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More Than Just Going to College, Report Shows Importance of Choosing Major

High school seniors headed to college wanting to get the most of the degree should spend some time researching what they want to study, according to a new report about the economic value of majors.

Researchers from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analyzed wages for 137 college majors, as well as those who went on to earn advanced degrees, and found the oft-cited average earning boost of $1 million is misleading, as graduates in some fields can earn as much as $3.4 million more over a lifetime than those in low-paying fields.

The report released May 7 shows not all degrees are created equal.

For instance, starting salaries for health majors are about $41,000, while humanities and liberal arts majors earn on average about $29,000 annually in entry-level jobs. By mid-career, graduates in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ) earn the most money ($76,000 a year) compared to those in teaching and serving professions who earn about $49,000 on average.

(For detailed information on the popularity and earnings of specific degrees, visit the interactive search tool on the Georgetown report's Web site.)

Overall, the highest-paying jobs can be found in health, business, and STEM careers. The low-paying majors are in education, arts, and social work fields.

Still, the report notes that a major does not lock graduates into certain income brackets. For instance, the top 25 percent of students in traditionally low-paying humanities and liberal arts fields earn more than the bottom 25 percent of engineering majors.

The report finds the economic payoff of graduate school is most profound for those in health and medical preparatory programs, zoology, and biology. While the additional boost in earnings is lowest for those in petroleum engineering, architectural engineering, and pharmacy and pharmaceutical administration.

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