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The 5 most (and least) valuable college majors for getting a job

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

What is the most valuable college major? The answer, according to a new in-depth study from Bankrate, is actuarial science.

The study examined three factors for 162 majors using data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey: annual salary, unemployment, and how high a graduate could go without grad school. Bankrate weighted the factors 70%, 20%, and 10%, respectively.

Actuarial science majors, who averaged $108,658 in income, had 2.3% unemployment and had just 22% of current workers holding higher degrees than a bachelor’s. Actuaries use math and statistical models to assess risk for financial services firms, insurance companies, or any other entities that examine risk.

Zoology followed actuarial science with a higher income ($111,889) and lower unemployment (1.4%), but a strong majority (68%) went to grad school to reach these numbers.

Nuclear engineering chalked up third place, followed by health and medical preparatory programs in fourth, and applied math majors in fifth. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) grads performed strongly across the board.

Petroleum engineering raked in the most cash, but it has high unemployment at almost 8% — the second-worst of the 162 ranked, which knocked it to 18th on the list. Other degrees had similarly high salaries, but an expectation for grad school bumped them down the list.

The least valuable majors were visual and performing arts, cosmetology services and culinary arts, clinical psychology, and composition and speech. Miscellaneous fine arts came in dead last. These majors on average make $40,855 and have an unemployment rate of 9.1%. (Only 13% go to grad school.) Most clinical psychology grads (74%), who make on average $51,022, went to grad school.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a four-year degree costs $16,757 from a public institution and $39,011 from a private one, on average. Student debt in the U.S. is over $1.5 trillion.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, retail, personal finance, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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