Sorry, fine arts majors, but actuarial-science majors earn an average annual salary of $108,658 and have a better-than-average unemployment rate of only 2.3 percent.
A Bankrate.com report released earlier this month ranked actuarial science — the formal term for the study of insurance — the most valuable college major.
Actuarial-science majors earn an average annual salary of $108,658 and have a better-than-average unemployment rate of only 2.3 percent. And at a time when student debt has hit a record high, these graduates are less likely to incur the added expense of additional schooling and delayed earning potential. Fewer than 1 in 4 graduates pursue advanced degrees.
“The actuarial science profession is interesting because students don’t need advanced degrees to gain livable wages, but instead are certified through a series of exams overseen by the industry’s professional organizations,” said Bankrate.com analyst Adrian Garcia in an interview. “Students typically pass one to two of these exams while in school and then go on and complete others while working, earning raises and bonuses as they pass.”
The study ranked 162 majors with labor forces of at least 15,000 people based on average annual income, employment status and whether those graduates went on to pursue a higher degree within 12 months. Income accounted for 70 percent of the weighted ranking, unemployment for 20 percent, and career paths that did not demand additional education for 10 percent. The data were derived from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.
Recent actuarial-science graduates are entering the industry at an opportune moment. The U.S. property and casualty insurance industry took in $18 billion in net profit, even as the country sustained heavy losses from natural catastrophes such as hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, according to the National Association for Insurance Commissioners. But that number is expected to increase in 2018 thanks to favorable interest rates, shows the S&P Global Market Intelligence report. Health-care premiums are also on the rise as many insurers seek double-digit percentage increases in monthly costs for individual medical plans in 2019.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees continue to offer the best postgraduate prospects to college students, the study found. Zoology, nuclear engineering, premedical programs and applied mathematics dominated the five most valuable degrees, offering graduates low rates of unemployment and six-figure salaries.
But the prospect of a high salary doesn’t always win out. Petroleum-engineering graduates boast the most lucrative average salary, topping out at $124,448, but fail to crack the top of the list because of an excessively high 7.9 percent unemployment rate.
The only students faring worse than fine arts degree holders are niche fine arts degree holders: Graduates with degrees outside the traditional buckets of art, theater, music or creative writing earn the second-lowest average annual salary of $40,855. At a whopping 9.1 percent, they also have the highest unemployment rate of any major.
“At the end of the day,” Garcia said, “you have to balance being practical and following your passion.”