Choice of College Major Can Mean Millions Over Career, Census Bureau Reports

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on October 10, 2012

News release: “The field of bachelor’s degree makes a considerable difference in a college graduate’s annual earnings, according to 2011 American Community Survey (ACS) data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. These differences add up over the span of one’s work-life. For example, among people whose highest degree is a bachelor’s, engineering majors earn $1.6 million more than education majors. These findings come from two separate ACS reports released today. The first report Field of Degree and Earnings by Selected Employment Characteristics: 2011, provides information about the relationship between the field of bachelor’s degrees, median annual earnings, and the likelihood of full-time employment. According to this report, people who majored in engineering had the highest earnings of any bachelor’s degree field, at $92,000 per year in 2011. At the other end of the continuum were fields such as visual and performing arts, communications, education and psychology, with median annual earnings of $55,000 or less. People who majored in a science and engineering field were more likely to be employed full-time, year-round. So too were those who majored in business, the most common field of study. Sixty-four percent of business majors were full-time, year-round workers. On the other hand, the same was true of less than half of those who majored in literature and languages or visual and performing arts. The second report, Work-Life Earnings by Field of Degree and Occupation for People With a Bachelor’s Degree: 2011, explores the relationship between how far one goes in school and how much money one might make over the course of a 40-year career (from age 25 to 64). It goes into further detail for people whose highest degree is a bachelor’s by investigating how college major and occupation impact these work-life earnings. This is the first time the Census Bureau has ever analyzed work-life earnings by both field of degree and occupation.”

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