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Is it possible that your salary after college graduation will be enough to allow you to live comfortably while still paying off your student loans? Many young people are asking that as they think about what to do about college costs.

A four-year liberal arts degree from a public college can cost more than $93,000. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Education. It can cost much more – or significantly less – than the average depending on your major.

The Potential Rewards

It’s all about supply and demand. Going to college to get a degree that allows you to pursue a career in a field that’s got no potential is not a good idea. There are plenty of studies and actual data behind job growth, and it’s available to anyone for free if they want to look at it.

If you’re thinking about a major, match it to the corresponding “Occupation Group” on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook website. You’ll find extremely helpful information about educational requirements and the government’s projected job growth. This information can help you look at trends and decide if the course of study you plan will connect you to a job path that has potential.

Return On Investment

Going to college is supposed to reward you with the ability to have a better life and career. You don’t need a crystal ball for that. You need to look at statistics and do the math. The major you select will make a difference in the amount of money you make. A Georgetown University workforce study found that the difference between the lowest- and highest-paying majors can be as much as $3.4 million over your working career.

Here’s a crucial tip for looking at salaries. Don’t look at average statistics. They paint a much nicer picture because of the highest earners – and those salaries are anything but average. Look instead at median statistics (the midpoint number, where an equal number of values are above and below it).

If you want an example of the difference this makes, look no further than the National Association of Colleges and Employers Summer 2018 Salary Survey. These statistics show average salaries and say that it’s $50,516. The Brookings institution, on the other hand, looks at median statistics, and says that the more realistic median starting salary is $27,000.

Removing the extreme high and low salaries from the equation gives you a much more realistic view of your earning potential. You can find the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ median wage data here.

Learn more about the cost of an education for a career in the trades by visiting the Explore the Trades website. Download our free career path infographics.