ShareThis Page
College & Career

Five rules for making most of college, starting with picking a major

| Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 9:15 a.m.

Students and families looking to make what could be the most expensive investment of a lifetime — a college education — need to do their homework.

A new study out of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce isn't throwing out the common wisdom that college pays off, but researchers say making college count is "less about college you go to and what degree you get but more about the returns of individual college programs."

"The variety of college programs today is a Tower of Babel," said Anthony P. Carnevale, lead author of the report and director of the Georgetown Center. "We need to help students decipher their options in the first major investment in the journey from youth dependency to independent adulthood."

Even the rules these folks have come up with can be contradictory. But they've been studying education and work force issues for years, so we'll give them a shot at offering their takes on the topic. Here they are:

Rule 1: More education is usually better. Median earnings increase with each additional level of educational attainment. The median earnings of a high school diploma holder are $36,000, while a bachelor of arts holder makes $62,000, and a graduate degree holder earns $80,000, on average.

Rule 2: Majors matter more. A bachelor's degree in architecture and engineering leads to median annual earnings of $85,000, almost double the median annual earnings of education majors of $46,000.

Rule 3: Majors are important, but they do not control one's destiny. The top 25 percent of liberal arts majors ($81,000) make more than the bottom 25 percent of architecture and engineering majors ($60,000).

Rule 4: Less education can be worth more. Twenty-eight percent of associate degree holders, and many workers with one-year certificates, earn more than the average bachelor of arts holder. Some bachelor's degrees holders earn more than the average worker with a graduate degree.

Rule 5: Most humanities and liberal arts majors never catch up with the highest earning majors such as STEM, health care and business. Earnings for majors such as business, biology and life sciences, and physical sciences can overtake earnings of social science majors at later ages.

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me