he question of whether college is really worth the rising cost (and the inevitable student-loan debt) has been hotly debated in recent months. The answer, according to new research out of Georgetown University, largely depends on whether students choose a lucrative major. The study used census data to compare earnings across 171 college majors, which were then grouped into 15 more general categories. Here, a brief guide to the findings, by the numbers:
Percent increase in lifetime earnings for a college graduate, on average, over the lifetime earnings of a high school graduate. "One flaw in the anti-college argument is that, even if a college degree is just a pricey piece of paper, it's a piece of paper that's worth paying for," says Brad Tuttle at TIME.
Median salary for petroleum engineering majors — the major with the highest median earnings. Other highly profitable majors include pharmacy/pharmaceutical sciences ($105,000), and mathematics and computer sciences ($98,000).
Median salary across all engineering majors
Difference in salary between African-Americans who majored in electrical engineering and their better-paid white counterparts. "Unfortunately, race and gender earnings gaps still exist in almost all fields," says a press release for the study.
Median salary for counseling/psychology majors — the major with the lowest median earnings
Unemployment rate for social psychology majors, the highest of any field. Some fields — including geological and geophysical engineering, military technologies, and pharmacology — had "virtually no unemployment."
Number of the top 10 most remunerative majors that fall into the engineering, math, or science categories
At least $80,000
Median salary for each of the majors in the top ten
No more than $40,000
Median salary for those who major in fine or performing arts, religious vocations, or social work
Median salary for those with an undergraduate major in the business category, the most popular major group
Median salary for those with a graduate degree in business
Median incomes for liberal arts and humanities majors, the third most popular major category. "I don't want to slight Shakespeare," says says Anthony P. Carneval, the director of Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce. "But this study slights Shakespeare."
Share of liberal arts and humanities majors that go on to earn a graduate degree, boosting median salaries to $65,000
Average student-loan debt that a 4-year college graduate has incurred upon graduation. "This research is important, not because it invalidates the degrees of humanities majors, but because it provides something sorely lacking in the college application/matriculation process: data," says Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.
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