Erin Ford graduated from the University of Texas two years ago with a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering. Recruiters came to campus to woo her. She got a paid summer internship, which turned into a full-time job after she graduated. Now, at age 24, she makes $110,000 a year.
Michael Gardner just graduated from City College in New York with a degree in psychology. He applied for more than 100 jobs, had trouble getting interviews and worked at Home Depot to make ends meet.
"Every single day while I was at work, I'm thinking, 'I just hope I really don't get stuck.' " Gardner just got a job earning $36,000 a year as a case worker — and he feels lucky to have it.
What you major in has a bigger influence over your income than where you go to school, according to Anthony Carnevale, an economist at Georgetown University. The graph below is based on Carnevale's research — and it shows the huge range in median earnings for people with different majors.
Figures are median income for all full-time workers with bachelor's degrees in each subject. Workers with graduate degrees are not included in the data.
Gardner was shocked when I told him people who majored in petroleum engineering have a median income of $120,000. But, he said, even if someone had shown him that graph when he was a freshman, it wouldn't have changed his path.
"I came into the school knowing where I want to go and what I wanted to do," he said. "Honestly, I don't mind the money. It's more of a fulfilling thing for me."
Update: For much more data on college majors and income, see this report (PDF) by Carnevale and his colleagues.