One college major offers smooth sailing above all others for students seeking a secure, well-paying job.
Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering is the most valuable major, according to ranking a ranking of 162 college majors released Monday by personal-finance site Bankrate.com.
People with naval architecture and marine engineering major earned an $90,000 median annual income and had a 1.6% unemployment rate. Twenty-nine percent had higher degrees, Bankrate said after reviewing 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data.
On average, the median annual income for all majors was $55,000 and a 2.8% unemployment rate, with 37% holding higher degrees.
Students in other concentrations might end up earning more money, but the study determined that major charted the best course for strong salaries, low unemployment rates and little need for an advanced degree.
Another degree also means more time away from the workforce and more student debt at a time when Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans.
Bankrate panned drama and theater arts, calling it the least valuable major. People with a drama degree had a $35,500 median annual income, 5.2% unemployment rate, with 26% holding higher degrees.
Nearly 500 students graduated in 2016 with naval architecture and marine engineering degrees compared to the approximately 11,000 students who graduated with theater degrees, according to Data USA, a site developed by experts at M.I.T Media Lab and Deloitte.
Bankrate’s study puts science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors at the top of the list and humanities majors at the bottom, which is not a surprising outcome.
Read MarketWatch’s Moneyist advice column on the etiquette and ethics of your financial affairs. This week: ‘I earn twice what my husband makes and pay all the bills, but have no idea how much money he’s saved?’
STEM jobs are lucrative and in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the amount of STEM jobs has grown faster than other occupations, expanding at 10.8% from 2012 to 2016, compared to the 7.4% for all occupations. Meanwhile, participants in a separate survey called humanities the most regretted major, between the student loan debt and smaller salaries.
Around 19.9 million students are bound for college this fall, down from the 20.3 million students in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Still, there are many ways to measure what is and isn’t valuable. “Choosing a college major is a personal balancing act between passion, earning potential and job opportunities,” said Bankrate data analyst Adrian Garcia. “This is one of the most important financial decisions many people make, and the repercussions can be long-lasting.”