”Hard” Subjects Still Make the Top Grade

Deciding what to major it is always a tough choice. You want to study something that interests and excites you, but also a subject that'll lead to a stable, well-paying job. For the really lucky people, those two areas overlap and they're able to translate their passion into a paycheck. But for others, a little bit of compromise is required in order to make the ends meet. Here's what employers look for in terms of education.

"Hard" Subjects Still Make the Top Grade

According to the Economist, who used data from PayScale, a subject like engineering is worth its weight in gold. The example they use is obtaining an engineering degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where an engineering graduate makes an average of $1.1 million more over a 20-year period than someone who never went to college. Even if someone can't afford to go to a top-tier school, an engineering degree from a lesser-known institution can still offer a return on investment of half a million over the same 20 years.

When it comes to comparing degrees against degrees at brand name schools, the cream definitely rises to the top. Shelling out the tens of thousands for tuition at a school like Columbia University or the University of California, San Diego can be worth it for an arts and humanities degree, but not so for lesser-known schools. For example, getting an arts degree from Murray State University in Kentucky is actually worse than just graduating from high school and directly entering the workforce, as graduates make an average of $147,000 less over a 20-year period than their basic-educated counterparts.

To make matters worse, the Economist calculated that if your major is one of the unlucky 46 out of 153 polled, you'd be financially better off investing your tuition money in 20-year treasury bills than actually using it for college. And if you have the really bad misfortune to be one of a select 18 from that group of 46, you might as well light that money on fire because the ROI on the degree will lose you money (see the graph on the right side of the article for those schools).

Top Investments

As much as college should be a place where you come to grow as a person, share and learn ideas, and become a more intellectually enriched human, a degree has been reduced to a job requirement. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as you choose your major and school smartly.

Some of the Economist's big winners included:


  • University of Virginia, 17.6 percent ROI
  • Georgia Tech, 17.1 percent ROI
  • Harvard, 15.1 percent ROI
  • William and Mary, 14.8 percent ROI


And some of the more surprising schools on the list, the really big name institutions that you'd expect come with a hefty ROI but don't, include:


  • Carnegie Mellon, 10.2 percent ROI
  • Dartmouth and Yale, 13.3 percent ROI
  • Faulkner University, -0.5 percent ROI


What this study and article teach us is that while big name schools still count for a lot, they're not everything in the world of education. If you choose one of the top schools in the country, you'd likely be setting yourself up for a decent paycheck after graduation, but there seems be a really steep drop-off after that where a high school diploma can offer a better ROI than a college degree.