Choosing a college is one thing, but how do you choose what to study? For some, it’s an obvious pull in one direction, but many struggle to commit to one subject are over another. In fact, even after obtaining a degree, many people head back to college to switch tracks. What is clear, however, is that the relationship between college education and careers is increasingly important in today’s economy.

Here’s why.

According to Tony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s center on education and the workforce, in the 1970s, even though three out of four American workers had only a high school degree or they were high school drop outs, most of them were middle class. What changed was after 1983, many of those jobs (particularly manufacturing jobs) began to disappear and people were left behind by technology change and a variety of other changes.

In the economy of the future, what you make will depend on what you take. In the 1970s, 75 percent of workers had a high school diploma or less, but more than 60 percent of current jobs require more than a high school diploma. And, in today’s economy, a bachelor’s degree will be worth $1,000,000 more than a high school degree over a 35-year career.

Carnevale points out that there are widening discrepancies in earning potential depending on your major. For example, if you major in chemical engineering, you can make $125,000 a year on average over a career. But one majoring in psychology, social work, or early childhood education is more likely to earn $35,000 a year over a career.

However, sometimes less education is worth more. According to Carnevale, 30 percent of two-year technical degrees will earn more than the average bachelor’s degree. And, many trades that only require one year of postsecondary school can also exceed the earning potential of a bachelor’s degree.

The point is, students need to understand that what they choose as a field of study may very well affect what they do every day for the next 35-40 years after graduation.

To hear more from Carnevale, listen to the Upgraded by Hobsons podcast.

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