My nephew is a senior in high school. I was curious to know his plans for next year. I’m a huge fan of gap years: time away from work or school to grow and explore. But my sister might tie me to a post if she heard such talk. She’s afraid that if her son backpacks around Southeast Asia or Central America, he might join a Bohemian commune and never get a real job.

So I asked my nephew, “What do you want to study in college?” “I want to study athletic training,” he said. "I might want to work for an NHL team." I then asked, “Have any of your teachers asked you to research careers that offer decent salaries and strong employment prospects?” I wasn’t surprised when he said, “No.”

Our schools are supposed to prepare kids for the future. But unfortunately, they often spend too much time on topics that rarely impact student lives. Teachers become a lot like strange hockey coaches: telling players to pass the puck a dozen times before they shoot…while the opposition’s net is empty and they’re just two yards from the goal. This isn’t the teachers’ fault. I blame national curriculums for not pushing pucks into open nets.

This blindness compounds the country’s student debt problem. According to Zack Friedman, a senior contributor to Forbes magazine, American student loan debts now total about $1.6 trillion. The average borrower owes about $30,000. The Wall Street Journal’s Melissa Korn reported that forty-three percent of college graduates were underemployed in their first job. It’s tough to pay off college loans as an Uber driver or a restaurant waiter.

The costs of getting a college degree have risen faster than inflation. That’s why new college students should be more careful than ever. Students shouldn’t sell their souls for the best employment prospects if it means pursuing a career they won’t enjoy. But if they don’t research employment prospects for different college majors, they might end up riding a rough road of hurt.

According to CareerCast.com’s annual Jobs Related report, degrees in education offer the best employment odds. But teachers’ salaries aren’t high and they vary from state to state and district to district. For example, the median income for a teacher in New York State is $85,000 a year. In Mississippi, it’s almost half that amount.

Costs of living vary wildly too. In Alissa Quart’s 2018 book, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, she says the average salary for teachers in San Francisco’s Unified School District is $65,240. That’s the 528th lowest paid school district in California. And San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the United States. That’s why Ms. Quart says many of the region’s teachers drive for Uber on the side. If students want to be teachers, they should choose locations that make sense.

Using data from Kiplinger’s and CareerCast.com, I’ve listed some of the best and worst college majors based on income and employment prospects. For example, my nephew wants to major in Athletic Training. I won’t say he shouldn’t. But if he’s choosing between Athletic Training and Computer Engineering, I might nudge him away from sports. Last year, there were just 4,829 employment postings seeking Athletic Training majors. Salaries started at $39,500 with mid-career salaries hitting an average of $52,700.

In contrast, there were 1.7 million job postings for people with degrees in Computer Engineering. The average starting salary was $72,600. The average mid-career salary was $120,000.

There’s much more to life than money. But high school kids should research employment options. It should be a graded, mandatory component of every school’s curriculum. This would help young people make educated choices. It might help them find work and reduce their odds of drowning in rivers of college debt.

Weak College Majors For Employment and Income

College Majors Starting Salary Mid-Career Salary Annual Online Postings
Median For All Majors $45,400 $86,400 103, 151
Athletic Training $39,500 $52,700 4,827
Advertising $43,700 $86,400 9,188
Animal Science $38,300 $63,000 9,959
Fashion Merchandising $42,900 $72,500 68,443
Religious Studies $41,700 $63,800 11,617
Fashion Design $43,800 $80,500 5,526
Paralegal Studies $40,400 $54,100 58,517
Art History $42,900 $66,300 2,839
Art $39,400 $60,500 15,280
Theater $37,300 $60,200 23,251
Graphic Design $41,700 $63,500 33,333
Culinary Arts $39,200 $58,800 5,474
Radio & Television $39,600 $64,400 8,094
Photography $41,200 $61,700 9,807

Strong College Majors For Employment and Income

College Majors Starting Salary Mid-Career Salary Annual Online Postings
Median For All Majors $45,400 $86,400 103, 151
Electrical Engineering $69,900 $118,100 1.1 million
Nursing $61,400 $77,600 1.6 million
Computer Engineering $72,600 $120,000 1.7 million
Chemical Engineering 71,800 $126,900 116,736
Civil Engineering $66,000 $110,300 259,586
Computer Science $68,800 $113,900 2.2 million
Construction Management $59,000 $100,400 119,947
Mechanical Engineering $65,800 $108,700 $359,264
Management Information Systems $60,200 $104,400 2.7 million
Industrial Engineering $66,400 $111,300 284,905
Software Engineering $69,100 $109,100 854,903
Business Administration $48,700 $79,100 3.7 million
Economics $57,100 $105,700 901,406
Finance $56,000 $96,500 1.3 million
Food Science $50,200 $85,600 103,151

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Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas