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10 Best & Worst College Majors For A Lucrative Career

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Stacy Rapacon, Worst College Majors

With Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor and Managing Editor of Kiplinger’s Wealth Creation Channel

Steve speaks with Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor and Managing Director of Kiplinger’s Wealth Creation Channel, about two recent articles she wrote titled 10 Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career and its counterpart, the 10 Worst College Majors for a Lucrative Career.

10 Best College Majors

To kick off, Stacy says that while getting a college degree significantly boosts job prospects, the major you choose has a big impact on your lifetime earnings.  Accordingly, the best college majors can bring in up to $3.4 million more over a lifetime than the lowest paying majors.

Not surprisingly, for Steve, her list has lots of engineering, technology, and business fields.

Finance comes in at #10 on Kiplinger’s list of best college majors.  Finance majors have an average starting salary of about $53,300 (compared to a median of $43,000 for all majors), giving them a pretty good financial start.  After you’ve been in Finance for about 10 years, you can expect to make over $93,000 a year.

And if you start with a high salary, you’ll more than likely end up with an even higher salary over time, if you have the right major, adds Steve.

At #9, Stacy lists Actuarial Mathematics.  Actuaries start off at $56,400 and reach about $131,700 mid-career.  Actuaries are hired by insurance companies and are really in demand now with the need to analyze big data.

Physics comes in at #8 in best college majors, with a starting salary of $58,000 and a mid-career salary of $108,000.  Business Administration, #7 on her list of best college majors, is very popular.  Stacy lists Management Information Systems at #6, calling it a very hot tech field where you work with computer servers and networks that run and deliver services such as email.

Computer Science is next, with a starting salary of $66,000, a mid-career salary of $110,000, and 2 million online job postings indicating high demand for computer graduates. Mechanical Engineering ranks #4 with a starting salary of $64,000 but with only 241,000 online job postings, so demand for mechanical engineers isn’t that strong.

Stacy lists Civil Engineering at #3 and Biomedical Engineering at #2 on her the list of best college majors.  And the #1 job on Kiplinger’s list is nursing, which doesn’t surprise Stacy because she sees nursing as a popular field that is always in high demand.  Nurses receive starting salaries of about $58,000 and reach mid-career earnings of about $76,000.

10 Worst College Majors

Next, Stacy lists the 10 Worst College Majors for a Lucrative Career.  Religious Studies is at #10 with a starting salary of about $38,000 and a mid-career salary of $62,100 which is below the $74,700 median for all majors.

Exercise Science is at #9.  Stacy believes this a good field because it could lead to a job as a Physical Therapist, and is a good fit for those who like fitness and sports.  The next two on the list of worst college majors – Music and Art History – do not surprise Steve, who notes that for every winner on The Voice, there are thousands who never make it and have to find other work such as playing gigs or teaching.

Jumping ahead, Steve gets to #3 on this list – Radio & Television – a field he is familiar with but is, thankfully, not his primary source of income.  This field has a starting salary of $38,600 and a mid-career salary of $64,000.  And while it is glamorous and fun, it doesn’t really pay all that much.

#1 on the list of worst college majors is Photography, and Steve jokingly warns parents to watch out if their child wants a degree in photography because it pays the least of all majors.

In closing, Stacy says it’s important to think about why you’re spending all that money for college, and how you might pay back your borrowings after college.  She adds that though many fields on the list of worst college majors are rewarding in their own ways, the dollars don’t really work out.


Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital.  Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions.  Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances.  The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.

Read The Entire Transcript Here

Steve Pomeranz: Stacy Rapacon is an online editor for kiplinger.com, and she is here with me to discuss not what colleges are best—because that’s a subject of many articles—but what majors are best. Hey, Stacy, welcome to the show.

Stacy Rapacon: Hi, Steve. Thanks for having me.

Steve Pomeranz: What did Kiplinger find about this? What are the best majors? We’re going to actually go down most of the list, and I will post this on my website, stevepomeranz.com, but let’s get started.

Stacy Rapacon: Great. Just to start off, we found that it really makes a big difference what you major in. Everybody knows now that getting a college degree is very important, but there is a huge difference between majors and what your lifetime earning is. The best majors or the highest earning majors can earn up to $3.4 million more over their lifetime than the lowest paying majors, so it’s really important to consider these things before you choose your major. Obviously, on our best list, it’s no surprise that a lot of engineering and tech fields and business fields wound up here. Here at number 10, we have finance is among our top majors.

Steve Pomeranz: Starting salary is about what?

Stacy Rapacon: It’s about $53,300, and that’s compared to a median for all majors of around $43,000, so it’s a pretty good start to your career.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, and then, over time, your earnings build, so what, in terms of mid-career salary, what are some of the expectations?

Stacy Rapacon: Right. Yeah, once you’re in the field for about 10 years, you can expect to get the medians to go up to over $93,000 a year.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, which is above the median for all majors, so, again, once you … If you start high, you’re going to end up higher, and I think that’s probably one of the lessons for everybody to get from this. Finance. What’s next?

Stacy Rapacon: Next we have actuarial mathematics. Obviously, that would ultimately often lead to a position of actuary, which is a very in-demand job.

Steve Pomeranz: Okay.

Stacy Rapacon: Again, you’re starting off pretty high at $56,400 a year, will be your starting salary. That’s the median for employees who have worked five years or less. Then, once you get up to mid-career, you’re over 100,000. You’re at $131,700 a year.

Steve Pomeranz: Oh, yeah, so that’s pretty good. That’s a career that insurance companies hire for and other statistical analysis type of companies, and that’s going to be a growing field as big data takes over and they’re going to need people to crunch those numbers. All right …

Stacy Rapacon: Right. Exactly.

Steve Pomeranz: … On this countdown from the best, we are … We started with 10. We were at nine. Number eight is what?

Stacy Rapacon: Number eight is physics, again, a nice starting salary of around $58,000 a year, and the mid-career salary goes up to over $100,000 a year.

Steve Pomeranz: I’m seeing a lot of math here in these first, so, for those people who are math challenged, we’re going to have to go down the list and see what else may work for them, but the starting salary for physics is $58,000. Mid-career salary is 108,000.
I like as well that you post the number of online job postings or you list them. For physics, it’s 115,000. For actuarial mathematics, it was 25,000 and for finance, it was 1.4 million. Lots of jobs out there. Lots of people looking for jobs. Number seven on our list of the top 10 majors for college?

Stacy Rapacon: Yeah, seven is a very popular one, business administration. It’s a great field to get into. Yeah, these college majors do very well for themselves.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, so I guess you’ll need some math there, but it’s not nearly the kind that you need when you’re going for a job in physics. Okay, that makes sense. The mid-career salary is about 77,000. There are 3.7 million online job postings for people who are getting a degree in business administration. Number six, what is that?

Stacy Rapacon: Number six, we have management information system, and this is in the hot tech field. It’s a computer … or at least into a computer job, and obviously, that’s going to be doing very well for the future.

Steve Pomeranz: What exactly is that? Managing information systems, managing computers and systems and the like in that area, right?

Stacy Rapacon: Right, so you could be working for a company to implement the network that they’re using, implement the technology. So you might be working with their email system, working on their servers, and developing the technology that runs basically every company now.

Steve Pomeranz: Right. Right. Computer science is next, starting salary of 65,000, mid-career salary of 110,000. I think we all know what that is. It could be software developer as well, 2 million online job postings. Then we get to mechanical engineering. I have to go through these kind of fast. Starting salary is $64,000, which is very nice; mid-career salary, 106. Only 241,000 online job postings, so that kind of sends a message.
What is number three, Stacy?

Stacy Rapacon: Number three, we have civil engineering. Yeah, at the top of the list, we’ve got a bunch of engineering fields. This engineering field is in terms of construction and building, so obviously, there’s going to be a lot of demand for that.

Steve Pomeranz: Especially after our recent hurricanes.

Stacy Rapacon: Right.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, they’re spending on infrastructure as well and all the things that need to be done in this country. Biomedical engineering is number two here, starting salary of about 63,000; mid-career salary of 103; 51,000 online job postings, biomedical engineering; and then down to number one here is what?

Stacy Rapacon: Number one is nursing. I think that’s no big surprise there. Nursing is a popular field and it’s a very high demand job.

Steve Pomeranz: The starting salary is 58,000. Mid-career salary is 76; 1.9 million online job posting. Those are the top 10. I’ve kind of gone through them quickly because we will list them on our website, but I wanted to get into the 10 worst college majors for a lucrative career. What is number 10 for the worst?

Stacy Rapacon: Number 10, we have religious studies, and that is … We were looking at the same criteria, so we’re looking at starting salary, mid-career salary, annual online job postings. Religious studies, the starting salary was below 40,000. Again, the median is $43,250 a year, so this was at 38,300. The mid-career only gets up to $62,100, below the median of 74,000 … 75,000 really.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I think, if you get into religious studies though, you probably have another calling other than money, but money is important …

Stacy Rapacon: Right.

Steve Pomeranz: … Anyway, right? All right, next, exercise science, what is that?

Stacy Rapacon: Exercise science is actually … It’s a good field because it leads to … Eventually, you might become a physical therapist, but once you major that, then you have to go on to more extensive education. You have to get your doctorate or your licensure to become a physical therapist, so you’re studying fitness and how the body works and exercise. It’s an interesting field and, if you love sports, it’s a good one to go into, but if you just …

Steve Pomeranz: … But not as lucrative. Yeah.

Stacy Rapacon: Yeah, if you just start with … If you just go with the bachelor’s degree in that field, you end up with a starting salary or most people will end up with a starting salary of around $36,000 and mid-career will only get up to $54,500 a year.

Steve Pomeranz: Right, and then the next two are not surprising, though I think unfortunate. The first one is music and the second one is art history. The starting salary in music is 38,200, which is below the median. Mid-career salary is 63,000.
I think the key here is that for every winner on The Voice, there are thousands and thousands of people auditioning each year whom you’ve never heard of, so the rest of them have to find some work in the industry, and I guess it’s teaching or putting together like … Gigging, playing and teaching and putting together as much as you can.

Stacy Rapacon: Right. Yeah, unfortunately, there are a lot of art majors, art fields on this list. Again, I mean, as I say in the article, these majors, you can get a good job out of these fields, but you don’t necessarily have to go to college in order to do them.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.

Stacy Rapacon: College is a huge investment, and it’s so important to think about what you’re going to be studying, why you’re spending all that money, borrowing all that money to go to college.

Steve Pomeranz: Absolutely.

Stacy Rapacon: Music, and, yeah, it’s a … You can definitely still do it. We’re not trying to discourage people to study these things. I think it’s worthwhile personally, but, unfortunately, this is the way the dollars work out.

Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I mean, I think, if you go to a specialized college for music or for art, there may be something there, but if you’ve got some talent, find a mentor and study because spending, what, 100 … $150,000 on education is going to put you behind the eight ball and it’d be very…

Stacy Rapacon: Right.

Steve Pomeranz: … It would be very difficult for you to dig out. All right, number six on the-

Stacy Rapacon: Then-

Steve Pomeranz: Go ahead. I’m sorry.

Stacy Rapacon: Oh, and then, with these fields also, to get into the bigger jobs with music and art history, you do have to go on to get additional degrees, advance degrees in these fields, too, so it ends up even … costing even more to get into them.

Steve Pomeranz: Number three on the list is something that I’m a little familiar with because it’s radio and television. I’m glad I don’t do radio for my primary source of income. Starting salary is 38,000. Mid-career salary is 64,000. It might seem glamorous and a lot of fun, and it is to some degree, both of those, but it doesn’t really pay all that much.

Stacy Rapacon: Yeah, and I thought that it seemed … I found it interesting that not a lot of people who go on to become radio or television announcers even majored in radio and television. A lot of them majored in communications, journalism, or broadcasting, and that also opened them up to go after other fields if they decided to go in a slightly different direction later in their career.

Steve Pomeranz: Unfortunately, we are out of time, but I do want to mention, I guess … I hate to say it this way, but the worst major on the list was photography, so, moms and dads, be warned if your child wants a degree in photography. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it pays the least of all of them.

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Stacy, thank you so much for joining us.

Stacy Rapacon: Thanks for having me, Steve.

Steve Pomeranz: All right, wonderful.