More than half of college-educated Americans regret a choice they made about their degree type, institution, or major, according to one Gallup poll.
But students who have realistic expectations about their majors’ career outcomes may be able to graduate with fewer regrets, writes Anthony Carnevale, the director for Georgetown University‘s Center on Education and the Workforce.
Students shouldn’t choose a major based on salary alone, but they do need an idea of future earnings to make an informed choice, argues Carnevale. He outlines a few facts students can keep in mind when exploring different majors.
1: More degrees usually lead to higher salaries
Workers with bachelor’s degrees generally earn more than those without one, writes Carnevale. Bachelor’s degree holders earn a median salary of $62,000, compared to $47,000 for associate degree holders and $36,000 for workers with a high school diploma. Employees with graduate degrees tend to fare even better than those with a bachelor’s, with median salaries of $80,000, adds Carnevale.
2: Certain majors earn more
The major a college student chooses may be more predictive of future earnings than the college they graduate from, according to one study from Georgetown and the University of Texas System. Students are probably familiar with the high-earning potential of STEM majors. For example, architecture and engineering majors earn a median salary of $85,000, while education majors earn $46,000, writes Carnevale.
But while humanities majors do earn less, it’s not by much, according to a report from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AMCAD). Humanities grads’ median salary in 2015 was $52,000, or about $8,000 less than the median for all college graduates. Humanities grads do, however, earn significantly more than workers with only an associate degree or high school diploma.
3: Majors don’t dictate careers or salaries
About half of people who majored in a STEM field currently work in STEM, while roughly 17% of STEM majors work in management, business, or finance (especially engineering majors), according to the Pew Resource Center.
Humanities majors work outside their field of study, too. More than a third of humanities majors report no relationship between their job and their degree. Instead, almost a third of humanities grads hold sales, services, or administrative support positions—and 14% are managers.
A student’s major doesn’t dictate their salary, either, writes Carnevale. The top quarter of workers with bachelor’s degrees in humanities earn more than the bottom quarter of workers with bachelor’s degrees in architecture or engineering, he adds.
4: Community college grads earn high salaries, too
Workers with associate degrees can earn more than those with bachelor’s degrees—if they choose the right field, writes Carnevale. Jobs in STEM can be particularly lucrative for community college graduates. For example, workers with associate degrees in STEM earn a higher median salary ($60,000) than those with bachelor’s degrees in education ($46,000). Roughly 15% of STEM workers have associate degrees and another 14% attended college but did not receive a degree.
5. Earnings vary between career paths and within disciplines
Workers with a bachelor’s degree in the humanities have peak median earnings of $66,000, compared to architecture and engineering graduates, who have a peak median salary of $103,000. Graduates in different industries (like humanities and STEM) will see a difference in salaries throughout their careers, writes Carnevale.
But salaries also vary within disciplines. For example, majors in computer science and electrical engineering are among the highest-paid recent graduates. But majors in other STEM fields like biochemistry are among the lowest-paid grads, according to a report by Glassdoor (Carnevale, LinkedIn, 8/20).