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Report Identifies Most Lucrative College Majors

By Jane Seo, Crimson Staff Writer

Reflecting back on his four years at Harvard, Noah A. Hoch ’11—a concentrator in Folklore and Mythology—said he is happy about his academic decisions.

Hoch said his choice to pursue the relatively small humanities concentration has given him a valuable lens through which to interpret the world.

“Folk and Myth is a dream,” he said.

But for students who may be less sure of their academic paths, a Georgetown University study published Tuesday raises questions about the financial implications of choosing one concentration over another.

The report, entitled “What’s It Worth? The Economic Value of College Majors,” examined the yearly earnings of full-time, full-year American workers ages 25 to 64 based on their college major.

On average, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree make about $55,000, which is about 74 percent more than those with just a high school diploma.

What was most interesting about the study, according to co-author Michelle N. Melton, was that individuals’ choices of undergraduate major mattered in predicting their future income.

“Earning potential between one major and another can [vary] more than 300 percent,” said Melton, a research analyst at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

In fact, the annual financial payoff for those with a counseling-psychology major came in at roughly $29,000. In contrast, those with a degree in petroleum engineering earned $120,000.

The report also considered racial and gender differences in earnings. Among individuals who pursue the same major, men earn more than women in virtually every instance. Furthermore, whites earn more than all other races in 10 of the 15 groups of majors. For example, whites with a degree in electrical engineering earn about $22,000 more per year than African Americans with the same degree.

“The point is not to encourage people to study a more lucrative major, but let them know that what they study affects their career and earning potential,” Melton said.

In response to the report, however, Hoch said he believes college education should not be about future financial gain.

“A better question to ask is not what will make the most money, but what will make me happy,” Hoch said.

Before declaring his concentration, Hoch said he was interested in pursuing a special concentration that focused on a social scientific approach to literature. Then he discovered Folklore and Mythology, which catered to his interest.

Hoch said that Folk and Myth is “an absolutely demanding program” that requires a thesis.

“What’s important about undergraduate education is that you learn to write well, think well, and push yourself to become more intellectually robust,” Hoch added.

Likewise, Daniel I. Lewis ’11, a computer science concentrator with a secondary in mathematics, said he chose his concentration based on his interest in programming, rather than out of a desire for high future earnings.

Lewis is currently in the process of applying for jobs. He said he would ideally like to work at Google for a year or two before doing a Ph.D. program.

On the other hand, another CS concentrator, former Undergraduate Council Vice President Eric N. Hysen ’11, said he did consider job prospects when choosing his concentration.

“Certain jobs are more accessible to people with a CS degree,” he said, adding that he had considered a degree in government before realizing that it “wasn’t for me.”

Still, Hoch said he has found his four years at Harvard to be rewarding on an intellectual level rather than simply on a practical level. After graduation, Hoch plans to move to China to teach.

“Who is the happiest after they graduate?” Hoch asked. “I am a happy guy.”

—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at janeseo@college.harvard.edu.

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