Data Tracker

See which college majors lead to highest pay

By Phillip Reese -

The financial consequences of choosing to major in psychology instead of computer science? In California, it's typically about $40,000 in lower earnings each year for young college graduates.

The college degrees that most often lead to the highest earnings for full-time California workers between ages 25 and 34 include computer science, electrical engineering and applied mathematics. College degrees that lead to the lowest earnings include social work, elementary education, theology, drama and art history.

Average earnings for young, full-time California workers with any college degree were $65,000, according to the census data, which covered the years between 2011 and 2014. That's about 12 percent higher than the national average. Median earnings for college grads in California were about $55,000.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau via Minnesota Population Center

Note: Shown are the 110 most popular college majors in California. Figures shown include only those with full-time jobs paying above $16,500, the annual earnings of someone making minimum wage in California during most of the period covered in this analysis. About 6 percent of California college graduates were unemployed but seeking work in the period shown. Another 10 percent were employed only at part-time jobs. | The Census Bureau "top codes" salaries above roughly $400,000 to maintain individual privacy; someone making more than $400,000 would be shown in the data as making $400,000, lowering the pay average for majors that produce a lot of very high earners. Salaries above $400,000 represent about six-tenths of 1 percent of the California college graduates in the above analysis. | For students with double majors, the first major listed on census forms was used.

Important: Choosing a field of study is about more than money. There are plenty of happy but underpaid social workers, pastors and elementary school teachers and not a few miserable but well-paid computer engineers, lawyers and bankers.