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Want a Bigger Paycheck? Pick the Right Major

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Bachelor’s degrees can pay handsomely

If you’re intending to leap up the earnings ladder, your field of study is perhaps more important than how many degrees you earn. This is the finding of a new analysis by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which pinpoints how to best fatten your bank account with minimum study time. First, take a look at the median lifetime earnings for bachelor’s degree holders by field:

—Architecture or engineering: $3.8 million

—Computers, statistics or math: $3.6 million

—Business: $3 million

—Physical sciences or health: $2.9 million

—Social Sciences, biology or life sciences: $2.9 million

—Communications or journalism: $2.8 million

—Agriculture or natural resources: $2.6 million

—Law or public policy: $2.6 million

—Humanities or liberal arts: $2.4 million

—Arts: $2.3 million

—Psychology or social work: $2.2 million

—Education: $2 million

The top-earning fields trounce the bottom of the pack by nearly twofold. (And these are just the 50th percentile earnings — the 75th percentile earners in architecture and engineering earn $5.1 million.) 

The Georgetown report also highlights another key tidbit: Obtaining just an associate’s degree in a high-earning field like computer science or mathematics attracts the same lifetime earnings as all bachelor’s degree holders ($2.8 million). The same holds true for higher-level degrees. The message here is that if income generation is your goal, minimum degrees in high-earning fields can earn very hefty salaries, and additional degrees spike those earnings.

So why do so many students study in low-earning fields?

Academics have long thought that college students are simply unaware of future earnings numbers, so the University of Texas recently teamed up with the Census Bureau to explain future income implications to students. After two years of coaching, the students largely ignored the data and followed their passions anyway.

The smart approach here is not to abandon one’s passions, but to incorporate lower-earning passions into higher-earning fields. For example, a passion for psychology pays most dividends with a degree in organizational psychology; a yen for education can translate lucratively into a career at a pharmacological, nursing or medical school. The other alternative is to simply understand that substantial salaries in education or psychology likely require multiple graduate degrees.

It’s not your imagination — your coworkers are more rude

Remote and hybrid work has spiked workplace incivility, says Larry Martinez, an organizational psychologist at Portland State University. He recently completed a new meta-analysis of 70 studies involving 35,344 workers, which found that small snubs, such as a coworker ignoring your email, are much more harmful and contagious than thought, trickling through the team to cause copycat rude behavior among both victims and bystanders, which results in workers disengaging, performing badly and focusing poorly. “We know that people are more likely to be uncivil when they’re remote,” he says. You’ve probably experienced a slight such as being ignored in a Zoom meeting or receiving a two-word reply to a long email. It bothers you more than you’d like to admit. The solution: When possible, get face time. And know that incivility happens periodically despite everyone’s best efforts. He suggests addressing it immediately and lightly, letting the person know both that you felt slighted and how to fix it.

Jobs alert: Manufacturing tech about to get hot

It’s time to drift back to manufacturing jobs. A new working paper out of MIT says that a huge labor shortage (2 million U.S. jobs) is coming this decade. The shortage is caused by a combination of retiring Boomers, low interest among young workers, and skill shortages in technology advances like automation and digitization. Though people with college degrees now make up over 40% of the manufacturing workforce (up from 22% in 1991), manufacturers will soon need millions of workers, with or without college degrees. The study authors are worried that non college-degree holders, particularly current factory workers, won’t realize that these tech-heavy jobs are “theirs for the taking. [They] might not see the training investment as worthwhile.” Someone needs to fill those well-paying jobs running manufacturing equipment, and it might as well be you.

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