Does College Provide All Students with the Same Economic Opportunities?

by Harry Smith, Hussein Fardous, Zifang Huang, and Shawn Pachgade

In the United States, we tend to believe that a college education provides a person with better economic opportunities. But do all students receive the same boost?

Start scrolling to explore.

Median Income

Most of us are aware that a student’s choice of major can has a significant effect on the course of their life. For example, we know that students studying engineering get access to some of the most financially lucrative professions out there.


So, there are multiple factors which influence a student’s choice. This becomes obvious as we explore how the population of recent graduates is distributed among these major categories.

Share of Women

What’s more, we see that men and women distribute themselves differently across these major categories. In particular, note that Engineering majors—those which tend to pay the most—are male dominated, while at the other end of expected outcomes, the Psychology & Social Work majors are female dominated.

% College jobs

Further, we see that some types of majors provide access to more exclusive careers than others. For example, only 30% of Business majors end up in jobs requiring a four-year degree, compared to 70% of Education majors.

Economic Outcomes for All Majors

Here, we explore the median income for each major compared with that major’s average unemployment rate. We get a sense of which majors have good economic outcomes and which do not.
TIP: Having trouble finding your major? Hover over its category in the legend on the right to bring all majors of that category to the front.

Typical Outcomes & the Outliers

We highlight the middle 50% of outcomes in both dimensions. You can think of majors in these grey areas as those with outcomes not too much better or worse than too many other people.
Scrolling on, we take a closer look at the majors at the extremes of expected outcomes.

Majors with Troubling Outcomes

Here are the majors with low incomes and high unemployment. No STEM majors appear in this area, although we have a mixture of majors from the Arts, Education, Liberal Arts, and Psychology.

The Cream of the Crop

These are the majors with high expected incomes and low unemployment rates. Observe that they are mostly majors in the field of STEM—no majors in the Arts or Education appear in this region.

Expected Income & Share of Women

This difference in gender ratios reveals a troubling trend towards higher expected incomes for majors with proportionally fewer women.

Find Your Major and Explore!

Use the following dropdown menus to explore major categories through different dimensions. Hover over the chart to the right to read specific values.
Major Category:

Data Type:


The Big Picture

The college majors with the best economic outcomes are in the fields of STEM, and these are the majors with the smallest share of women studying them. For more information, check out our blogpost here.
Scroll back up to continue exploring majors and categories.