For more money, take more math

Student loan crisis articles never feature engineers, points out Online Degrees, which has launched a degree value calculator that estimates lifetime earnings for various degrees and careers.

“Engineers really do make a heck of a lot more money than liberal arts majors,” they write.

In general, jobs in IT and jobs in the resource extraction industries (oil, gas, mining, etc) pay the best wages for holders of undergraduate degrees, by a huge margin. It is not uncommon for starting salaries as a computer programmer to be north of $50,000, which is a respectable mid-career salary for a liberal arts student, and the starting salary at firms like Google or Microsoft fluctuates around the six figure mark, which most liberal arts students will never attain without proceeding to professional degrees. (A first-year associate at a large firm with a degree in Law, of course, makes substantially more money.)

The median salary for journalism majors is only $45,000.  But the lowest-earning degree is religious studies or theology.

To make more money, take more math.

Associate degrees have the best return on investment, they write.

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  1. The highest paying fields are in engineering, in particularly chemical engineering. I have a cousin graduating soon with a degree in chem engineeerng from USC and I read that it’s not uncommon for starting salaries to be around $90k and up.

    For more money, it’s not just more math but science too. Those two subjects are key if you want to make six figures or at least close to six figures. One or the other is fine too. An English degree is useless unless you want to go to law school (hope this doesn’t offend anyone, only my opinion).

  2. Soapbox0916 says:

    Maybe student loan crisis articles should feature engineers because they are not quite as rosy as they make them out to be, even if engineers have better odds. The problems with engineer jobs is that there are huge fluctuations in demand and geographical variations. I admit I am biased because I am living in an area that just lost a huge amount of engineer jobs so I witness the fluctuation. Also problems with lifetime studies includes historical conditions that are no longer true, the job market is not what it used to be. Can make the stats very misleading if not careful.

    Increasingly, I am finding that new graduates can often only get jobs as temps, and making a cross-county move for a temp job is problematic. Sure there is a engineering job somewhere, but it may not be where the graduate lives, moving on a whim may not be viable, and the graduate may need to take a different job outside of engineering for various reasons.

    However the key really is the math portion because when engineer graduates struggle to find a job, there is still a huge cross-over for jobs that want the math background that is provided by an engineering degree. While I personally know several recent engineer graduates that have been unable to get jobs as engineers, their math skills are saving them. So while they are underemployed in other jobs, based on what an average starting engineer is supposed to make, they are still employed at something, and doing much better than retail.

    I am beginning to think the actual degree title is less important, just make sure to take plenty of math courses and be able to apply math skills on the job.

  3. Belinda Gomez says:

    I think it’s more that there’s 10,000,000 English and Women’s Studies majors working for peanuts. If these people would think about what they’re going to do before they select a major, the pay rates might not be so dismal.

  4. Soapbox0916 says:

    Sorry to be so down on the engineer major (re-reading my earlier post), I still think it is a wise choice, but just not the golden ticket that it is made out to be. I have been spending some time with some frustrated engineering graduates lately who have felt lied too about how wonderful everything would turn out with an engineering degree, but the bad economy has won out recently. Still, they do have strong math skills. It seems that it is the math skills that are the most useful.

    I think that is also has more to do the actual classes that are taken and having a realistic strategy more so than the major. I remember there was an earlier post knocking a Sociology major and I thinking at the time I happen to know several successful Sociology graduates. The key difference is the actual classes that were taken. One combined sociology classes with minors in business and social work. Another did a double major with sociology and business. They get paid well to help companies with group dynamics type stuff. They also had specific job skills and careers in mind, and used their classes to an advantage.

  5. Well, if your first priority is money, then of course don’t major in a liberal arts or humanities degree.

    I majored in my degree because I loved it. Not implying a higher road or even wisdom, just that I knew what I was doing and I don’t regret it.

  6. georgelarson says:

    It is possible for someone to major in English or some other un-commercial major and still take an impressive number of math or science credits in college.

    I majored in Biology and took still took 31 math credits. A colleague in college who majored in history had a minor in computer science. His professors employed him for his computer background

    There was a Civil Engineer whose name i cannot recall who had a masters degree in English. He used to write for Technology Review.

    Exploiting the areas between disciplines is often a very rewarding idea.

  7. Out-of-work engineers tend to be far less whiny than out-of-work liberal arts majors. It’s far easier for a journalist to get some unemployed liberal arts major willing to tell her (the majority are female) sob story to the world than to find an unemployed engineering major willing to do the same.

  8. It’s an interesting article, but the website is flawed in a few ways. Most notably, as suggested in other posts, it ignores the fact that there is a lot of turnover in certain fields, such as engineering, where it’s not uncommon for engineers to be unable to find good paying jobs, even with a few years of experience. I know more than a couple of engineers who had to switch careers because the were unable to find a job with their particular skill set.

    Lifetime earnings are also problematic in most fields – but I think particularly so in IT, since, while I think that demand will continue to be strong, I doubt that it will be anything like the last 40 years were.

    Of course, you are probably still better off with a math/science based degree than with a liberal arts degree (unless that’s the first step towards a business/law/medicine professional degree).

  9. Math/science undergrad degrees are very useful in combination with law or business graduate degrees, as well as with medicine. Lawyers with undergrad degrees in chemistry are not uncommon in patent law, specializing in patents in their scientific area and accounting is often combined with law to specialize in forensic accounting. Undergrad majors in math and science are often combined with MBAs, in order to rise in management.

  10. Ted Johnson says:

    As a civil engineer, I have to agree as I made the choice, in part, to assure that I would graduate with a marketable degree. However, I took extra years at the undergraduate level to take liberal arts course in philosophy, language, history, and English. I’ve found this extra education to be invaluable in providing tools, views and foresight that most engineers don’t have. I’m appalled at the inability of junior engineers to write a readable, grammatically correct report, and the atitude that it doesn’t matter. In addition, engineers often don’t have aa appropriate world view (i.e., “the big picture”) that allows us to make responsible, sustainable choices, particularly with regards to resource extraction. We are heading down a road to ruin and it may already be too late to change direction. In large part this is due to engineers who make unwise decisions based on short-term profits.

  11. The trick is continuous, life-long learning. No degree lasts forever. I got an aerospace engineering degree, worked for a few years, then got a chance at a software job. I took the job, but would have had my job outsourced to India in about 1995 if I hadn’t continuously upgraded my skills by learning new languages and new technologies (almost 100% at my own expense too, you have to figure that you are your best investment).

    Now I’m in a job where I get to be both engineer and software guy and I’m better at both than I would have been without either one. This is what I would tell someone going to college today: get a degree in something that will make you a living, then plan to continuously upgrade your skills for the rest of your life. Very few jobs today are much like they were thirty years ago.

    I suspect that a LOT of the people who are chronically unemployed today really, really need a skills upgrade.