(NewsNation) — Millions of college students this fall will decide what they want to study — but if they’re anything like those who came before them, many will have regrets later on.
As of 2021, nearly 40% of adults who went to college regret their choice of major, according to a Federal Reserve survey.
Humanities and arts majors were the most likely to rue their decisions, with nearly half (48%) saying they would choose a different field of study today. Those who studied social sciences weren’t far behind, as 46% said they would go a different direction now.
In general, STEM graduates were the least likely to regret their majors. Just 24% of those who studied engineering said they would make a different choice.
People who studied math, computer science or physical sciences also felt good about their decisions — only one-third would study something else with hindsight.
As you might expect, those outcomes correspond closely to annual incomes — those who fare better in the labor market tend to be less likely to regret their major.
Of the 10 college majors with the highest mid-career earnings, seven are in engineering fields, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The median mid-career wage for those who studied chemical, aerospace or computer engineering is around $110,000.
By comparison, those who studied education or social services are among the lowest earners, making about $50,000 per year, on average.
Despite wide differences in levels of regret when it comes to majors, the vast majority of respondents were glad they went to school. Only 9% of those who attended a public institution wish they had not gone to college, the Federal Reserve survey found.
Those numbers were slightly higher for those who went to private for-profit schools — 14% said they would not have attended college in hindsight. And more than half, 52%, wished they had gone to a different school.
As the cost of attending college continues to outpace wage growth, there are some indications that students are placing more emphasis on future earnings when choosing their major.
Since spring 2017, the number of undergraduates pursuing liberal arts degrees has fallen 25% at four-year institutions, according to National Student Clearinghouse data. By comparison, the number enrolled as computer science majors has increased by 28% over the same time period.
Some experts have traced the shift in emphasis back to the 2008 financial crisis, after which the number of humanities majors plummeted.
Although career earnings vary by major, research suggests graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree is generally a worthwhile investment in the long run. In 2021, those with a bachelor’s degree earned 65% more per week on average than workers who only had a high school diploma.
Over a lifetime, bachelor’s degree holders earn 84% more than those with just a high school diploma, according to Georgtown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.