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Major Considerations

Employment Matters column,

A recent column discussed the importance of getting hands-on experience when choosing your major. There’s no better guide than real-world experience when you’re trying to sort out what to do with your life.

But there are other questions to consider too – How much will your choice of degree cost? Can you afford it? Will your post-education income be enough to pay back your student loans?

Which industries are thriving or dying? Which majors are popular – and why? What about average pay, benefits, working locations, and working conditions? There are many different factors involved, and the only person who knows what’s most important to you is… you.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has a few things to say about degree choices. Their numbers for 2008 show that business degrees are by far one of the most popular degrees, with about 325,000 business degrees awarded. Clearly, most graduates are following the money. Business degrees have topped the list for at least 15 years, and have seen significant growth over that time.

Next up are degrees in social science and history. These degrees are favorites among people interested in government work and personal service jobs. Approximately 160,000 were awarded last year – not quite half the number of business degrees. But the popularity of this field has jumped over the last 3 years.

Another people-oriented field, education, comes in third at about 115,000 degrees provided. It has seen very little growth, remaining close to that number since 1995.

Then there are several fields that all attract about the same number of degree awards; psychology, health, engineering, communications, biology.

At the bottom, we have performing arts, communications and computers. Fewer degrees for the performing arts field is understandable – it’s an area demanding talents that not everyone has, and some of those skills are as much a matter of temperament as training.

The lack of popularity for communications and computer degrees is puzzling. You’d expect that the explosion of communications technology and computers tied to the development of the Internet would create much more interest. But this sector was burned by the crash in 2000, and hasn’t fully recovered since.

Here’s another interesting fact – many more bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women than men.

In 2008, men collected 630,600 four-year degrees, while women took home 854,642. Women are outhustling men by 26% in the four-year degree game. Better pick up your feet, guys.

What about Master’s degrees? Women are on top there, too, with 356,169. Men lag with 237,896. That’s a 33% difference, fellas. You’re looking like slackers.

Doctoral degrees are more evenly matched, with 28,634 for men, 27,433 for women.

Then there are costs. The most recent numbers the NCES has for annual tuition are from 2006-2007, and here’s how they average.

For public colleges and universities, you save big – like $8,000 a year big – if you’re a resident in the state of the school you attend.

If you live on campus as a state resident, the average annual tuition is $15,147. If you multiply that number by 4, you’ll get a rough estimate of your total cost to earn a degree. In this case, it adds up to $60,588.

That stunned feeling you’re experiencing now is called sticker shock. But it gets worse. Average tuition costs rose 5.3 percent over the previous year. That trend is expected to continue and could easily accelerate.

Just for fun, let’s suppose your average annual tuition cost rises only 5% each year. Say your first year costs $15,147. Year two will cost $15,904. Year 3 costs $16,700. Your senior year will be $17,535. Add it all up: $65,286.

That’s called inflation. It hurts. Keep in mind, these numbers do not include transportation. If you want to have a car during your college years, that’s extra.

If you’re an out of state student, your average annual tuition begins at $22,928. Big difference!

Let’s go back to your in-state public school. If you live off campus, your average annual tuition begins at $16,708, basically because your housing costs will be higher. But what if you live at home with your family? Your savings are huge – average cost falls to $9,427 a year.

If you’re thinking private college, you’ll need more – over 28K a year living on campus, 27K (actually lower) off campus, and about 20K if you live at home with family while attending college.

Remember too that these are averages, and they’re nearly 3 years old. Current annual tuitions may be higher or lower depending on the school you choose.

These are intimidating numbers for anyone who doesn’t have a fat inheritance. If you have no choice but to finance this with an 8% student loan, you’ve got a lot to think about.

Now you know why most graduates are following the money and pursuing business degrees.

Related Links:

Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary

National Center for Education Statistics Fast Facts

Written by Influential Prose

October 1, 2009 at 1:06 am

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