For those of us that are lucky enough to have a choice of careers, it helps to know the ramifications of those choices, particularly when it comes to making money. Well, the results are in: the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project has completed a study of college majors. 4-year degrees in engineering lead the pack, while liberal arts degrees trailed.
High school graduates earn on averate $600K over their lifetimes, a figure that trailed the earning ability of even those that had completed some college courses but did not earn a degree. Associates degrees (2-year programs) on average boosted lifetime earnings to $800K. The average of all 4-year degree majors earned $1.2M in their lifetimes.
Chemical and Aerospace engineers had lifetime earnings in excess of $2M, tops among all programs. In this age of fracking, energy and extraction engineering majors were third overall, while computer and electrical engineers continued their earnings dominance (4th and 5th in rank) in the age of the Internet and wireless devices.
Finance and accounting majors were next after engineering and computer science in lifetime earnings, with nursing, marketing, and general business rounding out the remainder of those majors that earned more than the 4-year degree average.
The study's authors were careful to note that earning ability is tightly tied to that of the ability of the earner and not necessariliy a result of a particular college major. Thus technically challenging majors such as engineering and finance tend to attract higher ability students. Similarly a high school graduate with high abiltiy could earn well in excess of many college graduates. But the study was about statistical preponderances, and absent invidual merit, it made it clear which careers offer you and your kids the most earning opportunity.