According to a new survey from the Hamilton Project, the median pay of people with degrees in chemical engineering is higher than any other major, when measured over a lifetime. Over an entire work life, a typical college graduate will earn $1.19 million. Engineering of some sort take the top nine positions in terms of lifetime earnings, according to the research.
Just behind chemical engineering, which has a lifetime median earnings rate of more than $2 million, are aerospace, energy and extraction, computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, industrial and manufacturing engineering, and general engineering.
At the bottom of the list are music degrees, language and drama education, arts and music education, as well as psychology. Liberal arts simply do not pay.
Regardless of degree, it is generally better to graduate from college than just from high school:
The data confirm that individuals with higher levels of education have higher earnings throughout their career. Indeed, the earnings profile of bachelor’s degree graduates is completely above that of associate degree graduates, with the typical bachelor’s graduate earning just above $60,000 at career peak, about $20,000 more per year than an associate degree graduate. In turn, the median earnings of associate degree graduates is completely above that of high school graduates, although the earnings differences between these groups are smaller than those between bachelor’s degree graduates and associate degree graduates.
Strikingly, the earnings profile for every major lies above the profile for high school graduates over the first 40 career years. Even in the lowest-earning major, early childhood education, the median bachelor’s graduate earns more at every point during the career than does the median high school graduate. Across the vast majority of majors — though not all — bachelor’s graduates will usually earn more throughout their careers than workers with only an associate degree.
College debt, and the ability to pay that debt back, have been part of the debate about the value of higher education for some time. The Hamilton Project does not dodge that:
All of this being said, future earnings should not be the only factor that students weigh when determining what it is they want to study. It is, however, a significant factor, particularly as student debt burdens grow larger.
The problem persists as people age, making the value of higher education even more risky. According to the Federal Reserve of New York, about 2 million people over age 60 have some amount of student loan debt.