Why Major in English?

The Wall Street Journal commissioned an informative survey recently, asking 11,000 people who graduated from college between 1999 and 2010 about the pay they received from their first jobs. They matched them with college major, and the results aren’t surprising.

Here’s a breakdown:

Engineering $56,000

Computer Science 50,000

Civil Engineering 49,000

Accounting 43,000

Economics 42,000

Finance 41,000

Biology 38,000

Business 38,000

Marketing 37,000

Political Science 36,000

Psychology 35,000

Communications 34,000

English 34,000

I can’t tell from the survey whether the researchers included how hard it was for people in different fields to find a job, but if the odds are more or less equal, then one can say that business degrees (currently the most popular undergraduate degree in the country by far) don’t pay all that much better than English degrees do. One expert quoted in the WSJ this morning found that “mid-career liberal arts majors she works with in northern Colorado make between $60,000 and $70,000. Those with technical degrees make at least $10,000 more.”

It seems from the numbers above that engineers make a lot more than $10K more than liberal-arts majors, but if business and finance degrees pay only $10K more to people in their 40s, then I can say with some confidence (depending on the employment odds question posed above) to undergrads who ask me about relative success of English majors and business majors that if they really love to read and study history, philosophy, and the fine arts . . . do it.

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