Top 10 degrees for financially successful careers

There are good economic data available to help you and your children to choose financially successful majors as you and they approach college.

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  • A recent study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation conducted by professors at Georgetown University measured unemployment rates and salaries by major. Some of the data is surprising.

  • I’ve ranked the then best degrees based on average salaries for an experienced college graduate, using their data.

  • Engineering

  • Experienced engineering graduates earn an average of $81,000 per year and experience just 4.9 percent unemployment. Those with graduate degrees average $100,000 per year and just 3.4 percent are unemployed.

  • Computers and Mathematics

  • Majors from these fields are earning $76,000 per year with the benefit of experience. They experience 5.6 percent unemployment.

  • Architecture

  • Experienced graduates earn an average of $64,000 per year but a remarkable 9.2 percent of experienced graduates are unemployed. Those with graduate degrees don’t do much better, earning an average of just $71,000 per year with 7.7 percent unemployment.

  • Health

  • Experienced people in health fields with undergraduate degrees earn an average of $63,000 per year; just 2.2 percent are unemployed — the lowest rate of unemployment of any field in the study.

  • Business

  • Experienced people with business degrees earn an average of $63,000 (the same as the health graduates) but they are more than twice as likely to be unemployed, with 5.3 percent of experienced graduates out of work.

  • Science-Life/Physical

  • Experienced science graduates earn an average of $60,000 with 4.7 percent of them being unemployed.

  • Social Science

  • Social science degrees increase earning potential for experienced people up to $60,000 (the same as for science grads) with 5.7 percent unemployment.

  • Law and Public Policy

  • Those with undergraduate degrees in law and public policy who have experience are earning an average of $55,000 per year and experience unemployment of just 4.5 percent.

  • Communications and Journalism

  • Experienced people with degrees in communications and journalism earn an average of $54,000; they experience 6.0 percent unemployment.

  • Agriculture and Natural Resources

  • With an average salary of $50,000 per year and unemployment of just 3.5 percent, experienced workers within these fields round out our top 10.

  • As a reference point for the bottom of the scale, experienced education majors have the lowest average salaries at $43,000 per year with 3.9 percent unemployment.

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  • Salaries for recent graduates tend to be significantly lower and unemployment rates for recent graduates are much higher, with unemployment rates for recent graduates topping 10 percent for recent architecture and fine arts graduates. Recent graduates in education and health have the lowest unemployment rates. The lowest average salaries for recent graduates are in psychology, social work, recreation and arts.

  • Experienced workers were defined as those age 30 to 54; recent graduates were those age 22 to 26. Graduate degree holders were limited to those age 30 to 54.

  • No field rivals engineering for average earnings, according to the study. Computers and mathematics comes closest, but graduate engineers make fully ten percent more than graduate degree holders from computers and mathematics.

  • The data suggest that there are big economic differences among these various fields. You — and your children — should choose wisely.

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Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.


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