Can You Guess Which College Major is the Most Expensive?

Graduates of numerous college majors and programs wait to receive their diplomas

Graduates of numerous college majors and programs wait to receive their diplomas | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A college degree is a significant, and sometimes life-altering expense. Though almost every American is keenly aware that student debt and rising education costs are a major economic issue these days, we haven’t seen much happen in regards to making progressive changes. The issue is multifaceted, and will likely take decades, if not generations, to be corrected.

Yet, many students — egged on by parents, guidance counselors, or their own misunderstanding or expectations — keep passing over viable alternatives to pursue outrageously expensive college degrees. Degrees that entitle or guarantee them nothing.

Obviously, some degrees or majors are better, in some respects, than others. Choosing a computer science major in today’s job market is probably going to pay off handsomely. But choosing art history or a degree that doesn’t leave you with many, if any, marketable skills? You could find yourself in trouble. What it ultimately comes down to is the initial expense of a college degree, versus the return.

We’ve taken a look at which specific schools can earn you a high rate of return on average, but as for which specific majors or programs? That’s still unclear. Now, thanks to some digging through the data by Trade-schools.net, we have at least an idea, though.

Trade-schools.net put together a brief called The Price of Academic Admission, in order to see which college majors and subsequent careers provide the most bang for your buck, or that are the best bargain overall.

A woman has her hair steamed at a salon

A woman has her hair processed at a salon | Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

But what we mean when we say “the most expensive,” in this case, is when we incorporate everything — costs of attaining the degree (tuition, study materials, etc.), and compare it to earnings after graduation. That might also include opportunity costs — that is, earnings you may have forgone to study instead of work — but we’ll stick with what the brief provides us.

Trade-schools.net looks at only a handful of majors (there are many others that can be contained within each, however), and if we look at this chart, it’s easy to see that there is one course of study, cosmetology, that is the most expensive of them all:

College major payoff

College major payoff | trade-schools.net

Art and psychology degrees generally don’t pay off as well either, but in terms of overall expense and return? Cosmetology looks to be avoided. What’s particularly interesting about cosmetology and similar studies, is that it has been at the center of a debate regarding licensing regulations for a while now. You’ve likely heard arguments about how some jobs or career paths require a certain license or educational certificate when it’s not particularly needed — well, cosmetology is usually at the forefront.

Though it’s likely very helpful to have studied cosmetology, many argue that forking over tens of thousands of dollars for a degree is seen as overkill.

Things do change a bit, though, when we look at the average cost of these specific majors. Here’s a visual:

Average cost of college majors

Average cost of college majors | Trade-schools.net

Here, we see that a cosmetology major is actually cheaper in terms of actual expenses and that earning an art degree is much more costly. But again, it’s not as simple as taking a look at how much a degree costs. Yes, that’s part of the equation, but what really counts is what that degree will be able to do for you post-graduation, or what you’ll get as a return on that initial investment.

In terms of tuition and the cost to get in the door, cosmetology school may seem like a good choice. And who knows? You might end up finding some high-rolling clients and making a good living. But if you want to play by the numbers? Maybe cosmetology isn’t a wise choice, especially if you’re not particularly passionate about it.

But if we look at tuition costs only, Trade-schools.net says that art school is going to be the most expensive.

“The costliest tuition? An art degree, with an average of over $16,000 per year — a figure that feels disproportionate when you consider that the annual artist salary (according to the BLS) is around $45,000 per year,” the brief reads. “Additionally, recent graduates of fine arts programs have a 7.6% unemployment rate, which is well above the national average of 4.9%.”

So follow your passions and dreams, but don’t disregard the labor market and your initial investment in your education. A wrong choice might lead to a world of financial pain after graduation.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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