Report Identifies Most Lucrative College Majors

Reflecting back on his four years at Harvard, Noah A. Hoch ’11—a concentrator in Folklore and Mythology—said he is happy about his academic decisions.

Hoch said his choice to pursue the relatively small humanities concentration has given him a valuable lens through which to interpret the world.

“Folk and Myth is a dream,” he said.

But for students who may be less sure of their academic paths, a Georgetown University study published Tuesday raises questions about the financial implications of choosing one concentration over another.

The report, entitled “What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors,” examined the yearly earnings of full-time, full-year American workers ages 25 to 64 based on their college major.


On average, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree make about $55,000, which is about 74 percent more than those with just a high school diploma.

What was most interesting about the study, according to co-author Michelle N. Melton, was that individuals’ choices of undergraduate major mattered in predicting their future income.

“Earning potential between one major and another can [vary] more than 300 percent,” said Melton, a research analyst at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

In fact, the annual financial payoff for those with a counseling-psychology major came in at roughly $29,000. In contrast, those with a degree in petroleum engineering earned $120,000.

The report also considered racial and gender differences in earnings. Among individuals who pursue the same major, men earn more than women in virtually every instance. Furthermore, whites earn more than all other races in 10 of the 15 groups of majors. For example, whites with a degree in electrical engineering earn about $22,000 more per year than African Americans with the same degree.

“The point is not to encourage people to study a more lucrative major, but let them know that what they study affects their career and earning potential,” Melton said.

In response to the report, however, Hoch said he believes college education should not be about future financial gain.

“A better question to ask is not what will make the most money, but what will make me happy,” Hoch said.

Before declaring his concentration, Hoch said he was interested in pursuing a special concentration that focused on a social scientific approach to literature. Then he discovered Folklore and Mythology, which catered to his interest.

Hoch said that Folk and Myth is “an absolutely demanding program” that requires a thesis.


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