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The Statistics Say It All: The Marketability of Higher Education

These days, getting a job is tough for almost anyone. Companies are downsizing and outsourcing, and the employees that do stay have to be prepared to cover a lot of ground if they expect to make a decent salary. One of the best ways to make sure you are prepared for the jobs and careers of the future is to invest in your education.

Yes, tuition costs can make the best of us cringe, but in the end going to college is worth it, in many ways. While gaining knowledge is its own reward, many people want to see something more tangible.

Earnings By Degree Level

When it comes to dollars and hirablity, what difference does it make to go to college? It depends on how long you go and how advanced your degree is. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly income in 2012 was $814. For a person that didn't finish high school, the average dropped to $471. A High School Diploma achiever averaged $652. Those with some college made $727 on average. Earning an Associates Degree bumped the median income to $785. Bachelor's degrees brought the weekly total to $1066, and a Master's degree helped those that earned them make $1300 per week. Doctorates and Professional degrees yielded even more.

Getting a Job

Making good money is important, but first you need to get a job. Statistics from the same 2012 BLS report show that education helps keep people in the workforce as well. Not graduating from high school put unemployment at 12.4% in 2012, compared to the overall rate of 6.8%. Those with just a high school education fought off an 8.3% unemployment rate. Trying college boosted the number to 7.7%, and an Associate's degree brought joblessness to 6.2%.

It was only when a person had at least a Bachelor's degree when things looked up. This group was only unemployed at a rate of 4.5%. A Master's degree boosted things a bit more, reducing the percentage to 3.5%, and those with even more advanced degrees saw between 2-2.5% unemployment.

Where to Go

To achieve the best chance at making your degree worth as much as possible, it's important to choose wisely. According to Payscale.com's 2013 College Education ROI ranking the best return on investment came from schools that had a research and Engineering focus. Harvey Mudd, California Institute of Technology (CalTech), Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were at the top of the ROI list and expect to achieve an annual return on the college investment between 7.5% and 8.3%.

Not surprisingly, Engineering Schools were the type with the best ROI ranking. Ivy League schools, like Harvard, were ranked next followed by Liberal Arts schools, state schools, research schools, art schools, and business schools.

What to Major In

If you've got the noggin for it, and the interest, engineering majors from Aerospace to Environmental Engineering are all promising, and show typical mid-career annual earnings in the high 5 figure range to over $160,000. Math, science, and technology all fare well too. Business and Social Sciences have their earning place as well. Government, Economics, Finance, and International Relations are high on the list as well.

Popular majors like Psychology, Health Care Administration, and Human Resources all ranked near the middle of Payscale's listing. At the bottom of the heap were Child and Family Studies, Social Work, and Elementary Education.

The Immeasurable

Of course, money isn't everything. Forcing yourself to dabble in engineering or economics won't get you very far if you can't stand working in those areas, or worse, can't make it to class. If working with kids or pursuing artistic ventures is the thing that gets you on campus, you are still likely to do better financially than skipping higher education all together. Loving what you do can't be measured as easily, but it doesn't mean it isn't valuable.