Wondering what major to pursue to get you the highest return on your degree investment? Look no further than this list of the highest paying majors!
With the cost of higher education growing at a rate that eclipses all other aspects of the economy, more and more students are making sure they choose the most profitable majors.
In 2016, students spent $33,215 annually on tuition fees. Staying home for college and starting with a two-year degree in a public college lowers the bills for individual students. But ultimately, going to college costs the equivalent of an annual salary – and that doesn’t even include accommodation, books, and fees.
Then upon graduation, students are saddled with mortgage-sized loans and unfavorable interest rates, leading them to pay off as much as another years’ tuition and fees just in interest.
Whether you’re a recent graduate or you’re going back to school, graduating into a job with a high salary is one of the best ways to pay back college quickly and minimize all that interest. To do that, you’ll need to choose from among the highest paying majors when it comes time to declare.
What are the most lucrative majors today? We’ll give you a hint: you’re going to need calculus.
7 Highest Paying Majors in U.S. Colleges
News flash: the sciences are having a moment and graduates in hot fields are getting paid. We do mean paid – their starting salaries are the salary cap in many other professions.
Add a Masters and management to their list of skills, and those salaries grow again…and again.
These degrees even beat the salaries offered to those with master’s degrees offered by law schools online.
So which of your classmates will start a career that picks up the dinner tab? Will it be you? Keep reading to find out.
1. Petroleum Engineering
No matter what numbers you look at, petroleum engineering comes out ahead.
With a median annual salary of $136,000, it’s the major that pays the bills. These students can expect a starting salary around $94,600 and reach $175,500 by the time they reach the midway point of their career.
Petroleum engineers are responsible for identifying hydrocarbons that allow for the extraction and ultimately production of petroleum. The average graduate goes to work with an energy company or a service and support contract. Many even end up at oil rigs out at sea.
A degree in petroleum engineering takes students on a journey through the fundamental principles of both the fields of engineering and geology. Some of the class you’ll take include:
- Fluid Mechanics
2. Actuarial Mathematics/Science
Actuarial mathematics and sciences are two different branches of the same specialist mathematics field. Studying in this field puts students on the path to become an actuary, a person who uses statistics and mathematics to assess risk.
Insurance companies rely heavily on actuaries to produce policies.
Those with the mathematics focus can expect to start out on $56,400 and work their way up to $131,700 on average. A science major might enjoy a higher starting salary at $61,200, but their average mid-career pay is slightly lower at $131,700.
Studying to become an actuary requires an extraordinary amount of math. Many colleges place students in mathematics and statistics degrees before funneling them into the actuarial major.
Some focus solely on the actuarial side of the program while others include an additional focus on financial mathematics. Here are a few of the classes you’ll take:
While other degrees on this list are more multidisciplinary, actuarial science is a field that is almost wholly mathematics based. Be prepared for a very focused field.
3. Pharmaceutical Sciences
With an average salary of $113,000, pharmaceutical science is one of the highest paying majors available to undergraduate and graduate students.
Pharmaceutical sciences don’t prepare students for a career as a pharmacist. Instead, you’ll be provided with a broad background in the sciences most essential to pharmaceuticals: chemistry, biology, and technology disciplines. All of these subjects are taught as they apply to the development of groundbreaking medicines.
The degree field is relatively new and embraces the multidisciplinary nature found in so many of the most valuable degrees.
You’ll find the job field is varied, too. Work in science and drug development is an option, but so is a job in pharmaceutical sales where you’ll enjoy both a salary and the benefits of a commission-supplemented income.
4. Metallurgical Engineering
Metallurgical engineering degrees prepare students for a career focus of identifying and extracting the various metals found in the ground. It’s a multidisciplinary degree that can be accessed through a focus on metallurgical engineering alone as well as through geological engineering and other related fields of study.
Many metallurgical engineers end up working within the mining and manufacturing industries, earning an average of $98,000 a year for their work. Problems solved by these professionals are diverse: anything from production to the application of metals and metal alloys fall within their wheelhouse.
5. Nuclear Engineering
A nuclear engineering degree is an uncommon choice among undergraduates. Many in the field begin their education with an engineering or nuclear sciences and move into a nuclear specialization during the latter part of their program or through a specialized master’s program tacked on to the end of their undergraduate degree.
Regardless of the path taken to graduation, a degree in nuclear engineering is worth the wait.
Nuclear engineers earn an average of $69,000 right out of the gate and $127,5000 by the time they reach the midway point of their career.
One of the reasons these degrees are often done later is because they’re complexly integrated.
Nuclear engineers are taught:
- Nuclear systems (medical imaging, fusion reactors, nuclear fission reactors, etc.)
- Material sciences
Each of these comes into play on the job in whatever specialty is chosen.
6. Chemical Engineering
Chemical engineers earn $70,300 after graduate and can move up to a salary of $124,500 with further education and responsibilities.
When you study chemical engineering, you’ll use all the major branches of the sciences from chemistry to physics to the life sciences. You’ll also have the opportunity to study applied mathematics and economics. Each of these is necessary to prepare you for any job role within the field.
Why so many sciences? Because you’ll work not only with chemicals but also with materials and energy. As you grow in the field, you’ll find yourself working in production for almost anything including:
Your goal will be to find new, better ways of production while also simultaneously minimizing production costs and creating better products.
7. Electronics and Communications Engineering
The electronics and communications engineering track rounds out our list of the highest paying majors. With an early career salary of $69,000 and a mid-career salary of $118,800, you’ll enjoy a career that is mostly recession proof and won’t be regulated by the ups-and-downs of working in energy, as other degrees are.
Most who graduate in this field go on to work in research, development, design, or testing. If there’s a semiconductor device involved, you’ll be working with it.
You can also enter the field with an electronic engineering degree. The two are mostly synonymous and both are on the list of most lucrative majors.
What About the Humanities?
You may not have noticed that the highest paid majors are all in sciences, mostly in engineering.
But what about the rest of us – the ones who hate math?
Enter ‘humanities’ into the Google search bar, and you’ll practically be berated by the number of experts who believe this is simply not the time to study the humanities.
If you do, don’t expect a job at all, much less a well-paid job.
We’re here to tell you that just because it’s in the humanities doesn’t mean it falls outside the list of majors that pay well. In fact, studying the arts does land jobs.
Although initial salaries are admittedly lower than sciences and professional degrees, a new study has shown that by the time they reach the end of their careers, they’re earning an average of $66,000. That’s $2,000 more than workers with a professional degree.
It’s true: studying history is highly unlikely to yield the same financial benefits as petroleum engineering unless you combine history and English to become the next Dan Brown.
But don’t rule the humanities out of the most profitable majors. Here are four degrees to think about if math just isn’t your thing:
1. Liberal Arts
A liberal arts degree is a vague degree, but students who declare this major reportedly earn $51,100 a year once they get going, which makes it one of the highest paying majors outside the sciences.
The sky is the limit with a liberal arts degree. Plus, unlike the sciences, you’re not pigeonholed into a career once you graduate.
2. English Language/Literature
English degrees are more valuable than you may realize. With a degree, you may find you earn an average of $50,125. English majors often become teachers, editors, writers, journalists, or marketers. Or they become kitesurfing instructors.
Once again, it’s a degree that doesn’t send you down a straight and narrow path.
3. Visual and Performing Arts
There’s more to life than science – there is also the theater. Graduates with a visual and performing arts degree can earn an average of $48,714 once they’ve entered their chosen field.
4. Foreign Language Arts
Foreign languages are in high demand in our global world and are one of the highest paying majors in the humanities.
Businesses across the globe are willing to fork over great salaries to native English speakers who speak languages where native English isn’t common. Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian can all earn you serious money as a translator, interpreter, or content creator. With an average salary of $47,000 mid-career, you may find yourself in a well-paid job with international benefits.
Will You Choose One of the Highest Paying Majors?
With fees skyrocketing, it’s essential to choose one of the highest paying majors that offers an opportunity to pay back the costs of your education. But not everyone is called to the specialist sciences so in demand in today’s economy.
Whatever major you choose, make sure it’s in a field that interests and excites you.
Are you about to a choose a major? Share your thoughts in the comments below.