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The Daily Tar Heel

Opinion: Ranking majors financially helps nobody

Choosing a major in college is hard. 

It's even harder when Forbes tries to give you the magic (or not-so magic) dollar amount you'll make based on what you choose. 

Every year, PayScale releases a ranking of college majors based on the average annual salary of people with those degrees. Business sites such as Forbes and Business Insider often write several articles about said rankings and what they mean. Every year, engineering, computer science and mathematics are at the top. Arts, education and humanities are always at the bottom. 

Even if you were to pursue a major for the sole purpose of getting rich, these lists don't make too much sense. These lists are compiled with two averages: starting median pay and mid-career median pay. While there are exceptions to every rule, very few people have the exact same career trajectories. PayScale says geography majors will make an average of $68,200 in the middle of their careers. Michael Jordan, geography major, made $110 million in 2015. 

Also, the rankings give the yearly salary without even alluding to the hours people worked or the amount of vacation time they had. People in banking who make six figures in their twenties are often working close to 100 hour weeks. Those details aren’t mentioned in Forbes. 

These lists are pretty much solely used by parents, who then email the links to their kids with the headline “Are you sure you don’t want to reconsider med school?”  Society needs computer scientists, surgeons and engineers. But medical schools are already competitive enough without making excessive articles about why they’re the most lucrative careers. Kids who have other talents are pushing themselves to unhealthy limits for classes they hate to try to get these degrees they think it’s the only way they’ll make money.

Putting in a list is particularly pointless in the world we live in today. Twenty years from now, many of us will probably be working in jobs that don’t even exist yet. Too often choosing a major sounds like you’re signing away your life to one single career — that’s not the case. According to a 2016 CNN report, the average person changes careers four times by the time they’re 32. This number is expected to increase as younger millennials are going into the workforce. So in a time when it's hard to tell how someone will use their political science or statistics degree — if they even use it at all — it's naive to assume we can figure out how much they will end up on making. 

There are early childhood education majors who make more than $30,700 annually, and petroleum engineers who make less than $172,000, and vice versa. There are accounting majors who stick with the same firm their whole careers. On the other hand, Aziz Ansari was a business major. 

People have many reasons for choosing a major. Regardless of whether or not financial gain is at the top of your priorities, don't rely on these gimmicky lists.

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