It's your major, not your alma mater, that determines job success


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(8-5-04) BOSTON, Mass. Harvard, it turns out, may only get you so far.

According to new research from Northeastern University economists Paul Harrington, Neeta Fogg and Thomas Harrington, it's one's college major rather than the college or university one attends that may just be the ticket into (or out of) a financially sound and rewarding professional life.

Harrington and Fogg's newest book, THE COLLEGE MAJORS HANDBOOK, WITH REAL CAREER PATHS AND PAYOFFS (JIST Publishing), examines the educational and financial outcomes of some 150,000 college graduates, revealing that one's choice of a college major is even more important than one's choice of college when it comes to earning potential and employment success. THE COLLEGE MAJORS HANDBOOK also provides the most accurate facts available on the long-term outcomes associated with some 60 popular college majors while also helping students to understand the financial benefits of a college degree, how to pay for college, identifying challenges and barriers and enabling students, their parents, counselors and teachers to navigate the increasingly complex world of attending and paying for college.

With college now the norm for most American youngsters (more than 65 percent choose to attend), this book also provides information on how particular college majors provide the basis for a lifetime of financial stability as well as a ticket to a rewarding career and financial independence.

" We do not believe that the choice of an undergraduate major should be based solely or even primarily on the basis of the earnings prospect in any given field," the authors write. "However, because enrolling in a college of university is a costly investment decision, investors need to be well informed about important aspects of the investment alternative available to them."


  • In 1967, high school graduates earned an average of approximately $5400 less than college graduates did, a relative difference or approx 25 percent. By 2001, however, the average salary of a high school educated worker was about $13,300 less than the income of a person with a bachelor's degree nearly 67 percent less.
  • On average, individuals with a bachelor's degree earn twice as much as those who only have a high school diploma over the course of their entire professional life. Those who earn master's degrees make 270 percent more than those who only have a high school diploma.
  • For every dollar earned by a high school graduate, individuals with a bachelor's degree earned $2, and those with master's degrees earned $2.70.
  • On average, in 1999, bachelor's degree recipients earned nearly a million dollars $942,000 more than high school graduates; those with master's degrees or more earned some $1.6 million more than high school grads over the course of their working lifetimes.

The book also provides answers to some of the career and college questions many prospective students have, including: Which major gets you the biggest earning potential? Which college major has the least earning potential? How much more money can you earn over your lifetime with a college versus a high school degree? And what are the job and salary prospects for engineers? For English majors? For philosophy majors?

Valuable as a tool for parents and students alike, THE COLLEGE MAJORS HANDBOOK provides a unique perspective on how to merge the head and the heart when it comes to choosing a college major. For more information, please visit our web site:

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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