Earlier this week, The Hamilton Project released data documenting the lifetime earnings of people with different college degrees in the US, compared to those who only finished high school, or had a two-year associate diplomas. The top nine college majors are all various engineering fields; the 10th, increasingly popular, is computer science.
The full rankings are available here:
But what about those who aren’t average, people that reach the very top of their profession? As Jordan Weissman points out at Slate, when you look at the 95th percentile, the earnings superstars of a given field of study, economics actually reaches the top, likely due to heavy recruiting by the lucrative finance and consulting industries.
Here are the majors where superstars end up earning the most:
When you add graduate school, economics is still dominant, but there are some other interesting changes. Majors that often lead to medical school climb towards the top. Non-engineering science majors pay off a lot more when you keep going to school, and it really pays off to be an excellent doctor.
A few majors nowhere near the top without graduate school, like history and philosophy get a huge boost, likely indicating a tendency towards business or law school:
How much is graduate school worth? It very much depends on the subject you study. Here are the majors that see the biggest jump in lifetime earnings—providing the holders of the postgraduate degrees make it to the top 5% of their profession, in terms of earnings:
It’s important to note that those in the 95th percentile are very much outliers. The average engineer or computer science major makes more than the average finance manager. On the whole, engineering seems more likely to result in a stable, well paying career. But for the exceptional, there are better options.