May 15, 2015

The top 10 highest paying college majors

University of Houston
Suddenly every parent wants their child to become an engineer.  It doesn’t matter if there’s a fundamental interest in the field, some ability to pass physics, or a knack with Legos.  As long as the daughter or son shows basic math skills and does well in whatever math curriculum they’ve taken in high school, he or she is most definitely going to be an engineer. 

And if you don’t believe it, just ask the counselors trying to advise families refusing to even consider anything that sounds too much like liberal arts.

But there may be a good reason why college counselors are seeing a rush to engineering.  According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, nine out of the top ten highest paying majors in the country are in some branch of engineering. Only “pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration” cracks the list outside of engineering at $113,000.

And once again, petroleum engineering topped the list, earning a median annual salary of $136,000. Not surprisingly, colleges offering the major, like the Colorado School of Mines, LSU, Penn State, Texas A&M, the University of Houston, and West Virginia University, can’t turn out graduates fast enough to fill the need.  In fact, it isn’t unusual for students majoring in petroleum engineering to have very lucrative summer internships and six-figure job offers long before they graduate.

It may be no secret that certain fields are significantly more financially rewarding than others, but the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is attaching some pretty startling numbers to various undergraduate majors.

"Over a lifetime, the average difference between the lowest and the highest paying majors is $3.4 million," stated the most recent report from the Center on Education and the Workforce,  titled "The Economic Value of College Majors.”

Using Census data, the Center analyzed wages for 137 college majors, including the wages of graduates who go on to earn advanced degrees. It also detailed the most popular majors, the majors most likely to lead to an advanced degree, and the economic benefit of earning an advanced degree by undergraduate major.

“We’ve known for a while that all degrees are not created equal, that your major has a large effect on your ability to get a job and work your way up a career ladder,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the center director and report’s lead author.

And this data confirms it.

While the Center found that graduate degrees generally lead to higher earnings, there are some exceptions and the undergraduate major with the lowest increase in earnings from a graduate degree is petroleum engineering!  Those engineers leave their undergrad programs and hit the ground running with no need to spend time or money earning an advanced degree.

For the record, the ten highest paying majors according to the Center on Education and the Workforce are:

  1. Petroleum engineering:  $136,000
  2. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and administration:  $113,000
  3. Metallurgical engineering:  $98,000
  4. Mining and mineral engineering:  $97,000
  5. Chemical engineering:  $96,000
  6. Electrical engineering:  $93,000
  7. Aerospace engineering:  $90,000
  8. Mechanical engineering:  $87,000
  9. Computer engineering:  $87,000
  10. Geological and geophysical engineering:  $87,000

The full report may be found on the Georgetown University website.  In addition, the site hosts an interactive tool for navigating through all 137 major’s earnings by degree attainment and popularity.  The tool also identifies median career earnings by state and compares it to national data. 

While it’s not likely you’re ever going to make an English major into an engineer, this data could provide an interesting perspective for families trying to make decisions about college cost relative to earnings potential.  And it says a good deal about how difficult debt might be to repay with certain academic backgrounds.

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