As someone who teaches humanities in an expensive private liberal arts college, I like to keep abreast of the trends in the job market for my students. This useful chart from the Chronicle of Higher Education takes US Census data and breaks out the median income for graduates depending on their major.
As you might expect, some of the tastiest salaries come from the toughest subjects. Petroleum engineering majors earn $120,000. Brown jobs really do rule. Ecology majors on the other hand get a little more than one third of that: $44,000. And remember: that isn’t a starting salary; it’s the median income for all the people in the field up to age 65. Stuffing envelopes for Greenpeace does not often lead to great things.
For math and computer science degrees, you are looking at $98,000. “Counseling psychology” majors earn $29,000; community organizing majors do somewhat better (though they trail ecologists) at $38,000.
The humanities offer some surprises — and from my point of view, pleasant ones. US History majors do quite well: $57,000. General history, art history and criticism majors do almost as well at $50,000. Majors in “intercultural and international studies” do worse at $44,ooo; even Latin majors do better than that.
Obviously a chart like this doesn’t predict how any particular individual is going to do later in life. But this is the kind of chart parents should be talking about with their high school and college age kids. Many of the students I meet don’t have any idea what kind of income they can hope to earn right after college. They don’t know what it costs to live — to pay rent, pay utility bills, eat, run a car and so on. They don’t know how much money the government takes out of your paycheck (hint, kids: it is more than you think, more maybe than you can conceive), and they have no idea what their monthly student loan repayment bills will look like or how those costs will affect the rest of their budgets.
Many college professors try to give students some ideas about these facts of life, but really this is something best taught by parents. When I was a kid, sex was the subject that parents rarely discussed with their kids, but money was something you had to understand. These days, the subjects seem to have flipped: students are much more likely to come to college with an abundance and perhaps even a surfeit of knowledge about sex. About money on the other hand… not so much.
Money shouldn’t be the only thing you think about when choosing a college major or a career, but neither is it the only thing you should know nothing about and blindly ignore. As parents and students around the country sit around the kitchen table and ponder their college decisions this year, a look at the Chronicle chart might help focus the conversation.