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by Kaitlin McManus | September 03, 2019


Kids Wearing Backpacks

It’s no secret that those going into certain fields tend to have an easier time finding employment and making ends meet than those in other fields. And while money isn’t everything (for example, people go into early childhood education looking to make a difference, not to make bank), it is something—as is one’s ability to repay debt and the unemployment rate in one’s chosen field. In a recent study of 162 college majors, BankRate used these three factors (average salary, unemployment rate, and debt-repayment capabilities) to rank the most valuable majors. And, by virtue of how rankings work, the least valuable too. The full list is available here, but we’ve pulled the top (and bottom) five.

5 MOST Valuable Majors

1. Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering

Median Income: $90,000

Unemployment Rate: 1.6%

2. Nuclear Engineering

Median Income: $98,100

Unemployment Rate: 1.8%

3. Pharmacy/Pharmaceutical Sciences & Administration

Median Income: $100,000

Unemployment Rate: 2.2%

4. Genetics

Median Income: $85,000

Unemployment Rate: 1.2%

5. Electrical Engineering

Median Income: $99,000

Unemployment Rate: 2.7%

STEM careers are the clear winner here, with a distinct lean towards specialized engineering. The sky-high salaries combined with the rock-bottom unemployment rates make these fields extraordinarily attractive. And, like most STEM careers, the demand for people in these roles will only increase, meaning there’s a lot of opportunity for advancement and growth.

5 LEAST Valuable Majors

1. Drama & Theater Arts

Median Income: $35,500

Unemployment Rate: 5.2%

2. Visual & Performing Arts

Median Income: $32,000

Unemployment Rate: 4.1%

3. Composition & Rhetoric

Median Income: $37,800

Unemployment Rate: 4.4%

4. Linguistics & Comparative Language & Literature

Median Income: $40,000

Unemployment Rate: 3.9%

5. Fine Arts

Median Income: $37,000

Unemployment Rate: 4.8%

I can’t imagine anyone’s shocked to find arts degrees at the bottom of the list (no knocks to arts degrees, I’m right there with you—English is in the bottom 20 percent), but it’s still a bit disheartening to see the numbers. The high unemployment rate for these majors is the real killer (the national unemployment rate as of July 2019 was 3.7 percent, for context). It’s also worth noting that many of the drama folks will likely head to New York or Los Angeles to ply their trades—but these cities are also wildly expensive to live in, which doesn’t jive well with the $35,500 median salary. It’s a tough field, so I tip my hat to the people that dedicate themselves to the arts in spite of that knowledge.

Choosing your major, whether you do it first thing freshman year or at the last second, is one of the most important things you do during your college career. It’s important to take into account your passions and talents as well as the types of career path you’re after. Just because you love something doesn’t necessarily make it an optimal career choice, and just because a certain field pays well doesn’t mean it’s right for you. So make sure that you consider your major carefully and that it feels right for you—because the right major can be a lot more “valuable” than the one that’s the most lucrative.