The Cost of a College Degree Depends On What the Major Is

Every so often we are presented with decisions and choices that could dramatically affect the rest of our lives. And they don’t come much bigger than deciding whether to continue with higher education by attending a university or college and ultimately graduating with a degree.  The cost of a college degree depends on what your major is!

I’ve written this post as a follow up to Kevin’s post earlier this month, How Much Should You Invest in a College Education? That is a very relevant question, but one that I think might overlook certain important variables. The most important being the choice of degree program. In today’s economy, that decision may be even more important than the decision to even attend college.

The Cost of a College Degree Depends On What the Major Is
The Cost of a College Degree Depends On What the Major Is

Although you’ll need to pick a major that‘s relevant in the job market, some students don’t worry too much about their long-term career prospects – they simply want to experience university life. However, the spiraling cost of higher education is forcing every individual to think twice about whether a degree is really worth it.

I think it is – so long as the right major is chosen. Some degrees simply don’t have the economic and career value that they once did, and that can never be ignored given how much a college education costs.

The Cost of a College Degree – Choosing the right degree program

There is little doubt that undergraduate programs and bachelor’s degrees at established universities or colleges will improve your chances of getting an impressive job, but there is a strong argument for entering the working world sooner rather than later. So what do wannabe students need to consider and think about?

More so than ever before, choosing the right degree program is of the utmost importance and carries lifelong consequences. Not long ago, any old degree would suffice for the majority of recruiters. As long as you could apply yourself every day in a working environment and demonstrate a certain level of competency, employers were more than happy to take on most university graduates.

Many people in the US think that the issue of high unemployment among college graduates is an American problem, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The problem is being felt in Europe and throughout the world. For example, surveys in the UK show that while having a university degree is still better than not having one (mainly in the long run), the type of degree has a major impact on the disparity.

Where there is a discrepancy between the US and the rest of the world, it may be in that many foreign universities offer more relevant degree programs than their counterparts in the US. While US schools seem to cater to student preferences on degree programs, non-US universities are more likely to offer the programs that are most relevant in the global economy.

Non-US universities typically offer degree programs that have the potential for the graduate to cross international borders with relevant careers skills. This may be necessary because there aren’t always a lot of well-paying jobs available in the host country, so students must necessarily be prepared for international employment. For example, the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates caters to international students and offers programs in highly relevant graduate programs, such as Master of Science in Mathematics, teaching English to speakers of foreign languages (even though the university is not based in an English speaking country), MS in Accounting, and a host of degree programs in engineering.

Such course offerings are not at all unusual in non-Western universities, since they are often preparing students for life in a host of potential countries, including the US.

College students in the US probably need to seriously consider embracing these more challenging degree programs, not the least of which since they carry the potential for overseas employment. That is becoming ever more important as the economy becomes more globally focused. And now that higher education isn’t as accessible or cheap as it used to be, there is more pressure to pick a degree or program that will guarantee not only a decent job, but a good salary as well.

Financial benefits

I guess that I’m taking issue with Kevin’s assumption that a college degree isn’t for everyone. While I see his point, I believe that the choice of major is really the most important decision. If a student does manage to find a favorable university and a degree that leads to encouraging remuneration, it seems like an overwhelming number of sources are in agreement that higher education is worth it.

According to a report by CNN, the rate of return for a bachelor’s degree in the US has been around 15 per cent since 2000. The story also goes on to reveal that those with a degree earn around 75% more than high school graduates, which equates to roughly $1 million over the course of a lifetime.

It is a similar story across the Atlantic too, as university graduates in the UK are also much better off compared to those who do not participate in higher education. The Office for National Statistics says that graduates earn the US equivalent of about $20,000 more per year than those without degrees. On top of that, graduates are around half as likely to be unemployed and will have a more varied choice of jobs.

And perhaps we also have to look at the alternative. What happens to the young person who decides not to go to college at all? The statistics on employment for non-college graduates is even more dismal than it is for college graduates with weak majors!

Looking to the future

Ultimately, students that are interested in pursuing higher education need to think about the long-term. Three or so years of university life, which for most probably costs tens of thousands of pounds or dollars, might feel a bit extortionate but it will all be worth it in a few decades time.

While the pressure of choosing the right course, degree or program also seems like a difficult and daunting decision, it really does require extensive deliberation. But if you get it right, you’ll potentially be set up for life. That much hasn’t changed in the New Economy.

Claire Roy is currently studying a marketing master’s degree in London, absorbing all the city has to offer and blogging about all her adventures in the Big Smoke.

( Photo by NazarethCollege )

6 Responses to The Cost of a College Degree Depends On What the Major Is

  1. It is absolutely imperative that students consider job prospects when choosing a major. While many liberal arts students would argue with me, the sad fact is that fine art, art history or music appreciation, philosophy, gender and minority studies simply do not have the job prospects that science, math, engineering and anything in the medical field have. If a student comes from a wealthy family or doesn’t need to be concerned about post graduate employment, go for it. But for other students, even a technical or trade school curriculum is more promising.

  2. Hi Kathy – I completely agree. Interesting that you mention students from wealthy families. I’ve long believed that when it comes to education and college in particular, that middle class families generally tend to imitate rich families. What I mean is that they either believe that any degree is a good degree, or that they must break the bank and get their kids into the best colleges. You can do both when you’re wealthy because no matter how it plays out your kids will always land on their feet.

    But when you’re poor or middle class the risks are much greater and need to be approached from a more practical standpoint. For example, if junior doesn’t land a well-paying job upon graduation the family will have to deal with an enormous debt obligation. So junior going to an Ivy League school and majoring in philosophy isn’t really an option for working class families. A nursing or IT major at a community college is more realistic when you don’t have back-up options.

  3. I chose my major simply on what I want to do for the rest of my life. I don’t want to focus on the money portion of it because it might deter me from focusing on what I want to do.

  4. Hi Alexis – That’s a good idea as long as what you want to do is financially viable, and the school you’re attending isn’t TOO expensive. A lot of people are majoring in areas where there are no jobs or business opportunities after graduation. That’s a risky bet these days.

  5. I know I wish I had spent some more time figuring things out. I knew I was in a low paying degree and finished school fast to try and get out to work my way up. I eventually switched careers and jumped in to business and moved in to management, but lost a few years of extra income by taking a slower path initially. I have made it to where I want to be but could have planned it better.

  6. Hi Lance – Your example however highlights another important issue, that experience also counts in the career path. If your degree is weak but you get relevant experience (especially if you can do it while you’re in school), it will likely get you where you want to be. Most careers have to be worked into, which is to say that it’s seldom a straight line. As long as you didn’t spend too much money getting your degree, it all worked out in the end.

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