Personal Finance

As tuition costs soar, more students and their families are asking themselves if college is still worth it.

Some experts say the value of a bachelor’s degree is fading. Starting salaries for new college graduates have grown less than 1% over the past two years, remaining at around $50,000.

Worse yet: A decade after leaving school, more than 1 in 5 graduates are working in a job that doesn’t even require a degree.

However, obtaining a diploma is almost always worthwhile, according to “The College Payoff,” a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Bachelor’s degree holders generally earn 84% more than those with just a high school diploma, the report said — and the higher the level of educational attainment, the larger the payoff.

When broken down by areas of study, however, the difference is striking. Students who pursue a major specifically in science, technology, engineering and math — collectively known as STEM disciplines — are projected to earn the most overall.

In addition to STEM, health and business majors are among the highest paying, leading to average annual wages that are higher at the entry level and significantly greater over the course of a career compared to liberal arts and humanities majors, the Georgetown Center found.

All in, the top-paying college majors earn $3.4 million more than the lowest-paying majors over a lifetime.

More from Personal Finance:
Applying to college early isn’t always the best move
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Here’s what attending a top college is worth

Of course, income isn’t the only consideration. After adding in satisfaction, stress level and job opportunities, among other factors, job search site ZipRecruiter found that the top five majors college students most regretted taking spanned the arts and sciences.

English, communications, biological sciences and law all made the list, according to ZipRecruiter’s survey of more than 5,000 college graduates who were looking for a job.

“This generation, more than any other generation that came before it, is looking for work with purpose and meaning,” said ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel.

“They are more aware of what their peers are doing” he added, and “it creates a little bit of the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ effect.”

On the upside, students who focused on computer science, business, engineering and health administration felt very good about their choices, ZipRecruiter found.

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