Ask the Readers: What's the Most Valuable Degree? (Chance to win $20)

By Linsey Knerl on 3 August 2010 (Updated 17 August 2010) 35 comments
Photo: greatdegree

*** Congrats to the winners! ***

  • amberwitch For society - a science degree. For you, an engineering degree, any engineering degree. Learn to analyze and solve problems, get challenging work.
  • Tiffany Barker Massengale
  • j_boucher BS in BA is listed as most valuable degree. I have one, but its really about who you know. http://goo.gl/oqpv @wisebread #WBAsk
     

A recent article hit the Yahoo! homepage, claiming to know the "most valuable degree." The article explained that a BSBA (Bachelor's of Science in Business Administration) took the cake — both for its versatility and its earning potential. While I suppose it depends on where you live, several of our friends' experiences have been that the BSBA has yielded little more than entry level sales jobs and a few mid-management opportunities in industries like retail or insurance. The whopping $74,000 mid-career earning quote seemed way out of reach for a degree where the hope of even finding a job has been tricky.

There are others, however, who have had better luck with this degree and are very glad that they studied general business at their four-year college. But is it the education that they credit? Or job experience? If you had to pick "one" of the most valuable degrees, would you vote for the Business Administration "catch all" solution? Or is there a more specialized trade or concentration that you think is more buzz-worthy?

What do you think would the most valuable degree? Is it even a degree? Maybe it's an apprenticeship or technical training certificate.... Let us know your thoughts in order to be entered to win one of three $20 Amazon gift cards!

Feel free to link to a blog post, if you've written on this topic! We'll include it in our post upon the conclusion of our giveaway!

Win one of three $20 Amazon gift cards:

We're doing three giveaways — one for random comments, one for random Facebook "Likes", and another one for random tweets.

How to Enter:

  1. Post your answer in the comments below, or
  2. Go to our Facebook page, "Like" us, then "Like" the update mentioning this giveaway (you can comment, as well -- but you don't have to for entry.)
  3. Tweet your answer. Include both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" in your tweet so we'll see it and count it.

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, Aug 8th at 11:59 pm CST. Winners will be announced after Aug 8th on the original post and via Twitter. Winners will also be contacted via email and Twitter Direct Message.
  • You can enter all three drawings — once by leaving a comment, once by liking our Facebook update, and once by tweeting.
  • Only tweets that contain both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" will be entered. (Otherwise, we won't see it.)
  • Only those who have "Liked" both our Facebook page and the contest update will be entered.

Good Luck!

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Guest's picture
gt0163c

Provided a person is interested in the fields and can do the math (and science) I think that nursing and mechanical or electrical engineering are very valuable degrees.
I hear regularly about a shortage of nurses in the US so job security probably isn't a big issues. And I know that nurses can make very good money, especially if they're willing/able to work their schedule so that they work nights and/or weekends (nights on holiday weekends especially). There's also a lot of different options for specialization and working in different settings.

For those who are more technically inclined, it's hard to go wrong with a good ME or EE degree. Job opportunities can be found in many different industries all over the country and the world (as opposed to like a petroleum or aerospace engineering degree where you're more limited to specific geographical areas). The pay generally isn't spectacular - you're not going to get super rich as an engineer, especially if you don't head towards a management/leadership track. But you can make a good living and easily support a family.

Guest's picture
Rich

I am going to go a completely different direction here and say an Associates Degree in Nursing. You can get this done at a community college in two years, you are going to start around $50k per year and top out around $120k a year. Plus with the nursing shortage you will always be able to find work. As we saw from the financial meltdown, lots of very educated people with degrees and finance can quickly become expendable

Guest's picture
Olivia

If you compare training costs and income earned, being an electrician takes the cake. In our state it's illegal for amateurs to do anything but the "easy" stuff. Our son's friend went to a Vo Tech high school and is doing quite well. The only downside is it's fairly seasonal.

If you look at who makes the most (even if they don't see it themselves), I suspect being a Physician's Assistant wins for hourly compensation. Whether we see a doctor or PA, we get billed the same amount. $72 for a ten minute slot.

Guest's picture
Kat

A degree is nothing without working experience. I’m so happy I chose to work my way through school; it’s probably one of the only reasons I’m employed at a decent job with a good salary!

Guest's picture

So how does one determine value? It is cost of obtaining the degree vs. increase in earnings? And does the institution you get it from change that? Tuition varies widely from school to school? Do scholarship incentives count toward the cost of the degree (thus adversely affecting the ROI) or should that be deducted? Just some questions on how you're determining "value"....

Guest's picture
SAFTM

I think it depends on location. I live in the northeast. Here there are a lot of hedge funds, investment banks and other high-finance shops. Based on headhunter calls, friends graduating undergrad and grad schools and a few articles I've read, degrees in statistics, engineering or mathematics are very highly regarded by places like this. And those are the places that pay a lot of money. They want people trained to think and analyze apparently. And those degrees apparently teach people how to think analytically. It's pretty interesting stuff - stuff I would never have considered as a high school senior (those topics interest me, but I always joked about a degree in "math" - until I was already out in the workplace). Fortunately I like what I do and am happy with the money.

Guest's picture
jnreid

A medical degree. MD. It may not earn the highest salary, certainly nothing compared to that of some CEOs/entrepreneurs, but you are almost guaranteed a pretty good paycheck.

Guest's picture
lynnkz

This is an interesting question as we have 2 teenagers approaching college and needing to focus on majors. We are encouraging them to look at their interests and aptitudes and then to select a major that has some broad career opportunities at the end - our suggestions: engineering, math, business, etc. Both kids are good at math and science, but the older kid likes them more than the younger kid, so it will be interesting to see where they land. Despite some protests to the contrary, we suggest and direct, but don't dictate. I also think a nursing, MD, or veterinary degree would provide a solid living, but we come from a family with weak stomachs:).

Guest's picture
Ernest S.

I feel like my MBA really helped to jump-start my career. It's not only the skills and the degree though -- the school's career services is a huge help. Since most graduate business schools are rated by the placement and starting salaries of their graduates, they place a high emphasis on getting the best paying job. My school's career services put me in contact with an alum who was able to get a great job with 2.5 times the salary that I received before getting my MBA.

Also, the MBA skill set is applicable for so many types of jobs. I am considering a career change in the near future, and I feel that my degree allows me to explore other non-corporate careers that interest me.

Guest's picture
Rhonda

I disagree with the poster who suggested an MD. Unless you're very, very lucky, you will come out of med school with massive debts. It takes many, many years to pay those back plus many MDs feel compelled to play the status game. No. I think a Nursing degree (so much flexibility with type of work and location) and engineering - probably civil, electrical or computer. Having an M.S. in any of these increases pay quite a bit.

Guest's picture
Emily

Nursing and teaching degrees have a good amount of job security, although the pay isn't always that great. JDs and MDs are a big investment, but if you get hired by the right firms/hospitals, you can generally recoup your "losses". On another level, the most valuable degree is one that allows you to do what you love while still being able to pay the bills and live comfortably and save a bit.

Guest's picture
Guest

My engineering degree has been very versatile and lucrative. Engineers make a very good salary, but the versatility I experienced being drafted into consulting out of school made me realize that engineering students are trained to think and problem solve. Those skills can be transferred into multiple industries.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ugh. Good job, Yahoo, for making sweeping generalizations. As I see amongst my coworkers, the "alphabet chain" behind most of the names would suggest no single degree is sufficient. Personally, I think the degree counts for zip if you don't back it up with experience and passion. You can definitely spend the $$$$ and money and effort getting your MD and still be a failure as a doctor if you lack bedside manner or interest in humanity.

Guest's picture
Guest

The most valuable university degree is RN, nursing. I worked in human resources in a hospital for a few years. I was amazed at how those with the nursing credentials were immediately hired without much question as to their previous experience or past job performance. The poor performers are shuffled, but they are not fired or laid off. The wages are high. Healthcare is a 24/7 business and creative people choose their shift and working hours to meet their current home situations, such as working 2 twelve hour all night shifts per week so that essentially a mom can remain nearly stay-at-home while making more income than comparative full time employment with a business degree would pay in our area. The employer pays to keep their licensing and training current. They have top of the line benefits, even for part-time work. You can move to a brand new town and be employed within a week. And there are hundreds of occupations within the healthcare field that have little to do with patient care, but you must have the nursing degree to access them - careers in statistics, administration, training, marketing, computer systems, etc.

Guest's picture
Robin

Nursing is defintely a good one.

Guest's picture
amberwitch

For society - a science degree. For you, an engineering degree, any engineering degree. Learn to analyze and solve problems, get challenging work.

Guest's picture
saudade

A degree is only as valuable as the demand for it, which can fluctuate wildly and depends on the geographical area you are in. One thing my husband and I have found is consistent in the San Francisco Bay Area where we live: a Masters, ANY Masters, garners a higher wage in professional work, no matter if it is in the field you are working in or not.

Guest's picture
Cyn

Most valuable degree? I'd say a tie between a degree in teaching or library/information science. The skills learned for either of those professions can be applied in so mnay ways, and in so many fields.

Guest's picture
ryan

I may be biased, b/c this is my degree, but I say Finance. Not because it can get you an awesome job, but for the fact of how it can improve you life. It teaches you about capital, interest rates, growth rates, etc.

You can go very far with a Finance degree and a general understanding of how a business makes money.

Guest's picture
Kelli

Any sort of medical degree since there are so many elderly now and, with the Baby Boomers getting to that stage too, the healthcare fields are never at a loss for business and probably will never be.

Guest's picture
Slug

For me, the MBA was definitely the most lucrative. I stopped working to go in and came out 2 years later making about 250% more. 4 years out and that number has jumped to over 300% higher than a base that was actually quite reasonable. The career trajectory with an MBA from a top 20 program is pretty incredible. The debt, though large, is certainly surmountable, especially in today's low interest rate environment.

Guest's picture
michichi

The most valuable degree is REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE, even if it is an internship. Right after that, I would probably say an accounting class.

Guest's picture
Nadia

Worst: MBA

Best: RN

Guest's picture
613AC

For me, the best degree is Economics. And yes I'll admit I'm biased.
A degree in Economics is not only versatile, but provides you with key financial life lessons.
It's also a field where there are plenty of options for jobs. The economy will always have ups and downs, but it will never cease to exist and there will always be jobs trying to predict where it will head next and analyzing its impact. Being an economist is a profession that will always have numerous job opportunities.

In terms of personal learning, I also like that economics is a field that can be applied to many, many other fields. An economist can specialize in so many different fields (health, regional development, culture, neuroeconomics if you want to mix in some psychology, etc.) that there is always an opportunity to learn more about different subjects.

Guest's picture
Emmy

Plumber. A job that takes a little tech schooling, and on-the-job-training to work on your own schedule making tons of money. Oh, and medical coding, because no one wants to do it, yet there are tons of places hiring for medical coders. I think it is less than a year of schooling for that one.

Guest's picture
Adam

I would say engineering. A bit expensive, but the possibilities for long term earnings are nearly unlimited as an engineering undergraduate has both a technical skillset and the ability to apply critical thinking to technical problems.

Guest's picture
Guest

I vote for an ecology/greenliving degree

Guest's picture
Lynda

I think any setting where someone can learn a lot of skills for entering society - working together with other people, prioritizing, time management, critical thinking, and socializing - is the most valuable degree you can get, whether that be an AA, BA/BS, master's, phd, or on-the-job training, or certification training... It would depend on the individual.

Guest's picture
Rachel

A speech therapy degree is great. People will be knocking down your door to hire you on. You have the option to work at the following: school, private clinic, home health, rehab centers, hospitals, or contract work. You can start your own clinic or be your own boss with home health. You also have a variety of populations that you can work with from infants to geriatrics. You can usually make decent money and often make your own hours. And last, but certainly not least, you are improving the quality of life for a person!

Guest's picture
Lisa

My vote is for any degree in the Medical Field. My mother used to tell us girls,"If you have a degree in the medical field, you'll always have a job!" My sister became an RN and I am a Physical Therapy Assistant. Mom was right!

Guest's picture
cwaltz

The best degree is the one that is desired and used. For example, I have a cousin whose parents refinanced their house to send him to school to become a pharmacist. He ended up miserable and didn't use the Bachelors of Science degree. Instead he ended up working in investment banking. Pharmacists are in demand and their pay is fairly lucrative, but that doesn't matter because the field made him miserable. Meanwhile the economy tanked and my cousins parents became financially wobbly. Their relationship rocky. They are now in the process of a messy divorce. The moral of the story- Before investing in a degree make sure you don't just look at the income it can produce. Make sure the job is something you can live with.

Christine
dazed1821@AOL.COM

Guest's picture
Sarah

Wow I can't believe no one has mentioned an accouting degree. Haven't you ever heard the saying nothing is guaranteed in this life except death and taxes. When I earned my accounting degree in 1998, employers came to my college campus falling over themselves to hire the accounting graduates. I didn't even have to leave my campus to interview and had a job lined up 3 months prior to graduation. I know the job market isn't as inviting as it was 12 years ago when I was graduating but our firm has laid of ZERO people in the last two years, we are even looking to hire for the upcoming tax season. So Accouting all the way.

Guest's picture
Patrycja

I must say that I am observing the changes and lately the most valuable degree is in Nursing and in Special Education especially specialization in Autism.

Guest's picture
Tasha

By far, I think the most valuable apprenticeship/certificate to have would be one in plumbing. The average person has limited plumbing skills. When the plumbing backs up, you NEED a professional. There is no getting around it. Plumbing skills also are in demand in boom times during periods of constructions, but a plumber will do well in down times, too. No one will live with a stopped up toilet for long.

Guest's picture
Aly

A degree in common sense and independent, clear, and logical thinking. Not really a degree and it won't directly get you a job, but it will help you make the right choices in following your dreams.