Pop quiz: Name the most popular undergraduate major.
Education, you say? Not even close. Medical? Maybe someday. Come on people, you know this. Wait…did someone just say “business?” Congratulations!
In fact, business is twice as popular as the next major. Don’t believe me? According to data released by the U.S. Department of Education in 2013, business comprised 365,000 of the 1,716,000 million undergraduate degrees conferred from 2010-2011. That’s a one-in-five split. The next closest? That’d be social sciences and history (177,000), health (143,000), and education (104,000). There’s no denying it: Business is a huge draw, even if leading programs like Harvard and Stanford don’t offer it at the undergraduate level.
And that brings up an intriguing question: What draws undergraduates to business? Let’s face it: Business isn’t as glamorous as social media or fashion design. It doesn’t nourish passions (or demons) like theater or music, either. If students follow the media – or listen to some professors – they might believe that business achieves no social good. And let’s face it: Business has a “reputation” for being the last resort for grade-challenge jocks and frat boys (not to mention juniors who are lost or would rather socialize).
In the end, business promises stability, a chance to learn useful tools for immediate employment. More than that, it offers the hope of someday earning big money. How big? That question was recently answered by PayScale, a leading data warehousing firm that specializes in employee compensation. On September 10th, PayScale released its “Best Schools by Salary Potential for Business Majors” ranking, which revealed the starting and mid-career salaries for business majors from over 499 colleges and universities.
HOW PAYSCALE CALCULATES PROFESSIONAL INCOMES
This salary data was pulled from PayScale’s database of 1.4 million college graduates, which is collected from its ongoing online compensation surveys and capture employer, compensation, demographic and educational backgrounds. While sample sizes vary, the average sample per school was 325 graduate profiles (with some schools featuring as many as 4,000 profiles).
The data sets, which focus exclusively on American college graduates, only include business degree holders who did not earn advanced degrees like an MBA. In addition, salaries consisted of “base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions, and overtime.” However, it did not take into account equity or stock compensation (a major reward for CEOs or professionals working in high tech and entrepreneurial ventures). PayScale’s methodology also didn’t incorporate benefits like pensions or healthcare benefits into salaries.
CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY TOPS STARTING AND MID-CAREER SALARIES
The University of California-Berkeley comes with a certain (ahem) image. In anything-goes “Berzerkely,” people imagine a wave of Marxists, womynists, and greens screaming into megaphones and marching over every perceived slight or lost political cause. However, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is also a leading incubator for entrepreneurship. And its graduates are the recipients of the highest starting and mid-career salaries. According to PayScale, Berkeley business graduates earn $72,000 in their early careers (i.e. five years or less experience in their career or field). By the mid-point of their career, these professionals – who are, on average, 44 years old and carry 15 years of experience – are making $138,300.
Mind you, these numbers don’t take cost of living into account – and the Bay Area is among the most expensive in the world. However, Berkeley is obviously doing something right, whether it is the quality of education, network, career services, or area job opportunities. However, the starting and mid-career salaries for Berkeley undergraduate business majors are respectively $12,500 and $24,100 per year higher than other Bachelor degree holders at Berkeley. Talk about a strong return on investment!
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