Smart SpendingSmart Spending

10 college majors with the best salaries

If you have the word 'engineering' in your major, you're off to a good start. Here are some of the best degrees for major salaries.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 29, 2013 11:58AM

This post comes from Angela Brandt at partner site Money Talks News. 

Moneytalksnews logo"What's your major?" is a question much better posed to yourself than as an icebreaker with that cutie down the hall. After all, the degree you earn will greatly influence your chances of getting hired and your starting income and lifetime earning potential.

Which majors provide the best return on your investment? 

Degrees that make the most money

In order to have a blossoming career and bank account, remember the acronym STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

As you can see, PayScale's list of the top 10 lucrative degrees for starting pay is chock-full of STEM majors. Median starting salaries are noted next to each major, followed by mid-career median pay with 15 years on the job:

  1. Petroleum engineering, $98,000, $163,000.
  2. Chemical engineering, $67,500, $111,000.
  3. Nuclear engineering, $66,800, $107,000.
  4. Electrical engineering, $63,400, $106,000.
  5. Computer engineering, $62,700, $105,000.
  6. Aerospace engineering, $62,500, $118,000.
  7. Mechanical engineering, $60,100, $98,400.
  8. Materials science and engineering, $60,100, $91,900.
  9. Industrial engineering, $59,900, $91,200.
  10. Computer science, $58,400, $100,000.

This information raises the question, "What are the least profitable majors?" On the other side of the spectrum, here's the bottom of PayScale's list based on starting pay.

  1. Child and family studies, $29,300 median starting pay, $37,700 median mid-career pay.
  2. Culinary arts, $31,000, $49,700.
  3. Exercise science, $31,300, $54,400.
  4. Elementary education, $31,400, $46,000.
  5. Fine arts, $31,800, $53,700.

Degrees with the lowest unemployment

Majoring in STEM degrees will not only boost your earning potential but also increase your chances of snagging a job.

College student (© Stockbyte/Getty Images/Getty Images)A Georgetown University study called Hard Times 2013 says (.pdf file)  unemployment rates are relatively low for recent graduates in engineering (7%) and health and the sciences (4.8%) "because they are tied to stable or growing industry sectors and occupations."

Compare those figures with the rates for recent grads on the opposite end, led by information systems majors with 14.7%, and architecture majors at 12.8%.

"People who make technology are still better off than people who use technology," the study says.

But you don't need to be an engineer to snag a job. A recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers identifies (.pdf file) the sectors that are most active in hiring new grads:

  • Educational services. That includes schools, colleges and universities and training centers. The average starting salary is $39,992.
  • Professional, scientific and technical services, $48,609.
  • Health care and social assistance, $42,698.
  • Government, $45,862.

It's not all about the money

It’s also good to know that a college degree will most likely boost your income. A Georgetown University study called The College Payoff says (.pdf file) people who earn a bachelor's degree make 84% more over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. College graduates can expect to make about $2.3 million in their lifetime compared with roughly $1.3 million for those who didn't pursue a higher education.

While earning potential is important, it shouldn't be the only factor considered when deciding what to major in. Here are a few more suggested by

  • What type of career do you want?
  • What kind of work do you enjoy?
  • What are your skills?
  • "Are there in-demand career fields in the geographic areas where you would like to live following graduation?"

Need more help to decide if your college career will be worth the money, including the student loans you may take out? Forbes points readers to a website called College Risk Report, which might prove interesting although it won't be conclusive. Forbes says:

[The website creator] warns that the analysis on the website may leave out certain important factors. Attending college, especially brand-name colleges, comes with intangible perks such as personal connections made while attending, mentorship and the development of social and networking skills. Colleges located in certain geographies also tend to produce better results, simply by virtue of being located close to an industry.

Are you happy with the major you selected in college?

More on Money Talks News:

Jul 30, 2013 7:57AM

True, engineers can command good salaries.  But what they're not telling you is that most engineers "age out" by the time they're 45.  Their skills and potential have not diminished (and has probably grown) but management considers them too expensive and too old, so they replace them with easier to exploit youngsters and foreigners on green cards and H1b visas. 


If you go with engineering better plan to pay off your mortgage, save money for retirement and sending kids to school, and getting yourself debt free by 45.  After that you very well could end up working for less money and benefits in a service industry or as a part-time consultant. 


Odd how we scrap our older experienced and technically skilled workers, while complaining that we don't have enough of them.  But business does not want to pay the freight.

Jul 30, 2013 8:06AM
These editorials are common and ignorant.  What provides value is scarcity and why engineering is a degree with scarcity is that only a small percentage of the population has an IQ that would enable them to pass the curriculum of an engineering degree path.  Hell if you aren't going to take that into consideration, you should note that you make even more money playing professional sports (because it is as absurd to claim that a those in the population with IQ's at 100 or less should choose engineering degree plans as it is to suggest someone that's 5'2" tall should choose a career in the NBA):

Jul 29, 2013 4:53PM
Interesting that one of the better paying jobs that are hiring is Government.  Factor in benefits given to Government employees and most college graduates should just go to work for the government. Of course eventually, the private sector will get tired of paying the taxes to support an under performing government and debt spending can only continue for so long.  The new American dream, higher taxes, fees, more government regulations and a continued smaller middle class.
Aug 19, 2013 12:50PM
Teachers start at 43k where I work and after 15 years should be at the 70k mark with a lot better benefits than most.  $3 for every $1 in retirement? Not too bad, plus they only work 9 months of the year.
Aug 19, 2013 12:38PM
The salary projections for fifteen years out seems high for many of the engineering fields provided you aren't in management by then.  The projections, like all the others, are probably based on how things used to be, like people getting raises n stuff.
Jul 29, 2013 3:17PM
It's also the quality of school that matters. A 4.0 GPA means more from a top-tiered school than it does from some local or regional wannabe college. Employers who look for the best and the brightest (unless they hire on a quota) will go to the better schools.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.