New study examines earnings of various majors

Author: Carly Matthew


The difference between the projected salaries of the highest- and lowest-earning bachelor’s degrees is clear, but not all students may choose majors with future salaries in mind.

While those with a bachelor’s degree in health and STEM fields might have a starting median annual salary of around $40,000, those in the arts, humanities, and liberal arts should expect about $30,000, according to a recent Georgetown University study.

This disparity only increases over time — around $76,000 for those with STEM degrees and $51,000 for arts, humanities, and liberal arts by mid-career.

Some University of Iowa students, however, said their eventual salary had little to do with their chosen courses of study.

“The answer is both yes and no,” UI senior business major Edoardo Tabasso said. “Yes, because of course I want to find a job by the end of college, and no, because I knew I would be good at something business-related.”

Tabasso said he wanted to study something in his field since he was a child.

Around 26 percent of college graduates studied business, making it one of most popular fields, according to the study.

By mid-career, business majors earned a median salary of almost $70,000 per year.

Sagar Taurani, a UI senior who majors in accounting and finance, also said money wasn’t a huge consideration.

Taurani was always interested in business, enjoyed his high-school accounting class, and decided to take up finance when he came to the UI.

“I see money as a byproduct,” he said.

The difference between the highest- and lowest-paying majors, over a lifetime, was $3.4 million, according the study.

In comparison, there is a $1 million difference between lifetime wages of college and high-school graduates.

The highest paying major — at a median wage of $136,000 — annually was petroleum engineering.

“The salaries are high partly to attract the best talent,” said Bradley Cramer, a UI assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Cramer, who teaches History and Science of Oil as well as geoscience classes, said a handful of his students have decided to take up a focus in oil.

“This industry is cyclical,” he said. “As prices of oil change, the jobs go up and down.”

It’s common among those in petroleum engineering, he said, to go out and make a lot of money for a time before shifting gears to something else such as graduate school.

Workers with degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, health, and business majors earned the most averaging at $65,000 or more per year, according to the study.

Majors in early childhood education, human services and community organization, studio arts, social work, and teacher education earned the least — a median of around $40,000 per year.

Advisers who work with UI students said they don’t try to push students toward any certain degree but sometimes bring to students’ attention the salary they make compared to their student-loan debt.

“Sometimes, students already have a preconceived notion of what they may make, so it may be helpful to find data on what is realistic for majors and careers they are choosing,” Pomerantz Career Center Senior Director of Operations Angi McKie wrote in an email.

In the last six months, financial-aid advisers at the UI have started discussing the kinds future salaries with students in terms of loan repayment.

“It’s hard to imagine for a lot of students, but it helps when you can see that job and take-home pay,” UI Assistant Director of Financial Literacy Sara Harrington said.

Published Date: 
May, 2015