Tipping the Pay Scales: Choosing a College Major that Pays

college graduate job pay scalesOver the past few weeks, high school seniors nationwide have donned a cap and gown and marched through their graduation ceremonies, thus officially ending their time as high school students. Many of them will head off to college this fall where they will be asked to choose a major to direct their course of study for the next four (or more) years, and ultimately their career path. It is important for students to select a major that they will enjoy and succeed at, but also one that will be practical for their future life goals; whether that be entering the work force following graduation or preparing for a graduate-level degree. It’s also important for students to have a sense of what careers are available to a graduate with a certain degree, and also the current pay scales and future long-term earning potential for those fields.

The website Payscale offers some important and practical information for college students that can help them select a college major.  Of particular interest is the college salary report, which lists the average earnings pay scale for graduates of various majors. For example, an undergraduate who majors in social work can expect to earn on average $33,100 as a starting salary and $45,300 mid-career. An accounting major will average $44,300 as a starting salary and $74,500 mid-career. At the top end of the salary pay scale, a major in petroleum engineering can expect to earn on average $98,000 starting out, and $163,000 mid-career, with no further graduate training required.

There is also the ability to explore the various job opportunities available within a major, along with the expected salary pay scale. For example, a communications major would be qualified to seek employment as a public relations specialist, social media manager, or event coordinator to name a few. Salary pay scales range from $33,800 for a position as a marketing assistant to $87,000 for a marketing director. A student who graduates with an arts and design major could find employment as a graphic artist, interior designer, or theater production manager. Expected salaries could range from $33,600 for a position as an assistant interior designer to $87,400 for a creative director.

Many college students select their undergraduate major in anticipation of enrollment into a graduate program. On average graduates with an advanced degree will earn more throughout their careers than those without one. According to a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 9 out of the 10 highest earning careers require a medical degree, while other top earners require advanced degrees in fields such as business or law. For example, an anesthesiologist will earn on average $232,830 a year, a chief executive $176,840 a year, and a lawyer $130,880 per year. Undergraduates planning to pursue these advanced degrees should check with their college advisor to learn about the availability of pre-med, pre-law, or pre-business programs at their institution.

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Selecting an undergraduate major is an important decision that will direct a student’s future career path, and earning potential. Gaining a complete understanding of what future jobs are available to a graduate with a particular major is important to ensure that you are happy in your future career, and comfortable with the pay scale and earning potential. Of course future salary isn’t the only or most important variable that should be weighed in this important decision, but it’s a factor that should be considered.

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