A college degree can open up the path to a better life. In many cases, that little piece of paper unlocks better jobs, higher earning potential, and a better life.
Not all four-year degrees are created equally. There are majors where graduates earn more money and most certainly ones where people earn less. Anyone deciding what to study -- and how much you are willing to borrow in order to earn your diploma -- should at least consider that earning power varies greatly based on what you study.
That's very important to consider when a moderate college budget (including tuition, fees, room, and board) had an average cost of $24,610 at a moderate public college in the 2016-17 school year, according to the College Board. A moderate private school costs roughly twice as much at $49,320, numbers that are both high enough to make students (and their parents) at least consider whether the eventual graduates course of study makes economic sense.
A new report from The Cashlorette examined median incomes and unemployment rates for U.S. adults with only a bachelor's degree across 173 different majors. It ranked which ones were most valuable and which paid off the most poorly for graduates. Here are the top five most-valuable degrees followed by the worst five.
5. Naval Architecture/Marine Engineering
Median Income: $103,695
Unemployment rate: 2.78%
These are the people who design, build, and maintain ships of all types. While the two degrees are related, they aren't exactly the same.
"Marine engineers are primarily responsible for the internal systems of a ship, such as propulsion, electrical, refrigeration, and steering," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Naval architects are primarily responsible for the ship design, including the form, structure, and stability of hulls."
4. Mining/Mineral Engineering
Median Income: $104,557
Unemployment rate: 2.7%
Mining and mineral engineers are the engineers behind the science of extracting and processing minerals taken out of the Earth. Many people in this occupation work in the field, overseeing mining, examining potential sites, and more.
3. Geological/Geophysical Engineering
Median Income: $99.029
Unemployment rate: 1%
"Geophysical Engineering is the scientific method behind locating and extracting different natural resources from the earth, including ores, minerals, precious gems, water, or gases," according to EnvironmentalScience.org.
A field that's closely related to mining, geophysical engineers work to identify sites where needed material can be found. They also work to improve extraction techniques.
2. Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences/Administration
Median Income: $116,642
Unemployment rate: 2.67%
This isn't the degree that lets you be a pharmacist. That requires a doctor of pharmacy degree. With this undergraduate degree, recipients have the knowledge to work as pharmaceutical reps, or in other related fields that require deep medical knowledge.
1. Petroleum Engineering
Median Income: $134,841
Unemployment rate: 2.38%
"Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth's surface," according to the BLS. "Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells."
It's worth noting that four of the top five jobs involve finding ways to extract materials from the planet. All are related and in very high demand probably at least in part because for many materials, the easy-to-extract finds have already been exploited.
169. Studio Arts
Median Income: $42,231
Unemployment rate: 5.38%
Studio arts is exactly what its sounds like -- learning how to create art in a studio. That can involve a variety of mediums, but it's easy to see why this might be a tough degree to turn into a profitable job.
170. Human Services/Community Organization
Median Income: $41,478
Unemployment rate: 5.45%
Doing work that helps others can be rewarding, but mostly not in the financial sense. This degree does cover a lot of professions, but generally workers in the field serve people in need, helping them improve the quality of their lives.
Median Income: $45,595
Unemployment rate: 6.58%
This a degree in writing and speaking. In theory that can lead to a lot of things, but it's not a direct path to any one job. This is a writing degree that's not a journalism or even a creative writing certification.
172. Miscellaneous Fine Arts
Median Income: $47,051
Unemployment rate: 7.46%
Studying fine arts does not offer great career prospects. In fact, the most likely career for a person with this degree, is retail salesperson, according to Sokanu.com. Basically there's very little work that ties directly to getting a miscellaneous fine arts degree, making it not a very valuable degree for those that hold it.
173. Clinical Psychology
Median Income: $43,093
Unemployment rate: 8.06%
The problem with a degree in clinical psychology is that it does not qualify you to be a clinical psychologist. To do that, you need a doctoral degree. So essentially, if you don't intend to get one of those, this is a diploma that does not lead to a job.
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