15 Top College Majors Ranked for Earnings and Unemployment Rates

By Beth Dumbauld

There are many reasons adults choose to go back to college, some of them related to realizing personal goals and others related to recharging a career. Whatever your reasons are for going back, you should feel confident in your choice to do so whether you’ve chosen to enroll in a traditional bricks and mortar college, an online college or university , or are just beginning to take some distance learning courses. Time and again, statistics have shown, there is no better choice than going back to college, and earning your degree.

  • Average unemployment for recent high school dropouts: 31.5%1
  • Average unemployment for job seekers with recent high school diploma: 22.9%2
  • Average unemployment for students with new bachelors degree: 8.9%3
  • Average combined unemployment rate for both recent college graduates and experienced bachelors degree holders: 5%4

Furthermore, if you earn a bachelors degree, you can expect to earn about 66% more over the course of a lifetime than someone who holds a high school degree only.5

A College Degree Makes a Difference. So Does Your Major.

Clearly, choosing to earn your college degree can make a significant financial difference in your life. But that’s not where your decisions end. Once you begin college, you’ll need to pick a major – and there are major financial consequences incurred by your choice of major. According to a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, “majors that are most closely aligned with particular industries and occupations tend to have low unemployment rates but not necessarily the highest earnings. Some majors offer both high security and high earnings, while other majors trade off earnings for job security. Healthcare, Science and Business majors have both low unemployment and the highest earnings boost from experience and graduate education. At the same time, Education, Psychology and Social Work majors have relatively low unemployment, but earnings are also low and only improve marginally with experience and graduate education.” 6

In other words, you can choose a major that has good earnings potential and a high degree of job security. You can also find yourself choosing a major that has a high degree of job security, but low relative lifetime earnings potential. Or, you may find yourself drawn to a major that leads to relatively higher unemployment and low wages. As you choose your major, you want to know what most likely awaits you in your future career, and determine your college options and lifestyle accordingly.

1 Carnevale, Anthony; Chea, Ban; Strohl, Jeff at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal, 1/2012, p. 1




5 College Board, Education Pays 2010: LIfetime Earnings, p.1

6 Carnevale, Anthony; Chea, Ban; Strohl, Jeff at Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal, 1/2012, p. 6