Myths About College Majors

Myths About College Majors

With the first round of early applications off to college, high school seniors will next feel the pressure to choose a college major. But does making this decision early even matter? And furthermore, does your college major truly predict the amount of money you’ll make after college? Jeffrey J. Selingo, author of “There is Life After College,” explores the myths behind choosing a college major.

Many colleges ask you to choose a major as early as your senior year of high school, on your admissions application. Yet there’s a good chance you’ll change your mind. The Education Department says that about 30 percent of students switch majors at least once.

Students get plenty of advice about picking a major. It turns out, though, that most of it is from family and friends, according to a September Gallup survey. Only 11 percent had sought guidance from a high school counselor, and 28 percent from a college adviser. And most didn’t think that the advice was especially helpful. Maybe it’s because much of the conventional thinking about majors is wrong.

Myth 1: For the big money, STEM always delivers.

It’s true that computer science and engineering top all the pay rankings, but salaries within specific majors vary greatly.

“Students and parents have a pretty good idea of what majors pay the most, but they have a poor sense of the magnitude of the differences within the major,” said Douglas A. Webber, an associate professor of economics at Temple University who studies earnings by academic field. He points to one example: The top quarter of earners who majored in English make more over their lifetimes than the bottom quarter of chemical engineers.

But what if you never make it to the top of the pay scale? Even English or history graduates who make just above the median lifetime earnings for their major do pretty well when compared to typical graduates in business or a STEM field.

To read other college major myths, click here.

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