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Are all degrees created equal?

May 12, 2016 No Comments

One statement I hear alllll the time is, “It doesn’t matter what degree you get, just get a degree.” It’s a message that comes from a lot of places, including parents, older siblings, ill-informed friends, people who are currently in college who have never actually had a career, etc. Even that new University of Phoenix commercial touts, “A degree is a degree.”

To that, I give you Dwight Schrute:


Seriously, ladies, DO NOT believe that all degrees are created equal. That is a big fatty lie! Would you like some proof? Excellent, let’s look.

The Hamilton Project is an economic policy initiative begun in 2006. They want to see our economy improve and put forth policy proposals on how to do that. Check out their interesting info here. I was excited when I found that they have lots of charts. {nerd} The coolest one lets you look at career earnings by degree! It’s similar to other tools I’ve shown on here, but this one is great because you can put up to 4 degrees next to each other on the chart to compare. Be still my heart, right?

So let’s demo this bad boy. FYI it’s super easy and quick. Click here to get to the chart. Here’s what you should see:


Along the top you have four fields where you can select the degree/department or level of education. Notice that they default the 4th option to a high school degree or GED. You can change it, but it is an interesting perspective. Also, make sure you check the box at the top that indicates full-time employees only. That’ll help you get a clearer perspective.

Go ahead and play around with a few different majors and check out some comparisons. Here’s an example:


Ok, so I know I bring up Art History semi-frequently, but that’s because it’s one where I know many jobless people. To be fair, my Psychology degree isn’t a top-earner either. Take a gander:

Sorry Freud, apparently entry-level psychoanalysis education doesn’t bring in the big bucks. Who’d have thought?

That stings a little. Especially since it is one of the most common undergrad degrees on most college campuses. You know what that looks like to me? A lot of people paying a ton of money for a not very lucrative degree. There’s no point in a college education that doesn’t give you the skills/earning potential to pay off the cost of that college education.

Normally I advocate being like Leo when you can, but not in this case

Look at those high-earning degrees though–wowza! After one year of employment, a computer engineer is making $57k ($29.68/hr) and a chemical engineer is making $65k ($33.85/hr). After one year! The Art History major is making $32k or $16.67/hr. If you’re not aware–that’s not much money. It’s more than you were making in college, but in the grand scheme of adulthood bills, it’s not much. You can go work for All State or Progressive in their call centers for about $15/hr without any degree at all.

Let’s get real for a minute. I never want to be a chemical engineer. It’s not happening and I’ll never pursue that, even though they make bank. I find the liberal arts and humanities much more captivating and can see their application in daily life. I love making connections from the things I learned in liberal arts classes and human behavior. I believe very much in their importance and value to society. BUT if I had to do college all over again, I would not have chosen a liberal arts degree. Why? Because of that chart above. It doesn’t pay. All the nobility and passion I see from my degree is nice, but I care more about feeding my family, having insurance, and having the financial freedom to enjoy life. I believe in keeping the arts alive, but we don’t need hundreds of thousands of students choosing to major in them. Otherwise we have hundreds of thousands of college grads trying to support themselves and their families on $35k a year. If your degree predominantly only allows you to teach your degree to other people…you may need to reconsider. Or at least look into as many options of using your desired degree as possible. If you’re a business genius and can figure out a way to use that education to make a ton of money–go right ahead! I do know people that have done that as well.

hard time
Sad, but true

As you search through this tool and get an up-close salary comparison, will you keep an open mind? I don’t think choosing your life’s work based solely on money is a great idea, but I also don’t think ignoring the importance of financial security is smart either. Look at your interests, look at who the world is interested in paying well, and make educated decisions.

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