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The Most (and Least) Valuable College Majors, Ranked

Shaunacy Ferro
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While choosing a college degree shouldn’t be entirely a matter of following the money, most students do want to know that their chosen field of study will eventually lead to a paying job. But the most valuable college major probably isn’t the one you’d think. A new study finds that actuarial science majors make the most money after graduation, according to Forbes.

To determine the most valuable college majors, Bankrate analyzed 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey to see how many people with bachelor’s degrees were employed in a job related to their major. The survey looked at data related to 162 college majors, analyzing unemployment rates, incomes, and the number of people with higher degrees. These factors were weighted to show which jobs pay the most, have the lowest unemployment rates, and require the least schooling.

The data showed that people with actuarial science degrees—who go to on to become risk assessors in the insurance and finance industries, among other jobs—make an average of $108,658 a year, with an unemployment rate of just 2.3 percent. Compare that to people with a degree in something like clinical psychology (No. 160 on the list) who make an average of $51,022 and have to contend with a 4.8 percent unemployment rate. The study also found that actuarial science is a valuable degree because most graduates don’t go on to get advanced degrees, meaning those high wages aren’t going toward paying off grad school debt. Only 22 percent of those actuarial science students went on to get master’s degrees or doctorates.

Below are the 10 most valuable degrees and their average annual incomes. These jobs pay, on average, between $96,000 and $130,000 a year.

1. Actuarial science
2. Zoology
3. Nuclear engineering
4. Health and medical preparatory programs
5. Applied mathematics
6. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and administration
7. Molecular biology
8. Mechanical engineering
9. Civil engineering (tie)
9. Finance (tie)

And these are the least valuable, making between $40,000 and $51,000 a year, on average:

1. Miscellaneous fine arts
2. Composition and speech
3. Clinical psychology
4. Cosmetology services and culinary arts
5. Visual and performing arts
6. Human services and community organization
7. Educational psychology
8. Drama and theater arts
9. Interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary studies (general)
10. Library science

If you don’t have an interest in math and engineering, don’t be too dismayed. Plenty of those with liberal arts degrees still manage to make a living after graduation. Even if your drama degree doesn’t lead to a job in Hollywood, it isn’t necessarily a waste. But if you’re debating between mechanical engineering and civil engineering, we recommend going mechanical.

You can view the entire study here.

[h/t Forbes]