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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Majors matter

“Deciding your major plays a bigger role in determining your career earnings than does where you go to school or even deciding whether or not to attend at all,” says Gregory Wolniak in an Atlantic interview. He directs the Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes at NYU Steinhardt and co-authored  How College Affects Students.

For example, “it’s not uncommon for engineering majors to make close to 50 percent more than education majors,” Wolniak tells Mikhail Zinshteyn.

On average, college-educated workers earn significantly more, his research shows. Completing a bachelor’s degree has a much higher earnings payoff for women.

On average, a worker sees earnings grow 5 percent for every year of college completed within the first few years following college, rising to about 7 to 9 percent decades after college. That’s not even talking about degrees or credentials attained, just per year spent in college. For vocational or associate’s degrees, the earnings benefit compared to just a high-school diploma is roughly 3 to 7 percent. Bachelor’s degree holders make 15 to 27 percent more (than high-school graduates).“The type of college you enroll in does matter quite a bit, but to a lesser extent than what you study” when it comes to predicting future earnings, says Wolniak. Good grades and internships also correlate with earnings. But not as much as the major.
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