Consider Your Future Salary When Picking Your College Major

Don't spend money frivolously on a degree.

mother hugging daughter loading car for college

Do you have a child or grandchild who’s starting to plan for college?

If so, you need to plan too — if you’re the one who will cover many or all of the bills.

That means you should have something to say about which college the student will attend. And based on your lifetime of knowledge and experience, you are in a position to offer them guidance in choosing a college major.

Unfortunately, though, many parents and grandparents allow teenagers who lack money management skills and experience to choose their own colleges and majors — often on the basis of peer pressure and status.

Adults who do this often fail to realize they might be setting up the young people to fail rather than succeed.

Understand your future salary

Start with the choice of major. Some kids have talents or interests that can make the choice obvious. For others the path is not as clear. Regardless, both adults and college-bound children should find out what the child can expect to earn by working in that field.

A study by PayScale ranked 336 college majors at about 1,000 universities according to salaries upon graduation.

The worst-paying college majors share a common theme: Helping people and being creative may be personally rewarding — but not financially. None of these majors leads to an average starting salary above $40,000. And for most, the midcareer pay never even doubles. Take early childhood education, for example. The lowest-paying major in the ranking, it offers an average starting salary of only $30,700. Decades into a career, the average pay typically reaches only $37,700.

It’s not that your kids should choose a major based solely on future salary. But if such a career is pursued, you need to make sure they don’t spend an outrageous amount of money to get that college degree.

Qualifications can be more important

Expensive schools may be prestigious, but employers often don’t care. They’re more interested in the graduate’s qualifications.

Therefore, it can make financial sense to send kids to a community college for a two-year degree and then transfer to a four-year school.

There are other ways to reduce the cost of a degree. New York became the first state to provide tuition-free degrees to qualifying students. Other states do the same for two- or four-year programs, including Tennessee, Oregon, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Arkansas and Kentucky. Check with your state — it may have joined the list since the time of this writing.

Free tuition doesn’t equal free college, though. You’ll still need to cover costs such as fees, room and board and transportation. You can pay for these things, along with tuition, with tax-free money you’ve saved in a college 529 plan.

Even online courses are growing in popularity. Their costs are low and some are even free. In fact, we’re headed in the direction of college education eventually becoming entirely free.

Don’t let your children spend (your) money frivolously on a degree. Otherwise, both of you might get an education you’d rather avoid.