Course vs. College: USA might have an answer!

Manav on November 22, 2015

The age old question of going for the better college or the more interesting course might be closer to resolution after a report published in USA, which talks about the courses that give the biggest return on investment. In other words, which degrees give the best financial return?

Though the study was undertaken in USA, and one can safely assume that the results could deviate for the global averages, but not be drastically opposite. Picture this, a university-educated person, between the ages of 25-34, in 1972, could expect to earn 22% more than a peer without a degree, but today this figure has risen to 70%. This simply indicates the increased demand for skilled workers, having undergone official education and training. However, a newly published report by PayScale, a research firm, says that the benefits of a college degree are not evenly distributed across all fields. The report compares the career earnings of college graduates with the present-day cost of a degree at their alma maters, after taking account of financial aid.

The report concludes that exclusivity of a college or its selectivity might be a big pull, but the financial viability depends far more on the courses studies than the university itself. In the USA, here is the 20-years annualised return on various college degrees:

Engineering and Computer-Science: Engineering and computer-science students earn most, achieving an impressive 20-year annualised return of 12% (the S&P 500 managed a return of just 7.8%). Engineers were also least dependent on institutional prestige: graduates from less-selective schools experienced only a slight decrease in average returns, thereby, indicating the overall favourablity of degrees of this field from the market-perspective.


Engineering and Computer Science gave a 20-year annualised return of 12%. (Image Source:

Business and Economics: The field of Business and Economics did manage to maintain an average of 8.7% return.


Business and Economics gave a return of 8.7% . (Image Source:

Arts & Humanities: Arts and Humanities course gave varying returns, from figures as high as 12% to that in negative. However, the effect of a college’s admission rate had very minimal impact on the value of the degree, in other words, the value of the course undertaken was of optimal importance.


Arts and Humanities course might give a rich dividend on intellect, but gave varying returns financially. (Image Source:

It is essential to understand the study in its context of living costs, student loans and other factors. Though the paradigm is essentially different in India, but a similar pattern can witness superficially, where careers in sciences, specially engineering and computers, if nothing provide you with better chances of being employed, as opposed to an arts or a humanities graduate. However, the scenario for students from arts and humanities is changing rapidly with the emergence of new careers, owing to the many transitions the global society is undergoing. The writer of this article is almost certain that, if a similar study is undertaken in India, results would be on similar lines. That being said, exciting times lie ahead for Indian students in all fields, as India is only waking up to train its massive human resources, and ensuring that they meet global standards of employablility.

So if you don’t already know what you are going to study, don’t bet on the name of the college to make up for it, for the repute of a university seldom comes to the rescue of individuals during hiring. One needs to have a strong knowledge base of their subject, and relevant skills to exhibit the same. Call it a curse, or a blessing, certain fields might seem easier in terms of extracting the return on investment than others, but at the end of the day, the college, and even the course to an extent, are dwarfed in one’s willingness and passion to learn new skills, and find a job in accordance with those.

(Image Source)

Posted by Manav

Figuring out the world, and the self, one choco-chip cookie at a time!