Major Impact: How Your Major Can Shape Your Career and Finances

Choosing a major in college is a weighty decision — especially when considering its impact on your financial future. While it’s essential to pick a major you’re interested in, it’s equally important to understand your prospective salary and job options after graduation.

Your college major can affect your lifelong earnings and employment opportunities, and some majors tend to outearn others.[1] Here’s a look at the financial impact of college majors and advice on achieving long-term financial success!

The financial impact of majors

A college degree is one of the biggest investments you make in your lifetime, especially if you use student loans to cover the cost. Some people dream of becoming lawyers, research librarians, or astronauts and are fully committed to their chosen fields.

But for those who don’t have a specific profession in mind when they go to college, it’s worth weighing all of your options and considering your future earning potential—including your ability to repay your loans—when deciding.

There are numerous resources to help you make an informed decision. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York offer research from reputable sources with valuable insight into industry trends and earning data, sorted by major or field of study.

Christian Lovell, PHR

What those studies say about college majors

Unsurprisingly, STEM fields tend to have higher starting and mid-career salaries compared to many other fields (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). For example, engineering graduates might start their careers earning around $70,000. Those salaries can also fluctuate based on specialty (e.g., mechanical engineers, biomedical engineers, software engineers, etc.) and skill set.

Fields like medicine and law require investments in graduate school, which means more money comes out of your pocket upfront. However, in these fields, extra years in school pay off, as doctors, nurses, and lawyers often see a substantial return on investment (ROI).

On the other hand, fields like education or the humanities can also require significant investments in tuition and student loans, but the ROI may be much lower. Unemployment rates also vary by discipline, with lower rates typically seen in STEM fields compared to fields like fine arts or history. So while there’s money to be made in every field — there’s just more of it in some fields than others.

Christian Lovell, PHR

How to make an informed choice

If you’re passionate about a particular degree or field of study, go for it! This isn’t meant to discourage you, but rather encourage you to make an informed decision for your future financial well-being and career.

To ensure you make a wise decision — one that your future self will thank you for — take the following into consideration:

  • Future earning potential: Look at the average salaries of your chosen field and compare that to the cost of earning your degree.
  • Industry trends: Will your occupation be in demand when you graduate? Will it be in demand for years to come?
  • Unemployment rate for your occupation: This will directly impact your ability to support yourself and repay any student loans you take out.

If you’re having trouble making a decision, you can enlist the help of trusted professionals:

  • College career center: Schedule time to speak with a career counselor. They can provide reliable information on future career prospects.
  • Professionals in your industry: Connect with professionals on LinkedIn or your college network who have the degree or career path you’re interested in and request a coffee meetup or phone chat. They can give you honest, first-hand insight into everything from employment prospects and salary to job satisfaction.
  • Studies and data: Finally, look at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics or check out current job openings online for insight into data and salary trends.

Your choice of major impacts your career trajectory and financial stability, so take time to make thoughtful, informed decisions about your education. It’s a serious investment of time and money, and you want to set yourself up for success, whatever that looks like for you.

Remember, the job market is constantly changing. Choosing a less lucrative field doesn’t lock you into a predetermined path—you always have options to pivot your career as your needs and interests change. The right major for you honors your passions while setting you up for the life you’ve always dreamed of.

Christian Lovell, PHR at USC Price

[1] Decker, Blake. “The Effect of Academic Major and Occupation on Lifetime Earnings – Data
Science.” The Texas A&M University System, 1 October 2023, Accessed 3 May 2024.


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