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The biggest indicator of a students college major
When students look into colleges and majors, theres a lot of factors to consider, but it seems that family income may play a bigger role than what the student is interested in. - photo by Shelby Slade
When students choose a college major, theres a lot of factors to take into consideration, but it seems that family income may play a bigger role than what the student is actually interested in.

A new study shows that students from poorer families often go into very different fields, like computer science, math, physics and law enforcement, than those from richer families, who tend to choose history, English and performing arts, Joe Piskner reported for The Atlantic.

Its not hard to imagine a student deciding his or her academic path based on its expected payout, Piskner explained. And its especially not hard to imagine poorer kids making this calculation out of necessity, while richer kids forgo that means-to-an-end thinking.

The average household income for an English major is about $100,000 per year while a law enforcement major earns $66,000.

But Quoctrung Bui wrote for NPR that people in law enforcement fields and doctors end up earning more than 40 percent more money than their parents did, showing a progression in income after choosing useful and high-earning majors in college.

On the other hand, designers, musicians and artists often do worse than their parents did by earning about 35 percent less, Bui explained.

This trend is much more prominent in more prestigious schools, Piskner explained. Students with elite surnames, a sign of wealth, were 90 percent more likely to major in classics.

(When looking at these numbers) college majors and occupations start to look more and more like easily interpreted, if slightly crude, badges doled out to people based on the wealth and educational levels of the parents they were born to, he wrote.

While money has always been a barrier for students looking to attend college, many scholarships and financial-aid opportunities have been created to cut down on this barrier.

Daniel Fisher reported for Forbes that 79 percent of children in the top-income quartile pursue bachelors degrees compared to 11 percent from the bottom quartile of families.

Yet, many colleges are unintentionally turning low-income students away by admitting students based on the items on their applications, Fisher explained.

A lot of admissions officers tend to focus on how 'interesting a student is, UCLA professor Richard Sander said. Being 'interesting tends to be inversely related to being poor. Doing an internship in Indonesia is incompatible with holding a summer job.

Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. studied Yo Yo Mas genealogy and found the famous musician came from a very poor family and slowly worked his way out of poverty.

(It took) three generations of wealth to train a musician, Gates explained on NPRs Faces of America. They have to, you know, get out of poverty, accumulate wealth and then have the luxury of the third generation to pursue the arts.
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