Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The "Best" College Majors Can Mean Different Things

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The "Best" College Majors Can Mean Different Things

Article excerpt

Chances are parents and college-bound students probably don't all have the same answers to the question, "What are the best college majors?" The difficulty, of course, is how someone defines "best."

Are the best majors the ones that will reap the highest incomes after graduation? Are the best ones those that qualify a graduate for the jobs that have the most openings? Maybe the best majors are the easiest for a student, or those that interest the student the most.

Perhaps your soon-to-be college freshman daughter thinks a performing arts career is what she would like because she loves the television show Dancing with the Stars. On the other hand, you were thinking along the lines of Russian Literature as a nice, quiet major.

You and your daughter (and maybe the guidance counselor) will have to figure out what her majors will be at college. But we have compiled a look of several studies by government agencies, educational institutions and other researchers to, if not get your family to agree, at least have starting points for decision-making conversations.

If one of the goals for attending college is to become well-off, there are certain majors that rise to the top. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 American Community Survey provides a good clue as to what majors give someone a better chance of being included in the top 1 percent of earners.

In order, the majors included: pre-med, economics, biochemistry, zoology and biology. The data does not include majors listed by fewer than 50,000 people in 2010.

So, yes, it's no surprise that your doctor has a good chance (more than one in 10, actually) of being a one percenter. But then the picture gets a little more complicated. Among art history/ criticism majors, 5.9 percent are 1 percenters; or 0.4 percent of all one percenters. Those in pharmacy/pharmaceutical sciences and administration show 3.9 percent as 1 percenters; 0.7 percent of all 1 percenters.

If you fear unemployment, heed what the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce discovered after studying the American Community Survey. Researchers concluded that the lowest unemployment rates among recent and experienced college graduates occurred among those who majored in education, health, or agriculture and natural resources.

Those who majored in arts and humanities and architecture ranked highest in the unemployment rankings.

And while unemployment rates for recent college graduates with bachelor's degrees was lower than those only with high school diplomas (9 percent versus 23 percent), the choice of majors was still a big factor.

Although traditional built environment architects who design housing and buildings may be in between projects, those in the architecture and engineering occupations are finding themselves in more demand. …

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