Recent rankings comparing college majors have touted the financial benefits of certain programs of study. But for some students, changing the world is more important than earning a high salary.
That's why salary research site PayScale recently created a ranking of the most meaningful majors. Researchers identified the majors based on one of the questions answered by the 3.2 million graduates representing more than 3,000 colleges, 174 associate majors, and 489 bachelor's majors who have completed PayScale's employee earnings survey. Researchers looked at the percentage of respondents who answered affirmatively to the following question: Does your work make the world a better place?
The top 11 most meaningful majors in the ranking are:
1. Secondary & Middle School Mathematics Teacher Education
2. Elementary Special Education
3. Political Science/Public Law (tie)
3. Early Childhood Education (tie)
5. Nonprofit Management
6. Early Childhood & Elementary Education (tie)
6. Special Education (tie)
8. Middle School Education (tie)
8. Molecular Biology (tie)
10. Marine Engineering
11. Exercise Physiology
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Majors that prepare students to directly help others—like education—rank high on the list, the PayScale editors note. And while many of the featured majors lead to lower salaries than the majors that dominate traditional rankings, graduates who go into these fields generally do so out of passion, the editors add.
But not every graduate who chooses one of the above majors will be sacrificing a high salary for their passion. Marine engineering majors can expect to earn a mid-career salary of $126,500, and molecular biology majors can expect a mid-career salary of $97,500. Molecular biology was also featured on Bankrate's list of most valuable majors, which ranks majors based on unemployment rates, average salary, and the number of graduates with a post-secondary degree (PayScale report, accessed 10/1; PayScale methodology, accessed 10/1).
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