Study Shows Earning a College Degree Well Worth the Investment

According to a new study, What's it Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors, earning a college degree is well worth the investment but what maximizes the economic outcome of that investment is the student’s undergraduate major choice. In fact, the difference in earning potential between one major and another can be more than 300 percent.


The recently released study, conducted by Anthony P. Carnevale, Jeff Strohl and Michelle Melton, of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, was based on never-before-available data from the United States Census 2009 American Community Survey of more than three million bachelor degree holders, ranging in ages from 25 to 64, who were asked about their college major, employment position and salary. 


The study found that college graduates overall make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only high school diplomas. Further analysis of 171 majors in 15 categories found that various undergraduate majors can lead to significantly different median wages, that majors are highly segregated by race/ethnicity and gender, that men tend to be concentrated in the higher-earning majors, such as engineering and pharmaceutical sciences, while women gravitate toward the lowest-earning, such as education, art and social work.


The study also found that majors that are the most popular are not the ones that make the most money, that certain undergraduate majors are more likely to go on to graduate school than others and that moving into a managerial status will improve earning potential.


Choosing a major to prepare for a future career has always been an important decision, and the findings of this report indicate the choice also has direct impact on a graduate’s future earning potential. 


A copy of the full report or a summary of selected findings may be found at the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce website.