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Career earnings by college major

October 8, 2020 Education, Employment & Wages

See the accompanying economic analysis, “Major Decisions: What Graduates Earn Over Their Lifetimes.”


Over the entire working life, the typical college graduate will earn $1.19 million in today’s dollars. This is more than twice as much as the lifetime earnings of a typical high school graduate ($580,000), and $335,000, or 39 percent, more than that of a typical associate’s degree graduate. What is less understood is that not all college degrees are the same. Earnings differ dramatically across majors—in starting salaries, wage growth over time, and ultimately lifetime earnings.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, we have calculated annual median earnings from career start to retirement for 80 majors (top figure). We have also calculated lifetime earnings for these majors, taking into account that some graduates fare better than others, even within the same major (bottom figure). You can choose or search from each of these majors, as well as education levels below a bachelor’s degree, using the four selection boxes above. By default, earnings profiles exclude people with graduate degrees but include part-time workers and those who experience unemployment throughout the year, as the risks of unemployment and underemployment differ across education levels and majors. You can, however, view earnings among only those working full-time, or include workers with graduate degrees, by clicking the check boxes up top.

Any replication of this chart should be credited to The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. For more information, please contact us at [email protected].