As costs for higher education has spiralled out of control, many people have come to question the value of a college degree. Traditionally, education has been seen as one of the safest and highest value investments around. Get a college degree and you will get a good job, or at least that’s what people used to think. Now that age old promise seems more a myth than a reality.

college degree

The key word here, however, is some graduates. Degree holders in certain fields, such as engineering, and accounting are in high-demand with unemployment rates far below the national average of 8.3 percent. In fact, employers are struggling to fill all of the open position in fields such as actuarial sciences (unemployment rate = 0%).

For the most part, degrees that teach applied skills, such as accounting and computer science, have far lower unemployment rates. General degrees, such as History and Fine Arts have much higher unemployment rates. In fact a report conducted at Georgetown found that History and Fine Arts have unemployment rates of 15.4 percent and 16.2 percent, respectively. The same center found that Actuarial, pharmacology, and several other degrees had unemployment rates of zero percent.

Incomes also vary drastically by degree. The Wall Street Journal reports that account majors earn an average of USD 61,000 per year while Anthropologists are earning only USD 40,000 per year. And business management degree holders are earning a solid USD 56,000 per year while philosophy degree holders are averaging only USD 42,000 per year.

On the whole, degree holders with degrees in applied skills are doing better in terms of both unemployment rates and earnings, however not all applied degrees are created equal. Graduates with degrees, such as architecture are faring just as badly as liberal arts majors. The unemployment rate among architecture degree holders is an astounding 10.6 percent, though median earnings for those employed are still a comfortable USD 60,000 per year. With construction nearly halted in the United States, contractors and firms simply do not need people to draw up new plans for new buildings.

With college costs skyrocketing, you can’t blame parents and students who are starting to question the value of a college degree. In fact, total college costs, including tuition and room & board, have grown 42 percent from 2000-01 to 2010-11. Student loan debt has likewise ballooned, now accounting for 870 billion dollars’ worth of debt.

Yet, for students who major in high-demand fields, such as actuarial sciences and physics the investment could still be worth it. Other students majoring in fields such as Creative Writing may find themselves graduating to work the same low-end jobs, such as waiting tables, as people who don’t even hold college degrees. If that is the case, were the costs of college education worth it? Unless you’re counting personal enrichment, probably not.