You don't have to be a business major to earn big bucks — here's proof

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Why Your College Major Matters

On the surface, the financial prospects for certain majors look grim.

According to a report from Georgetown University's Center on Education in the Workforce, college students who major in education, social work, most of the arts, and many of the social sciences, go on to earn less — significantly less — than their STEM-studying, business-concentrating, and economics-focused peers.

But a new tool from the recruitment firm The Ladders has good news for once and future artist majors, education majors, and aspiring anthropologists: you are not doomed to a life of ramen noodles. At least, not necessarily.

They crunched the data on more than 800,000 of their members, looking at each person's undergraduate concentration, and what that person is earning now.

Based on their sample, the supposed gulf between business majors and music majors isn't much of a gulf at all. In large part, that's because what people studied when they were 19 doesn't hold all that much sway over what they're doing now.

For example, here's a sampling of the more popular careers and salaries for Ladders members who majored in electrical engineering:

  • Engineer (Average salary $107,432)
  • Software developer (Average salary $124,641)
  • Operations manager (Average salary $123,610)

And here's the sample of what people undergraduate political science majors are doing now:

  • In-house counsel (Average salary $122,487)
  • Sales and marketing representative (Average salary $121,328)
  • Attorney ($122,329)

Meanwhile, here are some of the more popular jobs and salaries among oft-maligned art majors:

  • Marketing representative (Average salary $108,143)
  • Graphic designer (Average salary $97,643)
  • Creative director (Average salary $113,565)

student studying laptop outsideOf course, there's are some important caveats: while these numbers are drastically more hopeful than the numbers in the Georgetown study, which show studio art majors earning, on average, something more like $42,000 by mid-career, they're also skewed.

The Ladders isn't working with a random data set; they're working with the data from their membership base — a membership base that's significantly higher-earning than the general population. That helps explain one of the most striking thing about the numbers — they're pretty consistent across majors.

Notably, too, a significant number of these people aren't working in the careers they might have envisioned for themselves at 18. (One job that doesn't appear, for example, on the most common jobs for art majors: studio artists. Then again, working painters probably aren't using The Ladders.)

But in some ways, that's exactly the point of the tool. "If you really want to succeed," The Ladders' Jade Clark explains, "you wouldn't want to look at the average. You'd want to look at what the people who made it did."

It's not that you will earn six figures with your studio art degree — on that front, the Georgetown data is much more representative. The point is that it's possible.

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