,000 or less.

Engineering majors earned more than people in any other bachelor’s degree field of study, with median earnings at $92,000 per year in 2011, according to one of the reports. What’s more,  engineering majors in management earn $4.1 million during their work-life, compared to the estimated $1.3 million that arts majors and education majors who were service workers make over the course of their career.

— Different majors provide different earnings even within the same occupation. Of full-time, year-round workers in sales occupations, bachelor’s degree holders with a major in engineering have median work-life earnings of $3.3 million, while those of arts majors are $1.9 million.
— Different occupations provided different earnings even with the same major field of study. Among people whose highest degree is a bachelor’s, liberal arts majors working in computer- and mathematics-related occupations have median work-life earnings of $2.9 million, while liberal arts majors working in office support occupations have earnings of $1.6 million.
— People whose bachelor’s degree was in engineering were the most likely to be working in the private sector in 2011. Education majors were most likely to be working for government (which includes public schools).
— Among workers who finished their schooling with a bachelor’s degree – no matter what they majored in – those working for wage or salary had higher median earnings than those who were employed by themselves or in their own business. However, workers with master’s, professional or doctorate degrees had higher median earnings with self-employment if their bachelor’s degrees were in certain fields. People with a bachelor’s in science and engineering who went on to earn a higher degree had median annual self-employment earnings of about $100,000, while their median annual wage-and-salary earnings were $90,000.

The American Community Survey provides a wide range of statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation and Puerto Rico on 40 topics, which include education, language, occupation and housing costs.



Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · October 10, 2012

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