As mentioned above, having a college degree or that plus a graduate degree is a huge predictor of wealth. Median earnings for people with a high school diploma or GED after 30 years are $35,000; with some colleges but no degree it is $42,000, with an associate’s degree $48,000 and a bachelor’s degree a big bump to $68,000.
Over a lifetime, median earnings for college graduates are $1.28 million. That is twice the lifetime earnings for those with a high school degree or GED, who earn a median of $630,000.
OK, so let’s say you’re in college and you feel like you’re on a good track to earn some serious cash. Does your major matter? Yes, it does. Cumulative lifetime earnings range from a median of $770,000 for early childhood education majors to $2.28 million for aerospace engineering majors.
Of course, within each major there are variations; the median means that half of people will earn more and half will earn less.
The top earning majors with their average wage after graduation are:
- Health and medical preparatory (pre-med) – $165,400
- Petroleum engineering – $156,089
- Zoology – $141,800
- Pharmacology – $135,672
- Economics – $133,200
- Applied mathematics – $130,313
- Actuarial science – $129,400
- Engineering and industrial management – $129,330
- Engineering mechanics, physics, science – $129,100
- Naval architecture and marine engineering – $127,900
As you can see, science and engineering majors will prepare you for high paying jobs after graduation. Majors that focus on educating children or providing counseling services including communication disorders sciences, visual and performing arts, human services and community organization, studio arts and early childhood education tend to have the lowest earnings.
If you decide to go on to earn a graduate degree, you can increase your earnings potential even more. Men with a graduate degree earn $620,000 more over a lifetime than men with just a bachelor’s degree and women earn $430,000 more with a graduate degree than women with just a bachelor’s.