February 15, 2012

Major Matters More than The University

Yesterday I presented some data that I compiled showing the variation of different starting salaries for several majors across a number of different universities.

One thing that stands out in the data is that :  

Choice of major has a larger impact on starting salaries than the  choice of university.

Certain majors make considerably more than other majors regardless of the university attended.

The average starting wages for civil engineers, chemical engineers and computer science were all higher than all the English, Communications, Psychology and Elementary school teachers.   If you're looking for a higher wage then getting a degree in engineering would serve you better than humanities.     The choice of university does not appear to change this.

This may come as no surprise to some people and others may be doubtful.   We are often told that the very best universities offer networking opportunities and the expectation is that simply graduating with those names on your diploma will ensure a high income.   There could be some truth to this and I'm sure it is often easier to find a higher paying job with a Stanford degree than one from Central Michigan.  However from the data I found the highest wages are based on degree and not choice of school.   The evidence I found is that the psychology majors at Stanford have lower starting wages than the engineering majors at Central Michigan.  The choice of majoring in engineering has a heavier impact on starting salaries than the quality and prestige of a Stanford education.

I'm sure nobody is really making the choice between majoring in engineering at Central Michigan or majoring in English at Stanford.    However some people may feel that choice of major doesn't matter as much as their choice of university.   Some people think that if they just go to the right school then they'll get a high wage no matter what they major in.   I have a friend who had that exact assumption going into college.  He majored in humanities at a respected private school assuming that the school name alone would get him a good job. Unfortunately he only really learned the truth after he graduated and failed to find anything more than minimum wage level jobs.

It is important to understand that the choice of major is the primary factor in your future earnings.   Choice of college can have an impact on earnings but it does not outweigh choice of major.


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