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Student Income Influences Choice of College Major

If money is tight, students are more likely to choose useful majors, such as computer science, while those from wealthier families often are drawn to history and the arts.

That's the conclusion of researchers who reviewed data from the National Center for Education Statistics for a recent Atlantic article, "Rich Kids Study English."

The amount of money a college student's parents make correlates with what that person studies because sometimes high-income students don't feel the same financial pressure to choose a practical field of study, the article says. Upon graduation, more affluent students may have more of a safety net if they cannot get a job or are underemployed, according to Kim Weeden, a sociologist at Cornell University who conducted the study.

As students from disadvantaged backgrounds choose a college, they are also more likely to look for one with a wide variety of majors, the article notes.

Earnings vary widely by major, as reported by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. 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, the center's research this spring revealed.

For high school students looking for some direction in choosing a major, the College Board's BigFuture website has helpful tips from students and college officials. Other good (and free) tools: ACT's Map of College Majors and ACT Profile.

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