As a career coach, I am at times asked for such advice as whether I believe a person is a good fit for the person’s current profession or some future one. Usually, I refer such a case to my business partner, who is a well-qualified and experienced career counselor who meets with clients several times before a mutually agreeable answer is reached.
I’ve seen people change careers even after a very long period in one profession. Such a change is very challenging, because typically, the person has already attained a certain salary level, and starting in a different profession does not afford such a job seeker the credibility and experience needed to compete with others who’ve been already on that track for several years. However, in a different context, parents of juniors and seniors in high school ask my opinion about their children’s future. And in that context, I came across a comprehensive study by Georgetown University. The study focused on the value of having a bachelor’s degree.
The study evaluated 171 majors and found some eye-popping results. For example, the study found that the median annual earnings of someone with a bachelor’s degree can vary from $29,000 for a counseling psychology major to $120,000 for a petroleum engineering major. From that example, one could rightfully question the value of a college degree to start with. About 8 percent of all college majors fall into the category of business management and administration; those graduates have a median annual income of $58,000. About 5 percent of all majors are in general business; those graduates have a median annual income of $60,000. Accounting majors make up 4 percent and have a median annual income of $63,000.
The Georgetown study also looked at the correlation between college major and pursuant profession. For example, 19 percent of physics majors went into computer and management occupations; 14 percent went into engineering. About 18 percent of liberal arts majors went into management; 15 percent went into sales. At the other end of the spectrum are majors that are extremely unpopular—to the point of representing less than 1/100 of 1 percent, or 0.01 percent, of majors—such as nuclear engineering, soil science, and pharmacology.
More interesting and unsurprising facts that the study found are that the nursing major is made up of 92 percent females and 8 percent males, that nuclear engineering attracts 91 percent males, and that elementary education comprises 91 percent females.
The study ranked respondents by race and ethnicity. For example, among African-American students, the most popular major is school student counseling, at 38 percent. For Hispanics, biology engineering is the top major, at 22 percent.
The most fascinating information in the study covered people’s earnings. Customarily, earnings are bracketed as falling in such categories as high, low, and then the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles. As mentioned earlier, the major with the highest earning capacity is petroleum engineering, whose 75th percentile is $189,000 annually, whereas the median is $120,000.
A subset of the study dealt with the disparity between male and female incomes. In most cases, males are paid more than females by various percentages, but in some cases—for example, the information science major—females’ median annual earnings are $75,000, whereas males’ earnings are only $65,000. The conclusion is that women earn the most with a degree in, say, pharmacy-pharmaceutical science and administration, and the least in, say, theology and religious vocations.
In summary, nowadays the options and opportunities for young people to pursue their careers’ desires are very complex. A good decision and a good fit can keep a person happy and well compensated, whereas a career based on a poor or haphazard decision can result in many years of misery and a path to poverty.