College Graduation 2013: How Much Money Will You Make From Your Major?


If by "workforce" you mean a big, six-figure salary, then I'm probably not the best to ask. I just received a degree that people have literally been debating the relevancy of for over 100 years (Joseph Pulitzer begged Columbia to start a journalism school for years before the University finally agreed in 1912). Though I earned my Masters in a merciless 10-month period of sleep deprivation stress-induced Netflix binges, the experience was more for personal challenge than a guarantee for a more profitable paycheck, something I never expected in the first place.

For myself and the classmates that graduated with me on Wednesday, whatever success we accomplish with our new diplomas has a lot more to do with our strengths, abilities, and general persistence than our fancy powder blue graduation robes. And you certainly don't need a master's degree for all that. Perhaps I speak only on behalf of the people I met throughout the year, but the goal of "what to achieve" had little do with hefty incomes and more to do with telling the untold stories, visiting the unseen places, creating something to be proud of, and, if we're especially lucky, find some day-to-day stability in there.

For my field the subject you major in as an undergrad is not as significant as your skill to write and communicate clearly, and many fields in the humanities function similarly. But when I graduated there was a campus filled with graduates of other schools with degrees in disciplines basically required for their career plans.

According to Pay Scale's recent College Salary Report, the majors that produce the most income for its students rest in the engineering, math, and computer science fields. No shocker there. The highest rank is Petroleum Engineering, with an estimated annual income of $163,000, and Statistics comes in 10th place with $99,500.

For those kinds of undergraduate majors, as well as for graduate studies that require certification (such as law or medicine), your field of study absolutely matters. My experience as a student, however, was quite different. Math was never my happy place in the way that writing was, and as many people in the humanities told me over the years, your major doesn't necessarily matter — instead, follow your intuition. Perhaps those aren't comforting words in a dismal post-collegiate economy, but it's better than forcing yourself to do something you don't like or aren't capable of doing.

What matters far more than your major, regardless, is your experience outside the classroom. It's hard to fill out an entire resume just with academic achievements, and you'll graduate with a much better idea of what you would like to do with your life if you have experience working in the field, or even work not in the field. Work will always help you to make decisions about what you do or do not want. Regardless of your paycheck, one of the safest things to do is avoid making it to your dream job only to realize you hate it.