The choice of undergraduate major in college is strongly tied to a student's future earnings, with the highest-paying majors providing salaries of about 300 percent more than the lowest-paying, according to a new study.

Based on census data, the report releasedd yesterday by Georgetown University in Washington also found that majors are highly segregated by race and gender.

College graduates overall make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only high-school diplomas, the study said. But further analysis of 171 majors shows that various undergraduate majors can lead to significantly different median wages.

Petroleum-engineering majors make about $120,000 a year, compared with $29,000 annually for counseling-psychology majors, researchers found. Math and computer-science majors earn $98,000 in salary, while early- childhood education majors get paid about $36,000.

"It's important that you go to college and get a [bachelor's degree], but it's almost three to four times more important what you take," said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce. "The majors that are most popular are not the ones that make the most money."

The study found that white men are concentrated in the highest-earning majors, including engineering and pharmaceutical sciences, while women gravitate toward the lowest-earning majors like education, art and social work.

Other findings:

_ Fields with virtually no unemployment: geological and geophysical engineering, military technologies, pharmacology and school-student counseling.

_ Fields with the highest unemployment, ranging from 16 percent to 11 percent: social psychology, nuclear engineering, and educational administration and supervision.