Her dad wanted her to be a doctor, but Avery Waklatsi had a different plan.
“You have to be honest with yourself when you choose humanities – you’re not going to make money,” said Waklatsi, a 21-year-old senior psychology and history double major. “I think that being happy is better than having money.”
Because of her many experiences dealing with bias and ignorance growing up, she plans to go into industrial and organizational psychology to help close the ethnic and gender gaps in the workplace.
Waklatsi said she’s pursuing her career choice because of a passion she has for the field, but like many other college students, she is faced with the decision to choose a career based on money or interest. And starting salaries for humanities majors hover at just around $36,000.
Overall, a college education seems to pay off regardless of the major that’s chosen. A 2013 study by Georgetown University found that on average, a full-time worker with a college degree earns 84 percent more money yearly than a worker without a higher education degree.
Not only do bachelor’s degree holders earn more, they also are less likely to be unemployed and live in poverty than their less educated counterparts, the study reveals.
Moving from a high school diploma to some college to a bachelor’s degree and beyond, Pew Research Institute showed that across the board, those who completed at least four years of college were more likely to feel that they have a career they are satisfied with and have enough education to get ahead in their job.
For 2013 graduates, the average starting salary went up by 2.6 percent from $44,482 the previous year to $45,633, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ survey.
However, the differences in majors play a role when discussing earnings.
As the Georgetown study reported, the sciences tend to be the heavyweights on the pay scale. Petroleum engineering easily has the biggest payoff with median earnings of $120,000, followed by pharmaceutical sciences and chemical engineering, none of which are offered as four-year degree programs at Loyola.
Early childhood education, arts and human services jobs are on the other end of the scale. Counseling psychology comes in last with median earnings of $29,000.
Low salary is coupled with higher unemployment rates for those jobs as well. And when the job search proves fruitless, some turn to graduate school as a solution. But more education doesn’t always mean more earnings. According to the Georgetown study, for those in the arts, advertising and public relations, the monetary boost from a graduate degree hovers around 10 percent. Surprisingly, though, several of the high-earning degrees reap few benefits from moving beyond a bachelor’s degree.
But some students feel pushed into getting a graduate degree to make a living.
“It makes me feel a little nervous just because I feel like to really get a job I’m going to need to get my master’s at least,” said 20-year-old Paige Smith, a junior biology major.
Growing up in New Hampshire, Smith spent her time in the woods, which is where she found her passion. She’s setting her sights on either environmental work or veterinary school after college.
For a woman in environmental science, the median earning is $42,000, according to the Georgetown study. It’s a livable wage, but there’s no guarantee she’d make that much as an entry-level research assistant just out of college, which is the kind of job Smith is thinking she’ll land when she graduates. If Smith chose to continue on to a master’s degree, however, her potential earnings could be boosted between 40 and 106 percent.
Alex Rix, a physics and math double major, would disagree that the option of graduate school isn’t something to be shrugged off.
“Anyone who’s really into physics is in it for a Ph.D,” the 21-year-old said. “They’re pretty loyal to the cause of physics.”
But in order to stay loyal to this cause and become a physics professor one day, he needs a few more degrees under his belt.
Fortunately for Rix and many other science majors, the university often covers the cost of tuition if the student agrees to teach and assist in undergraduate level classes while working towards a graduate degree. However, not every major is offered this unique opportunity.
Maureen Smith is the data systems coordinator for Loyola’s career development center and the administrator behind Ramberlink. Surveys and statistics on college graduate employment tend to flood her inbox and she works to offer hope to students like Waklatsi, whose passion for her field trump a desire to make a lot of money.
“You have to figure out, can I live on this amount?” she said. “But people do it. If it’s something you love, you should do it.”
Rix already came to the same conclusion.
“I’m not really in it for the money,” he said. “I do joke that I should marry a doctor, though, so I can do physics.”
But even if they picked the right major, some college graduates regret how they used their time at school after working for a few years.
The Pew Research Center looked at the question of how college grads felt they could have better prepared themselves for the job they wanted. Out of the top four answers, choosing a different major came in last. Gaining more work experience was the clear winner with 50 percent of survey responders picking that as their top choice.
Smith said people have to look at what skills they’ve acquired in college and present those to potential employers. Humanities majors often have finely honed critical thinking and analysis skills that are valuable to any field of work.
“A lot of the work has to be done now while I’m still in college,” Waklatsi said. “I’ve started working with professors to build up my research. You have to have people’s help.”
Waklatsi isn’t the only one taking a preemptive strike. Rix is working on getting published in a physics journal. He is also an assistant teacher for freshman lab sections.
“A lot of it is just getting to know who you are,” said Smith.
by Liz Greiwe