Oct 21

Bachelor’s Degrees with the Best ROI


Bachelor’s Degrees with the Best ROI: Did I Make a Huge Mistake?

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you might know that I obtained a BA in Political Science before I went back to school to get my Master’s degree in Social Work. I was fortunate to receive a pretty large scholarship for undergrad, and a decent sized scholarship for grad school (both were private schools). Despite the scholarships and working part-time throughout the school year and full-time during the summer, I ended up finishing school with over $30,000 in student loan debt. Just for reference, my first job as a professional social worker paid me a whopping $42,500 annually. While $42.5 might not sound that bad, to some folks (and I hear you!) Trust me, $42.5 doesn’t go very far in NYC.

But before you start thinking I’ve made a, “huge mistake” and I’m broke and miserable, I’m not! I don’t regret my decision to earn either degree and I enjoy my work (most days). Making a difference in peoples’ lives is important to me and even though I don’t make the “big bucks”, my salary has increased as I’ve been promoted.

That being said, paying off big student loans with a small salary was a real struggle. I liken it to trying to fill in a “big hole” with a “little shovel”. It’s possible, to pay off a large sum of debt on a not so large salary (I did!), but it’s much easier to pay off a “big debt” with a big salary.

Average tuition and fees at a 4-year public university $8,865 a year * 4 = $35,460

Average tuition and fees at a 4-year private university $29,056 a year * 4 = $116,224!

*2012-2013 College Board Statistics (Tuition costs only! Room and board NOT included)

So how do I pick a bachelor’s degree that will make me the “big bucks?”

Really? You’re going to take advice from me after I told you I took an unofficial, “vow of poverty?” Just kidding… sort of. When thinking about a potential majors, I think it’s important to consider your natural skill set. You know…what you enjoy and what you are good at. Sometimes they are the same and other times they’re not. If you’re really good at physics, but it’s completely boring to you, it might not be the best idea to pursue a degree (and career) in physics. 50+ years working a job you hate sounds pretty miserable to me. So my advice is to consider earning a degree in subject area that interests you AND prepares you to enter a profession with a good starting salary.

Choose your college major wisely (Turning bachelor’s degrees into $$$)

  • Math: Good with numbers? Math and engineering majors can easily transition themselves into a lot of lucrative careers. The median salary for an entry level engineer with Bachelors in Engineering is $59,638*. Not too shabby for students coming right out of college with no prior work experience.
  • English: Love to read and write? Enjoy writing editorials, editing press releases and composing speeches for senior staff? Transition your love for language into a degree in Communications. The median expected salary for a speech writer in the United States is $112,657*. And your mom said you majored in “unemployment”…wrong!
  • Science: Enjoy helping others and have an interest in the medical science? Registered nurses are in high demand these days. If you want to make a decent salary and get a good return on your college “investment”, nursing might be the perfect career for you. Median salary for a staff RN with a Bachelor’s in Nursing, $67,610*.
  • Internet Technology: Love the interweb? Excited about business, e-commerce and internet communication? IT project managers with a Bachelor of Science in Internet Technology make a median salary of $73,500*.
  • Foreign Language: Being bio or multilingual makes you a great candidate for jobs in our global economy. If you speak more than one language you are much more marketable to employers across a variety of professions. A bachelor of international studies prepares you for jobs working in politics, sales, business and more. Median salary for an entry level sales rep is $55,956*.

**Before anybody gets riled up because they aren’t making the salaries listed above with the same degree, these obviously aren’t my statistics. All salaries listed above were found at Salary.com. If you’re curious and for comparison, Salary.com reports the median salary of a masters level social worker as $57,188. This sounds a little high to me, but again, that’s the median, not the average salary, and that figure includes professionals in all stages in their careers (anyone who has an MSW).

So tell me, was your bachelor’s degree a good “investment?” Do you wish you’d chosen another degree or profession?

Image: Cambodia4kidsorg



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  1. DC @ Young Adult Money

    My undergrad was a double major in Finance and Political Science. I ended up going the finance route, but actually ended up as an accountant. While the pay is relatively good, looking back I really should have majored in engineering. I’ve heard undergrad is pretty rigorous for engineering majors but the pay and opportunities you receive in exchange make it worth it in my opinion. Otherwise I would have double majored in Accounting and Finance, or Finance and some IT-related major. It’s funny how easy it is to pick a degree once you are out of school 😉

    1. KK

      I have a few friends who were engineering majors and they are doing really really well in their careers (making good money, chosing their hours, good benefits etc.). I too wish I’d chosen my undergraduate major a little more strategically, but it is what it is.

  2. Alicia @ Financial Diffraction

    It’s funny that DC mentioned engineering as an alternate undergrad option, because on a daily basis I think I wish I took Chemical Engineering rather than basic science Chemistry. The applied sciences are so much more attractive to employers, and it probably would have gotten me into the workforce four years before I actually was (with my grad degree. Engineers also seem to end up in lots of different arenas, so they seem much more diverse and mould-able than basic science. But if I stayed with basic science, I wish I had added a business minor to it. It was an option but I never realized how important it would be, especially if you end up in a small company. Just having some basic business know-how is really important!

    As far as the bachelor’s degrees that are a great investment around here – it’s pharmacy. It’s a four year bachelor’s after at least one year of university (possibly more depending on your application/grades/interview). Here in Canada, the average salary for a pharmacist is around 85k. And there are lots of options to own your own businesses/franchises which could boost your salary to 150k.

    1. KK

      I wish I’d chosen my college major with a little more attention to future marketability, but hindsight is 20/20 right? Pharmacy seems like a great option. $85k salary with a college degree is pretty amazing.

  3. Connie @ Savvy With Saving

    I majored in marketing and finance as an undergrad and I do think it was good investment. I’ve been able to making a pretty good living. Sometimes I wonder, though, if I should’ve majored in something I actually enjoyed, even if it means less pay.

    1. KK

      I think it’s pretty hard to make a decision that will impact the rest of your life when you’re just 18. Sometimes I wish I’d taken off a few years to figure out what I wanted to do before college, but I was also worried if I took a break I wouldn’t want to go back to school.

  4. Kasey @ Debt Perception

    My BFA definitely wasn’t a good investment. I’ve made close to nothing with my degree, I might as well have majored in debt! If I had known then what I know now, I definitely would have picked a different profession/degree and I’d definitely obtain this degree with as little debt as possible, even if it took a long time.

    1. KK

      Ugg. Unfortunately I don’t think you’re alone. Sometimes you major in something you’re passionate about and it’s a horrible ROI. I really think more time should be spent with kids in high school exploring passions and also giving information about what’s marketable in the “real world”. I really enjoyed studying political science, but when I got out of school it was hard to find a job because it wasn’t really a career path as much as it was a field of study.

  5. Mackenzie

    I majored in Communications. Although I didn’t end up in the profession that I initially wanted, I’m glad I chose the degree I did, and I don’t regret it :)

    1. KK

      Freshman speech class just about killed me. I’m not sure I could have been a communications major 😉 But I think there’s a lot of diversity in the workforce for people with communications degrees which is great.

  6. Morgaine

    I think my degree was worth it but not in the usual way. My degree was a bachelor’s in Celtic Studies. However, the piece of paper that I paid $21K for went a long way in helping my career. Most of the jobs I applied for (including my current job) ask for a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter in what subject, just a bachelor’s degree (my job isn’t very specialised). However, I also had to take some courses outside of my degree that I either paid for myself or had a previous job pay for that I was able to work in the industry I’m in now. It also helps that I work for the government (in Canada, there was no shutdown here) and the pay is quite good.

    And believe me I had just as many (perhaps more) people tell me I wasted my time/money taking Celtic Studies as anyone who has taken English but I don’t regret it at all :)

    1. KK

      Generally (except government shut-downs) working for the government is a good thing (both my parents work for the state of Maine and make decent money/have good benefits). I think you’re totally right about just having a bachelor’s degree. A lot of the time it doesn’t really matter what you majored in, as long as you have one (obviously there are some exceptions). Celtic studies actually sounds really interesting.

  7. Mrs PoP @Planting Our Pennies

    I have a couple of STEM degrees and they’ve had a pretty solid ROI for me over my career so far.

    1. KK

      Nice! Good to hear from people who are pleased with their investments (we here about the opposite all too often).

  8. Nick @ ayoungpro.com

    I majored in Information Systems (thing IT+Business) and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

    1. KK

      Information Systems sounds like a really smart career choice. With everything being linked with IT and business these days, I’d imagine you could work in a multitude of different areas.

  9. Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial

    As someone with a Bachelor’s in history (actually, “history of ideas” to be exact), I’ve often asked myself if I would have been better off majoring in something else – if I would have invested my time in college better. My job has absolutely nothing to do with my degree, but I couldn’t have gotten that job without some sort of degree. I think, in the end, my ROI is decent, as I had lots of scholarships and a part time job to get me through school without spending a whole lot out of pocket on my education and no student loan debt whatsoever. I know that’s a hard deal to beat, so I don’t think I would change much :)

    1. KK

      No student debt is a wonderful thing! HIstory of ideas sounds pretty interesting, I’m a total history nerd. A lot of jobs will take a degree in anything, which is great, esp for history and political science majors 😉

  10. E.M.

    I majored in Criminal Justice with minors in Business Administration and Psychology. I enjoyed my coursework a lot, and while the criminal justice field isn’t really lucrative, I don’t regret it. I am still hoping it comes to use one day once I move, as I’d still love to be in law enforcement. There are so many opportunities and so many different departments. Like you, I place value on being able to help others, which I would be able to do.

    1. KK

      I know a lot of social workers in the criminal justice field (working in prisions, court mandated programs etc.) There’s actually a lot of overlap in the two fields in some ways.

  11. SuburbanFinance

    I have a BBA and it was a pretty good investment. I make $50,000 a year into my career. I’m still very “green” and can expect to make a lot more in the coming years.

    1. KK

      That’s a pretty good starting salary, for one year in the field! Just think about when you have 3-5 years of experience!

  12. Brian @ Luke1428

    My undergrad degree was in psychology. That degree did not lead to a high paying job but I have used the knowledge gained many times over in the field of education where I ended up. I can’t complain and don’t regret it. Although, with my passion for personal finance that has developed over the years, I think it would have been interesting to study something in that field.

    1. KK

      Sometimes it’s not what you learn, but how you learn (or “learning to learn” as one of my college professors always used to say). I definitely am much more curious about business and finance now that I’m learning about both in the personal finance blog-o-sphere. I’d love to learn learn more about both and maybe someday even take some classes or courses in finance.

  13. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Wow – interesting numbers, KK! I think it’s great too that you realize how valuable your profession is and that you’re happy with your choice. Somehow, when you do what’s right for you, the money follows (provided it’s managed wisely, as you’ve shown. :-) ).

    1. KK

      It’s really a love/hate relationship 😉 I love the difference I make, but the day-to-day work is grueling and emotionally draining. I won’t be in this particular area of social work forever, but whatever path I choose from here will be much less stressful, I know that.

  14. Edgar @ Degrees and Debt

    My undergrad was Poli Sci and my Masters is in Project Management. I guess they sort of fit, but I work in healthcare software on the technical side, so it really didnt do much for me.

    1. KK

      My undergrad major didn’t really “fit” in with what I do now, but the skills I learned there do apply in a lot of ways and the policies and laws made by our lawmakers impact everyone, including my clients.

  15. anna

    My degree was Urban Planning, and while I loved the theoretical framework, I didn’t really like its application. My work now isn’t related, but I do think it helped me with analytical thinking, as well as communication skills since I was painfully shy before (now I’m just shy ;)).

    1. KK

      I had a friend in college who majored in urban planning-she’s not actually using her degree in that capacity now (I wonder if jobs in urban planning actually exist ;-)) I can also be really shy. It’s something I’ve had to work on over the years. College definitely helped me become more outspoken and vocal in public (something I’m not shy about at all with friends and family-in fact I’m loud and opinionated with them-the irony).

  16. Clarrise @ Make Money Your Way

    My undergrad was Information in Technology and I’m happy with it. I have some friends that finished in Nursing they even passed the Board Exam and they worked now as a Call Center Agent. Here in the Philippines the people mostly preferred to work in a BPO and Call Center Field because of higher salaries.

    1. KK

      Two of my boyfriend’s sisters are RNs and one is an MD. They all stayed in the medical profession (the MD moved here to the US and another sister is in the process of moving here now). That’s really sad to me that people would need to take jobs in call centers instead of in the field they want to work in and went to school for.

  17. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living

    my undergrad was not a great investment but honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to really pick what I wanted until I was 25.

    I’m a big believer now in not pushing kids to go straight to college after high school. Things like Americorps NCCC are great gateways for kids to have some fun, not incur debt, and mature a bit until they’re more ready for the college path.

    1. KK

      I did Americorps post-college, but definitely wish I’d done so before I went to college. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was 18 (I don’t think most people do).

  18. Budget and the Beach

    Mine was TV production. It CAN be a lucrative career, but I think it comes with a high burnout rate. It’s also very dependent on where you live. Obviously LA and NY have a lot of jobs, but it also has a high cost of living. If I had to do it all over again I might either go into marketing, or some kind of preventative health care/PT kind of field.

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