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The Right Car for Your Major

When you’re picking a college major, you look for a subject that interests you and will (hopefully) help you find a job after graduation. It’s the same thing when you’re looking for a car: You want something that you like and that fits with your financial goals. An easy way to find a car that works for you is to look for a model that relates to your major. Not only will that help you find cars that have features that mesh with your interests, but it will also help you stay on budget based on the type of job you’re likely to land after graduation.

[See U.S. News’s 2012 Best Colleges rankings]

Business

The Department of Education reports that business is by far the most popular major in the United States; American colleges and universities awarded 348,000 business degrees in 2009 alone. Amid the sea of business majors, you want a car that helps you stand out as an independent thinker who knows value and finds a way to do a great job while spending a minimum of cash. In the automotive world, that means taking a look at emerging brands that offer lots of bang for your buck. The Hyundai Elantra has upscale styling and available features like Bluetooth, heated leather seats, and an iPod interface. The Elantra also gets 40 mpg on the highway. If you want sportier styling and an even lower price, the Kia Forte has Bluetooth and a USB port standard, but only gets 34 mpg on the highway.

[Find the best undergraduate business programs]

Healthcare

It’s tough to go wrong with a major in healthcare. Healthcare is an expanding area of the economy, and on top of the expanding job opportunities, you’re learning how to help people. If you’re planning on being a physician, you may have visions of driving a luxury car, but while in school and just starting out, you’ll want a more affordable car, especially since you’ll have enough debt from medical school. Whether you’re pre-med or majoring in nursing, you’ll want something that’s reliable and rugged, since healthcare workers often have to go to work in blizzards and hurricanes. The Subaru Impreza starts at less than $18,000 and has standard all-wheel drive, making it capable in all sorts of weather. You can get it as a hatchback or a sedan, and reviewers say its performance is sporty enough to prepare you for that Porsche 911 you’ll buy when you’re chief of medicine.

[See the 10 least expensive private medical schools]

Engineering

Engineering is all about building things that work well. Whether you’re majoring in electrical engineering, software engineering, mechanical engineering or environmental engineering, you’ll want a car with engineering that you respect. That means you need something that drives well and has high-tech features with great usability. While all of that can be tough to find in an affordable car, engineering majors tend to land some of the best paying jobs after graduation, so your budget may have some wiggle room. On the affordable end of the spectrum, check out the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Not only does it come with high-tech features like Bluetooth and an easy-to-use iPod integration, but it also gets 35/40 mpg city/highway. If you want to save some cash, the gas-only Sonata has many similar features. If you’ve got more to spend, check out the Chevrolet Volt. Sure, it costs more than $40,000, but its extended-range electric drive is cutting-edge, and Chevrolet includes smartphone apps so you can track things like charging status and fuel use over time.

Education

Education majors have a lot going on. In addition to the activities of a regular college student, you also have to do student teaching. That means you need reliable transportation. The sad thing for education majors is that when you enter the workforce, you tend to have some of the lowest starting salaries, so you need an affordable car. The Ford Fiesta starts at slightly more than $13,000 and can get up to 40 mpg on the highway if you opt for the SFE package. The Fiesta is available as a sedan or a hatchback, which has plenty of space for hauling classroom materials. Starting at a little more than $15,000, the Honda Fit has a higher price tag than the Fiesta, but has more cargo space and better reliability ratings, though its fuel economy is worse.

Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Students who major in biological sciences know their way around a lab. If you go for a car with a diesel engine, you can put all those labs skills to use making your own biodiesel fuel. You just need space, equipment, and some cooking grease (the dining hall on campus probably has plenty of that). Cars with diesel engines tend to be more expensive than cars with gas engines, but they also tend to have better highway fuel economy. Plus, biological and biomedical science majors tend to land some of the best-paying jobs after graduation, so you may be able to handle the expense. The Volkswagen Golf not only has an available diesel engine–a rarity in an affordable small car–but is also a hatchback with plenty of cargo space for transporting your latest experiment.

[Get advice on when to choose a college major]