When I graduated magna cum laude from the University of Maine in 2005, I had very little college debt and a shiny new art degree. I worked my way through college smelling like pizza and stale beer in order to make sure that when I walked the stage on graduation day, my student debt load would be small.
Then, the 2008 recession hit and I was worried about not being competitive enough in a shrinking job market. So, against my better judgment, I went to graduate school to earn all the fancy letters after my name and ended up graduating with a crushing student loan worth $97,000. Ouch.
As a parent, I want to make sure that my kids make more informed choices about their degree options, most especially in a shifting world in which jobs that don’t even exist yet will be dominating the job market in 15 short years. So, when I read that Bankrate ranked the “most and least valuable” college majors against 162 academic tracks across the country (based on the average income of their graduates) I took notice.
The number one most valuable major on the market right now is something called Actuarial Science. What is that? Well, aside from the average annual pay of $108,658 with a 2.3% unemployment rate, actuarial science is a fascinating field that assesses risk for the insurance and finance industries by applying math and statistical models. If your kid is really great with numbers, this might be a worthwhile degree to pursue.
The second most valuable major is, believe it or not, zoology. With an average annual income of $111,889 and an unemployment rate of 1.4%, studying animal behavior could turn out to be lucrative. In a world in which climate change is said to be a serious threat, zoologists are in a rush to understand how to save habitats and keep wild animals safe. Got an animal lover at home? This might be the degree for your kid.
The third most valuable major, according to Bankrate, is nuclear engineering. Any parent would be proud to have a kid with the job title “engineer,” and this one — with an average annual income of $108,591 and an average unemployment rate of 1.8% — looks pretty fascinating. Despite what you may think, nuclear engineers don’t just work in scary nuclear plants; they also research ways to use radiation in medical research to find cures for illnesses.
The fourth most valuable major is a health and medical preparatory program, which helps students become doctors, dentists, and veterinarians, for example. The average annual income is an impressive $130,308 with an average annual income of 2.3%.
Finally, the fifth most valuable major is applied mathematics, which allows one to flex math skills across many industries, including finance, tech, medical, and business fields, to name a few. This may be why it worth an average annual income of $105,679 and has a reported average 2% unemployment rate.
While it is incredibly important to let my kids decide what eventual paths they will follow, my mama bear gut tells me that encouraging their natural skills that could potentially match up with a field that has reported low unemployment rates and high annual income seems to be a smart choice.
Meanwhile, as I pay off my massive debt one penny at a time, I’ll be hoping my kids make better choices in their future.