What to Major in College? The Most and Least Valuable Degrees
Actuarial science is the most valuable college major, according to a new Bankrate.com survey that ranks 162 majors based on average income and unemployment rates.
Adrian Garcia, an analyst with Bankrate, says actuaries are people you may want to thank or blame for the premiums you pay on car, home and health insurances. It's the top major because the average income is $109,000 and the unemployment rate is just 2.3 percent.
Garcia says the survey looked at how many graduates went on to get a master's or doctorate degree, knowing you may have to dip into your savings or take out loans to do that. But only 22 percent of actuaries did so, suggesting you can get a good job without having to have further schooling.
Actuarial science is considered a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) degree, which dominates the Top 5 list. At No. 2 is zoology, followed by nuclear engineering, health and medical preparatory programs and applied mathematics — all with six-figure incomes and low unemployment rates.
While zoologists make more than actuaries, earning an average of $111,889 with an unemployment rate of 1.4 percent, 68 percent of zoologists went on to earn master's and doctorate degrees.
While STEM degrees are on top, arts and humanities degrees are at the bottom of the Bankrate list. The least valuable college major is "Miscellaneous Fine Arts." Garcia says it's a vague degree with an average income of only $41,000 and a high unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.
Garcia says the bottom five degrees include composition and speech, clinical psychology, cosmetology services, culinary arts, and visual and performing arts.
With clinical psychology, the average income is $51,000, the unemployment rate is at 4.8 percent, and a whopping 74 percent of graduates went on to get a master's or doctorate degree.
Garcia says the prospect of a high salary is not everything when it comes to assessing the value of a specific college major. For example, the most financially lucrative degree, petroleum engineering, fails to crack the top 15 degrees (it's at number 18) because of its sky-high 7.9 percent unemployment rate — the second worst on the list.
"I think it's very important to think about not only how much you're going to be making, but the long-term employability of each job as well as are you going to have to go to graduate school or get a doctorate in order to get that maximum earning potential," Garcia said.