Making Money After You Leave the Ivory Tower

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University isn’t for everyone. Deciding on whether or not to pursue a degree should involve some deep thought and consideration. It isn’t getting any cheaper to attend university—tuition is on the rise—and student loan debt can be financially crippling for recent graduates, particularly those who are unable to find a well-paying job immediately after they graduate.

But attending university and attaining a bachelor’s degree still has major upside. Although there are now more university graduates in North America than ever before—and thus more competition for jobs requiring university degrees—the average income of someone with a post-secondary education is still higher than those with just a high-school diploma. Universities, as this article attests, http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/01/16/the-million-dollar-promise, may be overselling the financial benefits of getting a degree, but those benefits still exist.

Aside from the monetary benefits, of course, there are many intellectual and social rewards to be gained from attending university. For many people, the university experience broadens the mind and helps them think critically about the world in which they live. And the friends that people make in university are usually friends for life.

Although I would counsel anyone who’s deciding on what to study in university, to study a subject that they enjoy—why take an engineering degree if you’re going to hate it and drop out half way through?—it’s important to look at the cold hard reality of your financial prospects after graduation. If you pursue a degree in English Literature, or Psychology, and are fully aware that a limo isn’t going to pick you up outside your convocation venue and whisk you away to a job that pays six figures, then that’s fine; follow your passion. But it’s important to at least be aware of what degrees lead to higher incomes and lower levels of unemployment. After all, it would be nice to not have to eat Mr. Noodle for more than 4 years.

On the evidence of figures put out by the Wall Street Journal (http://graphicsweb.wsj.com/documents/NILF1111/#term=) graduates in the first three fields below have the best combination of low unemployment and high salaries; while those in the last three have the dreaded combination of high unemployment and low salaries.

The Best
 
 

Actuarial Science

Given the recent financial crisis that was caused, in part, by irresponsible risk taking, a degree in actuarial science—a discipline that uses statistical methods to assess risk in the financial industry, among others—would be very useful. And the numbers back that up. For those with a degree in actuarial science, the unemployment rate is 0.0% and the average salary is $81,000 (USD). What’s more, at the higher end of the earning spectrum—those in the 75th percentile—graduates are earning more than $116,000 annually.

Geological and Geophysical Engineering

In general, a degree in most engineering disciplines leads to a well-paying job, but one in geological and geophysical engineering is near the top of the pile. A 0.0% unemployment rate for graduates in the field—remember that the unemployment rate in the U.S. right now is close to 8 %—is a major plus, but the financial perks aren’t too bad either. Graduates earn, on average, $73,000 and have the potential to earn over $100,000.

Pharmacology

According to the University of Toronto website, “to be a pharmacologist requires a solid knowledge of the biological sciences, and also of mathematics, chemistry, and many aspects of medicine”. To a liberal arts graduate like myself, that all sounds quite scary, and it’s not surprising that graduates in pharmacology have very decent career prospects. Graduates in the field have next to no issues when in comes to finding work, earn $60,000 on average, and over six figures depending on their experience and the institution they work in.

The Worst
 
 

Clinical Psychology

Graduates in clinical psychology have the highest rate of unemployment among any field in the Wall Street Journal study—a whopping 19.5%! While the salary prospects aren’t dismal for those in the field, they aren’t great either—graduates earn $40,000 on average. Part of the problem seems to be a lack of jobs available for undergraduates with psychology degrees. For a truly lucrative and secure career in the field it’s necessary to pursue an advanced degree in psychology. To call yourself a psychologist, for example, you need to have a PhD.

Library Science

15% of undergraduates in library science are unable to find work, and those that do, on average, are stuck in jobs paying little over $35,000. According to the blog Annoyed Librarian, at libraryjournal.com, “a library science major has the trappings of a professional degree, but it doesn’t qualify one for the profession of librarianship”. Similar to the issue of studying psychology at the undergraduate level, becoming a librarian requires a post-graduate degree. In other words, you’re better off studying something else at the undergraduate level, and doing an advanced degree in library science if you’re interested in the profession.

Miscellaneous Fine Arts

It’s tough to find a job in your field of study if you’re a graduate in fine arts—16.2% of graduates in the field can’t find work according to the Wall Street Journal. For those that do, just like undergraduates graduates in library science, the pay is low– $40,000 on average, and not too much more at the high end of the spectrum. But, as with any degree, money isn’t everything. Those studying in the field of fine arts are often just as concerned with doing something they love and finding their passion. That doesn’t making it any less tough to make a living, however. 

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