15 Best Paying College Majors

15 best paying college majors

Time To Study by Peter Griffin

On average, college graduates earn more money than those without a degree. But some majors are worth more than others. Today I’ll share the 15 best paying college majors.

Last time, in my post on the 10 worst paying college majors, I mentioned that people with a Bachelor’s degree will make, on average, 74% more than those with only a high school diploma over their lifetimes.

However, what millions of unemployed and underemployed recent college graduates are realizing this year, more than ever before, is that college majors are not all created equal.

Some college majors pay much more than others – in fact, up to 300% more. What’s the big difference? I’ll explain below.  But first, let’s talk about the…

15 Most Valuable College Majors

Forbes compiled a list of the 15 best paying college majors (from data provided by Payscale.com), based on the starting median pay, mid-career median pay, growth in pay, and projected job growth. Here they are…

1. Biomedical Engineering

Starting median pay: $53,800, mid-career median pay: $97,800, growth in pay:  82%, projected job growth: 61.7%.

2. Biochemistry

Starting median pay: $41,700, mid-career median pay: $84,700, growth in pay:  103%, projected job growth: 30.8%.

3. Computer Science

Starting median pay: $56,600, mid-career median pay: $97,900, growth in pay:  73%, projected job growth: 24.6%.

4. Software Engineering

Starting median pay: $54,900, mid-career median pay: $87,800, growth in pay:  60%, projected job growth: 24.6%.

5. Environmental Engineering

Starting median pay: $51,700, mid-career median pay: $88,600, growth in pay:  71%, projected job growth: 21.9%.

6. Civil Engineering

Starting median pay: $53,100, mid-career median pay: $90,200, growth in pay:  70%, projected job growth: 19.4%.

7. Geology

Starting median pay: $45,300, mid-career median pay: $83,300, growth in pay:  84%, projected job growth: 19.3%.

8. Management Information Systems

Starting median pay: $51,500, mid-career median pay: $88,200, growth in pay:  73%, projected job growth: 18.1%.

9. Petroleum Engineering

Starting median pay: $97,000, mid-career median pay: $155,000, growth in pay: 58%, projected job growth: 17%.

10. Applied Mathematics

Starting median pay: $52,600, mid-career median pay: $98,600, growth in pay:  88%, projected job growth: 16.7%.

11. Mathematics

Starting median pay: $47,000, mid-career median pay: $89,900, growth in pay:  91%, projected job growth: 16.7%.

12. Construction Management

Starting median pay: $50,200, mid-career median pay: $85,200, growth in pay:  70%, projected job growth: 16.6%.

13. Finance

Starting median pay: $46,500, mid-career median pay: $87,300, growth in pay:  88%, projected job growth: 16%.

14. Physics

Starting median pay: $49,800, mid-career median pay: $101,000, growth in pay:  103%, projected job growth: 14.2%.

15. Statistics

Starting median pay: $49,000, mid-career median pay: $93,800, growth in pay:  91%, projected job growth: 14.1%.

Why are Some College Majors Worth More Than Others?

So why are these 15 college majors worth more, and have much better job growth prospects, than the 10 worst paying college majors?

The answer can be found in Economics 101:  the law of supply and demand. Math, science, and engineering jobs pay the best because fewer people are qualified to do them.

According to Katie Bardardo, lead economist at compensation research firm PayScale.com, “These aren’t majors that anyone could do. They’re hard, and these programs weed people out. However, there is high demand for them and a low supply of people with the skills, so it drives up the labor market price.”

This means that new science, technology, engineering and math graduates will receive multiple offers from prospective employers fighting over them, while other graduates will find themselves fighting for the few less in-demand jobs that are available.

Bardaro explained that one reason why math skills, particularly statistics, are becoming more valuable to employers is because of the growing data-driven market we live in.

Companies collect more and more data on consumer behavior, track online patterns, user demographics, etc. than ever before.  So if  you’re a statistician who understands data and can use it to forecast trends and behavior, you’ll do very well.

Pity that I didn’t do well in my statistics classes in college!

I think the key lesson here is to be, what Zig Ziglar called, a “meaningful specific” instead of a “wandering generality.” Pick a college major based on a career path you’ll love AND that has marketplace value, instead of going for a degree that is more broad, general, or one-size-fits-all.

What do you think about these 15 best paying college majors?  Are there any surprises here to you?  Or anything that you think should be on the list?

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About the author

Rich Rich writes on personal finance from a pastor's perspective here at Money Wise Pastor. He loves In-N-Out Burger (and has the t-shirts to prove it), urban living, homeschooling, Gungor concerts, helping people succeed in life and work, camping, dreaming with his wife, and equipping his five children to become financially faithful and free. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

  1. Giving up on biology and going into computer science was one of my best career moves. I make $25k MORE as a software developer than what I made after three years as a research assistant. And the work is much more rewarding!

  2. Rich,
    I’m lucky that I live in a Capital city where a poly science degree can actually get you a decent job. Might be tough to move though. I just enjoyed the subject so I went for it. One benefit though is that it has helped with my writing skills. Do not scrutinize my writing in this comment, I am using my phone. Ha!

    • Ian, I’m glad your degree led to a good job. I think I chose poly sci because I’ve always been interested in running for office some day. Maybe city or county commission.

      • Yeah, I have tossed that around before. It’s a tough gig though. I have done a little campaign work before and those guys are none stop. I honestly can’t see how US Congress members do it. Every two years? Wow! Very hard. But, if like you said, you did something on a smaller more local level, it should be a little less grueling and you can have a bigger impact on your community. There I go, thinking about rational actors and stuff. Good talking to ya Rich.

  3. I enjoy your blog but I’m a little confused. Should we study for a degree which leads to financial rewards or one that we feel best utilises our God-given talents and hopefully our God-given leadings? Also, if all our English Lit students thought “nah, I’d be better off doing Bichemistry” would that not be quite sad?

    I appreciate that the point you’re making is that you should balance preference and profitability but it just sounds, well, a tad cynical.

  4. Andy, thanks for reading and thanks for your comment! When it comes to picking a major, choosing a career, or starting a business, I think we need to keep three factors in mind. We need to pick something that:

    1. Utilizes our unique skills and abilities.
    2. Aligns with our interests and passions.
    3. Has clear marketplace value.

    Sadly, many people pick two out of three, so they have a job that pays great but they don’t love it, have a job that they love but doesn’t pay well, or have a job that uses their skills and talents but in a way that sucks the life out of them because it’s not in their passion area.

    So if you love English Lit and want to major in it, make sure you’ve identified a career that can use an English Lit degree, maximizes your skills and abilities, and can pay the type of money you’re looking for.

    By the way, if you think my view is a little cynical, check out this article from Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/05/29/to-boost-post-college-prospects-cut-humanities-departments/), which says that if people really love English lit, they can read it during their break at their Starbucks barrista job, instead of paying tens of thousands for the degree just to end up working at Starbucks anyway because that’s the only job they can find that hires English Lit majors. ;)

  5. Thanks Rich. I live in Scotland where we’ve had free university education for years so perhaps the importance of getting a ‘return on investment’ is lessened. Also, when we’re younger we’re perhaps more inclined to follow points 1 and 2 while point 3 is only realised in hindsight.

    While I don’t want to get hung up on English Lit (I did a general business degree do can’t really talk), perhaps it’s a little bit of a utopian ideal but should we also not embrace learning for learning’s sake. It doesn’t have to end in a low paying career – lots of graduate jobs over here look for a breadth of subjects and I know a few English graduates with high paying jobs (although are they happy

    • Hey Andy, wow, thanks for reading from Scotland…and for giving us an inside scoop on the university system there. Free university education? Wow! Can you choose any university at all, and is it competitive in terms of who can get in?

      Yes, I agree with you re: the value of learning for learning’s sake. We homeschool our kids and have definitely instilled within them a love for learning and personal growth and development.

      I’m predicting there will be a shift in the university system in America pretty quickly for two reasons.

      1. The costs of the traditional university education in the U.S. seems out of control to me.
      2. Many jobs that employers say require a 4-yr degree for really don’t require a 4-yr education.

      I think we’ll see online learning continue to grow – that’s a great way to make higher education more accessible and affordable.

      And I think we’ll see growth in technical schools and certificate programs where people can get specialized learning for specific jobs over the course of a few months or a year without having to spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars.

  6. Great write up Rich, thank you! I believe I read in Barron’s that the financial sector is cyclical, as the baby boomer generation continues to move into retirement there will be a need for more financial advisors, however there will come a day where the number of advisors outnumbers potential clients then there will be a mad dash for the exits.

  7. Hi there, all the time i used to check weblog posts here early in the dawn, since i enjoy to learn more and more.

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