I'd like to solicit advice since I'm starting at Stanford this Fall and I'm interested in optimal philanthropy.

First off, what should I major in? I have experience in programming and math, so I'm thinking of majoring in CS, possibly with a second major or a minor in applied math. But switching costs are still extremely low at the moment, so I should consider other fields.

Some majors that could have higher lifetime earnings than straight CS:

  • Petroleum engineering. Would non-oil energy sources cause pay to drop over the next 40 years?
  • Actuarial math. If I understand correctly, actuaries had high pay because they were basically a cartel, artificially limiting the supply of certifications to a certain number each year. And I've heard that people that used to hire actuaries now hire cheaper equivalents, so pay could be less over the next 40 years.
  • Chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, electrical and electronics engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering.
  • Pre-med.
  • Quantitative finance.


Stanford actually has salary data for 2011-2012 graduates by major. CS has highest earnings, by quite far. The data is incomplete because few people responded and some groups were omitted for privacy, so we don't know what e.g. petroleum engineers or double majors earned.

Should I double-major? There are some earnings statistics here; to summarize, two majors in the same field doesn't help; a science major plus a humanities major has lower earnings than the science major alone; greatest returns are achieved by pairing a math/science major with an engineering major, which increases earnings "up to 30%" above the math/science major alone. I'd guess these effects are largely not causation, but correlation caused by conscientiousness/ambition causing both double majors and higher earnings.

I could also get minors. I'm planning to very carefully look over the requirements for each major and minor, since there do seem to be some cheap gains. A math minor can be done in one quarter, for instance; a math major takes only a bit more than two quarters.

I have a table with the unit requirements of each combination of majors and minors. Most students take 15 units a quarter. Here are some major/minor combinations I could do:

  • If I take 18.8 units a quarter, I could double-major in CS and econ.
  • If I take 15.8 units a quarter, I could major in CS and minor in math and econ.
  • If I take 15.4 units a quarter, I could double-major in CS and math.

Cal Newport argues that this sort of thing a bad idea because hard schedules do not actually impress employers more.

Would employers care about double majors in undergrad if I also get a graduate degree? I will do a master's degree or a PhD, partly because those make it a lot easier to emigrate to the US. (I'm from South Africa, which doesn't have much of a software industry.)

What other things could increase earnings?

  • Doing an internship every summer.
  • Networking. Stanford's statistics on how 2011-2012 graduates found jobs indicates that around 29% of them got jobs through networking.
  • Better social skills? I'm planning on taking some classes on public speaking, improv, etc.; what else should I do?
  • Some way of signalling leadership skills? Maybe I could try to get into a leadership position at a student club or something.
  • Honors programs, or doing research. Do employers care about this?
  • Following the advice of Stanford's Career Development Center, for instance about how to prepare for career fairs, using their internship network, making appointments with their career counselors, etc.
  • Studying abroad. I'm already studying abroad by going to Stanford, so this is probably less valuable for me than for most students, though it still seems likely to be worthwhile. Stanford has a Washington program involving internships and classes taught by policymakers, which might be worth doing. Both these would make it harder to do multiple majors and minors.

Many thanks for all advice given!


EDIT: I used a scoring rule to rank all combinations of majors and minors in CS, math, economics and MS&E (management science and engineering) according to practicality and estimated effect on earnings. Unit estimates include all breadth requirements etc., assuming I don't take stupid courses. Here's the top 20; the top 10 all look pretty good:

CS Math Econ MS&E   Total Units Units per quarter Hours/day
minor minor MAJOR minor   198 16.5 7.1
MAJOR . minor minor   207 17.3 7.4
minor . MAJOR minor   189 15.8 6.8
minor . MAJOR MAJOR   216 18.0 7.7
MAJOR minor minor minor   216 18.0 7.7
minor MAJOR minor minor   183 15.3 6.5
MAJOR . . MAJOR   199 16.6 7.1
minor MAJOR minor MAJOR   210 17.5 7.5
minor minor minor MAJOR   180 15.0 6.4
minor MAJOR MAJOR .   202 16.8 7.2
MAJOR minor minor .   190 15.8 6.8
MAJOR minor . MAJOR   208 17.3 7.4
MAJOR MAJOR . minor   211 17.6 7.5
. minor MAJOR MAJOR   192 16.0 6.9
minor minor MAJOR MAJOR   225 18.8 8.0
MAJOR . minor MAJOR   234 19.5 8.4
minor . minor MAJOR   171 14.3 6.1
. MAJOR MAJOR minor   195 16.3 7.0
minor MAJOR MAJOR minor   228 19.0 8.1
MAJOR minor . minor   181 15.1 6.5
MAJOR MAJOR minor .   220 18.3 7.9
MAJOR . MAJOR .   226 18.8 8.1
MAJOR . minor .   181 15.1 6.5
minor MAJOR . MAJOR   175 14.6 6.3
MAJOR MAJOR . .   185 15.4 6.6
minor minor MAJOR .   172 14.3 6.1
. . MAJOR MAJOR   183 15.3 6.5
MAJOR minor MAJOR .   235 19.6 8.4
MAJOR . . minor   172 14.3 6.1

Another option is to major or minor in M&CS (mathematical and computational sciences) instead of math or CS separately.


EDIT 2: Here is a graph of graduates' salaries by major. Y-axis is salary of 2011-2012 Stanford graduates. X-axis is degree: 1 is BA/BS, 2 is MA/MS, 3 is PhD; intermediate values are for groups containing two degree-levels. The sample size is tiny because only 30% of students responded, and some groups were omitted for privacy.

New Comment
76 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

If you haven't already, go to 80000 hours.

Thanks! I filled out a form for a coaching session.
And specifically, get a coaching session.

I am a math major who has had relatively fast career growth. Here is the generalized process that has worked for me and a few of my friends (note that this is primarily based on personal experience and anecdotes):

  • The critical skill for creating large amounts of value and quickly growing your earnings is understanding what people value. Most people, especially STEM majors, are really bad at this. They are not able to effectively model the business and the people they work with, so they end up spending a lot of time and effort on elegant solutions that seem useful but aren't what the business values most. So how do you learn what people value? Spend a lot of time improving your communication skills. Write a lot. Talk to people a lot. Gain a general sense of business by reading books like The Personal MBA. Check out sources like Ramit Sethi's I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which is absolutely phenomenal despite the sketchy name. And of course, consistently ask yourself/your boss/your customers if what you're working on is what other people value, or if it's just what seems to be urgent.

  • Social skills are certainly important. There are two major branches of social skills, the first le

... (read more)

Paul Graham:

In the graduation-speech approach, you decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don't commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.

It's not so important what you work on, so long as you're not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you'll take.

Suppose you're a college freshman deciding whether to major in math or economics. Well, math will give you more options: you can go into almost any field from math. If you major in math it will be easy to get into grad school in economics, but if you major in economics it will be hard to get into grad school in math.

Flying a glider is a good metaphor here. Because a glider doesn't have an engine, you can't fly into the wind without losing a lot of altitude. If you let yourself get far downwind of good places to land, your options narrow uncomfortably. As a rule you want to stay upwind. So I propose that as a replacement for "don't give up on your dreams." Stay upwind.

Startups! (I do startups.)

The path to success at startups is a long one and you aren't guaranteed to succeed. But you can increase your chances massively. Programming is a critical skill; I think most new big companies have substantial programming components, though a lot of the low-hanging software-only ideas are plucked, at this point. So I wouldn't only study programming.

Social skills are pretty damn important. Social skills I am working on for my job: body language; talking to strangers; pitching; quickly evaluating people; overcoming social anxiety & aversion; public speaking; 1-on-1s; writing in order to be understood.

To address your other bullets: Internships are great, definitely do them. I'd only train "networking" to the extent of "getting people to perceive value when they meet you". I wouldn't spend too much time on "networking events" because there's a horrendous negative selection effect there. Leadership is too vague and you should define what you mean by that. Only do research if you're interested in it, but if you are, you should do a lot of it and focus on it because you could make actual useful progress and that's impressive. (If you're not interested you probably won't make progress so don't waste your time.) Explore career development centers but mostly ignore what they say. Studying abroad is something you should do if it'll be fun and edifying, not for any direct-to-resume purpose.

I second the advice on startups. Starting a startup has a higher expected monetary return than anything else you can do (as far as I know); and if you do want to start a startup, Stanford is the place to do it. 80,000 Hours has a couple of posts about startups.
Do you have data? I would expect the median monetary return from starting a start-up to be negative.
I think you're right that median is negative when you consider opportunity cost, but why care about the median? "Expected monetary return" in the "expected value" sense and not "most likely thing to happen to me" sense is close to what you want for earning to give. (Because charity doesn't have anywhere near the diminish marginal returns an individual does.)
You're thinking about it from the point of view of the receiving charity. The charity's payoffs have a hard floor: zero. Essentially the charity has an option (in the financial sense). And because of that it is in the charity's best interest to drive the volatility (risk, variance, uncertainty) of the "expected monetary return" sky-high -- because it is insulated from the bad consequences, remember, the worst thing that could happen to charity is to get zero dollars. However from the point of view of the individual things look different. His payoffs do NOT have a hard floor. He is fully exposed to all the risk. For him the volatility of the expected return is a bad thing.
Sorry, I don't understand your reply. Here's Ben Kuhn on risk neutrality: Do you agree with this reasoning?
Well, let's unpack. I'll set up the situation with two players. We have Alice, a flesh-and-blood human who is an effective altruist (among other things -- being a human she is not a paperclip maximizer). And we have Charlie the charity, an organization. Notable differences between Alice and Charlie (besides the obvious ones) are that: * Charlie's utility function decays (in the diminishing marginal returns sense) very slowly compared to Alice's. * Charlie can viably be risk-neutral, while Alice is unlikely to be. Given this I'll posit that it's probably fine for Charlie to maximize expected outcome and be risk-neutral. It is not fine for Alice to do this. To formulate this in a slightly different way, it's OK for Alice to give money to Charlie to enable it to act in the maximize-the-expected-outcome manner (e.g. as a philanthropic VC) but it's not OK for Alice to run her entire life this way.
The posts he linked to provide some data. The OP wants to donate most of his earnings. Since charities, unlike people, don't generally exhibit diminishing marginal utility, he should choose a career that maximizes expected earnings. So in this context mean, rather than median, returns are relevant. As Carl notes in the second post, "most venture-backed startups fail, but the average (mean) financial gain to founders is measured in millions."
As already mentioned, don't confuse a startup with a VC-funded startup. These are very different things with very different probabilities of success (and different expected returns). I don't think going purely by the expected return and ignoring the shape of the distribution is a good idea.
From this paper, the average startup exits with $10 million, lasts 4 years until exit, and has 1.4 founders. Extrapolating from this gives about $1.5 million annual income per founder. (I think it's actually somewhat less than that because I'm not accounting for e.g. the fact that investors own a portion of the company.) (EDIT: This 80,000 Hours post cites $1.4 million.) I think you're right. According to the same source, about 70% of startups that receive funding never make a profit.
Nope, you're misreading the paper. Average venture-funded startup exits with $10m. Getting to be VC-funded is a huge threshold that most startups do not reach.
I did notice the "venture-funded" clause. I mention it at the end of my comment. Perhaps I should have specified at the beginning. I'd be interested to know how many startups get VC funding. Of course, at that point, you have to decide what qualifies as a startup. If a couple of guys make a website in their spare time and never seriously work on it, does that count as a startup?
I'd call it a startup when you work fulltime on it, and it's designed for fast growth (as in Paul Graham's "Startup = Growth" essay, http://paulgraham.com/growth.html) Venture funded is a big barrier, and filters a lot of startups. But it mostly filters them by personality type. I expect that most smart, extremely resourceful, good work ethic people could get venture funding if they wanted it. These attributes are what Y Combinator filters for. But the real correlate with success (and therefore money-making) is finding product/market fit. I think that's a lot harder than getting venture funding, and a lot more important.
I don't know how many startups get VC funding, I suspect the percentage is single-digit. Off the top of my head I'd say that once you hire your first employee who is not friends-and-family you can be called a startup and not just a couple of guys futzing around.

Petroleum engineering. Would non-oil energy sources cause pay to drop over the next 40 years?

Yes. Also even aside from that there is volatility in fossil fuel prices, and thus demand for fossil fuel occupations. Probably too narrow a specialization for you there, without enough compensating benefits.

Actuarial math. If I understand correctly, actuaries had high pay because they were basically a cartel, artificially limiting the supply of certifications to a certain number each year. And I've heard that people that used to hire actuaries now hire cheaper equivalents, so pay could be less over the next 40 years.

You can do better than that at Stanford, e.g. higher-end fields within finance, or entrepreneurship, or high-end research.


Medicine has many virtues, but you don't need to sculpt your choice of major around it even if you want this option open: as long as you take and get A grades in the pre-requisite classes, success in any major (with appropriate extracurriculars and test scores) can get you admitted to medical school.

Quantitative finance

Finance can easily beat CS if you don't become an entrepreneur in earnings, but they are closer in risk-neutral return... (read more)

I would be very interested in some source for this where I could read about it in more detail. If someone asked me, then based on a remark I came across at 80,000 Hours, my advice for choosing a high-earning career would now simply be to choose finance if your "ability" (mainly IQ) is sufficiently high and medicine if not. Edit: It would probably be easier to find the info if I could read 80,000 Hours here in China...sigh.
It's by no means a rock-solid conclusion. There are various data showing good returns, but not well matched to particular individuals' ex ante prospects. For example, the combined wealth of all technology billionaires firmly surpasses that of all finance billionaires, and if one looks at fortunes earned in the last several decades the disproportion is overwhelming. The mean returns of venture-backed entrepeneurs are good (while the risk-adjusted returns look comparatively poor), but that's a highly selected subset of entrepreneurs and startups (some discussion on 80000 hours). The evidence for finance is more robust than for tech entrepreneurship (although 80,000 hours is trying to get a better picture).

Be aware that job market advice is somewhat like stock market advice. If it becomes common knowledge that career X is highly compensated (or highly compensated relative to effort/education level), this will cause a large number of young people to enter field X, in turn causing a surplus of workers and depressing salaries. You should try to pursue a career trajectory that is at least a little bit non-obvious.

It's not completely like stock market advice 'cause in the stock market, the best players tend to win more money and acquire disproportionate influence. I'm not sure how rational I should model people who are choosing their careers to be--if many follow the "passion model" described by Cal Newport in his book, then just profit-maximizing should work fairly well.
Careers r less liquid. Teenagers r the leading career path selectors.

Marry money?

And don't have children.
Hm, that certainly looks like an option. It also seems to be the easiest way to emigrate.

Stanford sophomore here. I can offer some Stanford-specific advice. In fairness, I've only been here for a year, so you'd probably figure this stuff out pretty soon anyway, but hopefully it'll help.

  • 18.8 units per quarter is a lot. I only know a few people who are taking that much. However, I've found that taking 16 or 17 units is pretty feasible (assuming you don't have any other major undertakings such as research or a part-time job).
  • This may be obvious to you, but I wish someone had told me this: Go to career fairs. At Stanford, unlike at most univers
... (read more)
(US) Law is a bad idea. That job market has been supersaturated by too many people taking that advice already. Look up job statistics and debt burdens for recent law-graduates if you want to be really depressed. Finance will hopefully get regulated into oblivion in the nearish future.
Thanks, I forgot to get that sanity-checked. I figured that each unit is 25 minutes a day, or 35 if you only work during the week, so 4 units isn't that much extra when you're already working 6.5 hours or 9 hours a day. But I guess it could be a lot since it would mainly cut into social time. I hear the relationship between units and workload is pretty tenuous, though, so it might be possible to take lots of units without doing as much more work. Thanks for the other advice also! I'll go to career fairs, probably at least minor in CS, and sign up for THINK. Here's a graph of salary by major including graduate majors. CS still seems to win out, though the dataset is small.
The unit-workload correlation is predictable, but not entirely straightforward. In particular: * IntroSems and other similar freshman/sophomore classes are usually easier than their units would suggest. * Humanities classes usually have less work per unit than sciences. * Almost every higher-level math class is 3 units, no matter how much work it is. You can usually expect 5 units worth of work for a 3-unit math class. (This also means that even though a math major takes fewer units than most other majors, it's more work.) * For people who aren't particularly fast at programming, CS classes can take an extraordinary amount of time (20-30 hours a week for a 5-unit class).

If you have independent software development experience, and curiosity/discipline to acquire more software development skills, you might consider trying to become an "X who programs". This thread has some info. Basically, get official credentials in some fairly lucrative & difficult field that has a need for software developers, and do independent study in software development (and maybe statistics/data science type stuff). More links: 1, 2. This could also be a good way to come up with an idea for a software company in some fairly techni... (read more)

I highly recommend the "X who programs" path-it helped me increase my earnings by about 150% over the course of 2 years. It was substantially more useful than concentrating solely on my programming skills or marketing/risk/statistics skills.
Cool! Can you give us details?
Sure. The gist of it is that I worked in fields like marketing and analytics which were high-impact, but where people spent a lot of time doing things manually (this was ~5 years ago-there's a lot more automation in these sections of companies today.) I wasn't the best marketer or the best programmer, but I realized a lot of things that people did every week could be automated. So I automated those tasks, saving a lot of man-hours for a lot of very expensive people. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's very easy to make the case for an 80% salary increase when you've just completely automated 4 jobs. Today there is a term for this role-"growth hacker." But in general, if you work in an environment where not much automation has already been done, then automation is massively valuable. I've saved/earned companies millions of dollars with awful code that happened to solve the business problem. I've written this up in a bit more detail on Quora and on Hacker News
Heh, now I feel silly for not noticing your username... I actually linked to the Quora question where you left an answer in my original comment. Thanks for the info!

If you're interested in maximizing income, I would rule out pre-med. It's sub-optimal preparation for any career except medicine, and medicine is sub-optimal for income. A few reasons:

Salaries are essentially capped by reimbursement rates and man-hours. The best surgeon in the world isn't going to make more than a few million a year doing elective surgeries twelve hours a day year round.

The things that generate the most income for rich people with MD's, patents and start-ups and C-suite gigs, don't require the MD credential. There are better stepladders.... (read more)

That doesn't seem obvious to me. Can I see that calculation? I suspect you're comparing the absolute top-of-the-line financial career trajectory (which is very very hard to achieve) with a typical doctor path.
Attrition rates for investment banking are FAR higher than for medicine. The vast majority of investment bankers don't make partner, while most good students who go to medical school graduate and earn high incomes as practicing doctors. Finance does still have higher expected value for those suited to it, but not as large a difference as that suggests.
OP is going to Stanford, so a career at GS, Deutsche Bank, JPM, or Bridgewater is a realistic possiblity in a way it simply isn't at 99.9% of schools.
ETA: you're right that it's bogus to compare top-of-the-line finance to average physician. I should have said "The average Stanford-educated physician makes far less over his lifetime than he could applying the same horsepower and hours worked to, say, finance."
That still isn't obvious to me and I still think you're comparing apples and durians.
Not sure what to say. There's finance and there's finance. HYPS and maybe two or three others have pipelines for pushing kids to the banks and hedge funds at the very top. And yes, I mean undergrad. The fourth or fifth of each class that goes into finance isn't doing it to sell mutual funds in mid-sized cities. Many bail after a few years, but those who stay in can easily become millionaires, and some do it before their former classmates in med school finish their residencies.
OP is going to Stanford undergrad. You should start calculating your chances of a career at GS around the time you have been accepted to a top-10 MBA school.
According to this page, three graduates with a Mathematical & Computational Sciences degree (an undergraduate degree similar to CS) work at financial institutions: JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Keep in mind that these are graduates from the class of 2011, so they've only been out of school for 2 years; and the degree program only has about 15 graduates per year, so three alumni make a sizable fraction. What I'm trying to say is, it's probably feasible to get a job in finance with only an undergraduate degree from Stanford.
It is, but you'll get an undergrad kind of a job. JPMorgan has 260,000 employees. The compensation expense in 2012 was about $30.5 billion which means the average total compensation (including bonuses, etc.) was about $117K per employee. That's a nice salary but seems to be roughly similar to what doctors make.
In Australia, a Medicare funded physician makes anywhere between 100k to 150k [1], whereas the avg. finance position pays 88k [2]. So you're right. [1] http://www.health.qld.gov.au/hrpolicies/wage_rates/documents/hpeb2-wage-rates.pdf [2] http://content.mycareer.com.au/salary-centre/financial-services Sorry that these are Australian wages. I don't care about U.S. wages.
Edit to add: WRT networking, it's kind of a suitcase word. Lots of people talk about it. I am sceptical that public speaking and improv classes are the best places to meet the best networking prospects, though they might be excellent for meeting interesting people. Athletes typically do better than the mean at Stanford-type schools in terms of career earnings, despite lower HS GPAs and test scores. If you're not currently a recruited athlete, you might still be able to walk on to the crew team or ultimate team.
I think the point of public speaking classes isn't to do networking, but to improve communication skills and therefore skill at networking.

Good question, and I'm happy to see you are taking it seriously. There are roughly two ways in which you can become an effective altruist: #1 donate a lot, #2 influence other people to donate. These paths are not exclusive, and you probably need to do at least some of #1, so you can lead by example.

So, with #2 you would focus on things like writing, psychology, marketing, sales, etc... However, some might say that the only true way to have influence over other people is to be famous and/or to have power. Thus, you can look at people that have power and/or ... (read more)

The highest earning careers generally* are medicine, law, and finance. For medicine, you'll need a specific major (biology and chemistry, usually). For law, you can have any major. For finance, you can have any quantitative major. Thus, I'd recommend you either go medicine or not medicine and pick either biology/chemistry, math/economics, math/computer science, or economics/computer science for your major, depending on skills and interest.

Don't worry as much about overloading your coursework as getting good grades in your classes. High GPA matters a l... (read more)

I'd think carefully about law school. Also, does it have any automation risk? Why double major instead of doing a bachelor's and then a master's in a different subject? How feasible would it be to get a bachelor's degree in 3 years and a master's degree in 1 year instead of double majoring in 4 years?
Search engines have eliminated a huge class of work that lawyers did at one point when finding case law. I don't know how much further things can be automated, but that combined with the number of people who see dollar signs when they think about law school makes it a bad choice these days.
0Peter Wildeford
Probably, but I don't know much about it. ~ This is just an artifact of the school I chose to attend (Denison University, a liberal arts college) where double majors are relatively easy and graduating in 3 years is impossible.
You left out entrepreneurship, which is (expected value) financially better than law or medicine for people with the right profile for all three.
You don't actually need a specific major to go to med school. You just need the pre-reqs, a pretty straightforward sequence of mostly-science that you can cram inside most majors. Bio majors are usually the easiest way to do this. As I mention elsewhere in the thread, med school is usually debt-funded and costs you earning years in your twenties. And your per-hour income is sometimes surprisingly low.

Play a team sport, especially if you might want to do IB.

Especially since the first two comments here are links, it might be good to have relevant links compiled into a repository if someone were willing to put in the time to make that happen.

(I note that I am being that guy that suggests things that he's not willing to actually do. However, this is likely better than the comment not being posted in the first place.)

I'll make a wiki page with links to all the relevant posts and websites in the next week. (If not, please downvote this comment.) Edit: Decided not to do this.

I'd guess these effects are largely not causation, but correlation caused by conscientiousness/ambition causing both double majors and higher earnings.

Unless you're certain of this or have some reason to suspect a factor pulling in the other direction, this still seems to suggest higher expectation from doing a double major.

I definitely agree, especially considering that double majors aren't even that hard if you plan ahead. (For instance, you can major in math and management science while doing less units than the minimum allowed.) I've edited the original post with a table on good major/minor combinations.

You might like to ask in this facebook group too :)

Your education (whether it's formal by paying a college, informal by life learning) is an investment. Any investment should be evaluated by its expected return which is payoff/risk within a timeline limited by your cash on hand. A startup has a high payoff but high risk in 2- 5 years with low cash on hand. A career is medicine is medium payoff but lower risk in 10-20 years (education plus time to earn) with high cash on hand or ability to get loans. The payoff of owning a franchise business, or three, (like Subway) is high in 5 years with medium risk, but ... (read more)

@D_Malik Quantitative finance is bursting at the seams, take a look at the latest trends in MFE programs and Wilmott's CQF. Although it is fun :-)

The engineering programs you listed, coupled with an MBA, will equal bigger bucks than simply engineering on it's own, in my opinion. If you're lucky (rather unlucky, from other people's perspective, hah), you'll be able to join the ranks of the superhuman species of "all pay, no work" Suits.

Also, suppose you do a PhD. In your case, given your interest in altruism, don't simply "do a PhD". Use... (read more)

Well, going to Stanford with the goal of making a lot of money is a great start! I think the best thing is to go broad as an undergraduate. CS or EE or something is good because you will be able to go in a lot of different directions when you graduate such as finance or the start-up world. Taking some econ/business courses is good and getting prestigious internships in the private sector is good. As long as you work hard and try to do as well as or better than your classmates you should be in great shape to make a lot of money.

Also, I recommend that afte... (read more)

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

IMO, if you really care about us fellow humans do this: Generate utility wholesale, in bulk. Not in bite size chunks. Your actual earnings most likely will not be of any great significance. What you should aim for is to generate great ideas, products, social/political outcomes, rather than a high salary.

CS is a great option for this, provided you use it to deliver better communications, GPS, automation, etc, maybe even AI. If you go on to do crapola iPhone apps and banner ads, not so much.

Scientific research, engineering R&D and the like are also great... (read more)

Why do you think this?
I was going to answer "Say you found a cure for cancer while working for pharmaceutical company...", but lets consider something more mundane. Say you are an engineer working for Unilever. With 3 months of diligent work, you design a shampoo bottle that costs 1 cent less to manufacture, maybe through reduced material usage. There are billions of these bottles made each year, giving a saving to humanity of tens of millions of dollars each year. Compared with savings of this magnitude, your actual salary will be insignificant.
I don't think your analysis adequately addresses the strongest arguments for earning to give. If you can do lots of good by innovating or researching, say, why can't you do even more good by making lots of money and using part of it to pay researchers or innovators?
Because sometimes there's a shortage of ideas, expertise etc., or just other things rather than money, that prevent a goal from being reached. For example (warning: I'm a highly unreliable source on this), the SENS Foundation gets plenty of funding; at this point it appears to need more top researchers rather than more money to make progress.
I agree that talent, rather than money, is sometimes the relevant bottleneck. However, what follows from this is that folks with the relevant talent should do research rather than earn to give. This doesn't apply to the vast majority of people, who lack such special talents.
There is substantial, although incomplete, overlap in the special talents needed for exceptional success in business and in other fields