Erin Ford graduated from the University of Texas two years ago with a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering. Recruiters came to campus to woo her. She got a paid summer internship, which turned into a full-time job after she graduated. Now, at age 24, she makes $110,000 a year.
Michael Gardner just graduated from City College in New York with a degree in psychology. He applied for more than 100 jobs, had trouble getting interviews and worked at Home Depot to make ends meet.
"Every single day while I was at work, I'm thinking, 'I just hope I really don't get stuck.' " Gardner just got a job earning $36,000 a year as a case worker and he feels lucky to have it.
What you major in has a bigger influence over your income than where you go to school, according to Anthony Carnevale, an economist at Georgetown University. The graph below is based on Carnevale's research and it shows the huge range in median earnings for people with different majors.
Gardner was shocked when I told him people who majored in petroleum engineering have a median income of $120,000. But, he said, even if someone had shown him that graph when he was a freshman, it wouldn't have changed his path.
"I came into the school knowing where I want to go and what i wanted to do," he said. "Honestly, I don't mind the money. It's more of a fulfilling thing for me."
Update: For much more data on college majors and income, see this report (PDF) by Carnevale and his colleages.