Which college majors offer the best opportunities for our daughters? The same college majors that offer the best opportunities for our sons! "There are certain college majors/career paths that are 'better' than others in terms of salary and employability, but they are not based on gender," says Jolyn Brand of Brand College Consulting.
Best-paying college majors
Payscale recently published a college salary report, which includes data from more than 1.4 million undergrad alumni from over 1,000 schools. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields offer the highest salary potential by far, according to the report.
And that is precisely why "it is important to not discourage girls from pursuing traditionally male-dominated fields, such as math, science and engineering," says Eric Sader, executive director of Jana's Campaign, a gender-violence prevention agency.
Payscale's 10 highest-paying bachelor-degree fields are listed here with the starting median salary and the mid-career (after 10 years) median salary:
- Petroleum engineering: $103,000 / $160,000
- Actuarial science: $58,700 / $120,000
- Nuclear engineering: $67,600 / $117,000
- Chemical engineering: $68,200 / $115,000
- Aerospace engineering: $62,800 / $109,000
- Electrical engineering: $64,300 / $106,000
- Computer engineering: $65,300 / $106,000
- Computer science: $59,800 / $102,000
- Physics: $53,100 / $102,000
- Mechanical engineering: $60,900 / $99,700
Preparing to compete in STEM fields
High school girls who are interested in pursuing one of these hot careers want to start now. "Students should take four years of advanced math and science classes in high school to prepare for STEM college majors," advises Brand. "Electives such as Introduction to Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering Design are also beneficial."
Seeking out support
"Girls should seek out female role models or mentors in the field that they are interested in," says Brand. "Female attrition is still very high and has been blamed on lack of mentors as well as being a minority in classes."
Brand cites a recent nationwide study of girls ages 14 to 17. "Nearly half said that they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a group or class," she says. "And 57 percent believed that if they went into a STEM career, they would have to work harder than a man just to be taken seriously."
Lowest-paying college majors
Not all girls want to enter a STEM field, and that's perfectly fine.
"Girls should be encouraged to pursue their interests and competencies, whatever they may be," says Sader. "We want to encourage them to see traditionally female-dominated fields, such as nursing and social work, as no less important than other fields and to continue to fight for higher wages and recognition for the skills required for these professions."
And it will be a battle. Many such fields are listed as the nation's lowest-paying majors, based on recent research by Georgetown University.
- Counseling psychology: $29,000
- Early childhood education: $36,000
- Theology and religious vocations: $38,000
- Human services and community organization: $38,000
- Social work: $39,000
- Drama and theater arts: $40,000
- Studio arts: $40,000
- Communication disorders sciences and service: $40,000
- Visual and performing arts: $40,000
- Health and medical preparatory programs: $40,000
Choosing the best college major
Ideally, your daughter will select the field that best suits her. "The 'best' major and career have to take into consideration your unique strengths, interests, values and personality," psychologist and career coach Janet Scarborough Civitelli tells girls. "Just because a Top 10 list says that the best career is to be an actuary doesn't mean that it's the best career for you."