College is often considered the surest path to a lucrative career. After all, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a worker with a bachelor's degree typically earns two-thirds more than someone with just a high school diploma.
But not all college degrees are created equal. “Increasingly, students want to understand the career and income opportunities associated with their college education,” says Lydia Frank, PayScale vice president, in a statement.
To determine which majors typically come with the best hiring prospects and pay, we analyzed data for 126 popular college majors. We looked for courses of study that tend to lead to fat paychecks—both right out of school and
Our top 10 majors present interested scholars with the best
For each of the 126 college majors, compensation research firm PayScale provided median annual salaries for entry-level workers (with five years or less of work experience) and mid-career employees (with at least 10 years of experience). PayScale also provided “high job meaning” scores, which indicate the percentage of workers with given college majors who say their work makes the world a better place. Workforce research firm Burning Glass Technologies supplied the number of online job postings listed between the third quarter of 2016 and the second quarter of 2017 that were seeking applicants with each of the 126 college majors. Projected 10-year growth rates from 2016 to 2026 for related occupations came from Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), a labor-market research firm owned by CareerBuilder. EMSI collects data from more than 90 federal, state and private sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In finalizing our rankings, we combined some similar majors to avoid redundancy.
- Starting salary: $53,300 (median for all majors: $43,250)
- Mid-career salary: $93,200 (median for all majors: $74,700)
- Annual online job postings: 1.4 million
- Related job: Financial Analyst
- Projected 10-year job growth: 13.1% (all occupations: 8.6%)
At Kiplinger, we totally get that money matters can be complex, and many of us—especially the growing number of people rapidly approaching retirement age—need help understanding and managing them. No wonder workers with financial knowledge are in such high demand. New regulations, more
Finance isn’t strictly considered a STEM field, but you can still expect to work with numbers a great deal. High school students interested in finance can prepare for this major by studying statistics and calculus. In college, you'll add to your schedule accounting, financial markets and investing, as well as microeconomics, macroeconomics and economic theory. If you pursue a bachelor of arts degree in this field, you likely have to take liberal arts and foreign language classes, too.
9. Actuarial Mathematics
- Starting salary: $56,400
- Mid-career salary: $131,700
- Annual online job postings: 25,613
- Related job: Actuary
- Projected 10-year job growth: 17.5%
You'll find little risk in pursuing an actuarial career. These professionals—who work in the insurance and finance industries, analyzing the costs of risk and uncertainty—are in high demand. New and ever-changing
Expect your graphing-calculator usage to be exponentially higher in college. You likely already warmed it up in high school with advanced placement calculus or statistics. In college, you can expect to take micro- and macroeconomics, probability and risk theory courses, too.
- Starting salary: $58,000
- Mid-career salary: $108,000
- Annual online job postings: 115,056
- Best related job: Physicist
- Projected 10-year job growth: 11.0%
It won't take much force to accelerate a physics major toward a lucrative career (regardless of mass). While the clearest career path to take with this degree leads to work as a physicist, you typically need to get an advanced degree along the way. (It might be worth the extended and more expensive
Various physics classes including computational, modern and nuclear physics obviously will fill your schedule. You should also be prepared to do a lot of math, work on experiments both independently and with classmates, and apply your problem-solving skills.
7. Business Administration
- Starting salary: $46,300
- Mid-career salary: $76,800
- Annual online job postings: 3.7 million
- Best related job: Operations Manager
- Projected 10-year job growth: 11.2%
If you want to spend your college years studying how to be
And though you’re preparing for a career aimed at the top of the job ladder, with this major, you maintain a wide reach for where your career can go, in terms of industry. Workers with this degree wind up in a diverse array of jobs, including accountants, sales supervisors, financial managers and many other management positions. With such workplace agility, no wonder 76.3% of former business administration majors are employed
6. Management Information Systems
- Starting salary: $57,900
- Mid-career salary: $101,300
- Annual online job postings: 2.6 million
- Related job: Computer and Information Systems Manager
- Projected 10-year job growth: 17.9%
Combining tech savvy with leadership abilities can be a winning career formula. Information systems
Your MIS degree can lead you to many different computer-related career paths. Among the most common and highest paid positions is as an information systems manager. On top of the above-average growth in demand, this job earns a median $130,400 a year. But it will take at least a few years of work experience to climb to this management role. And many employers prefer candidates with MBAs. With a bachelor's, you can break into the field as a computer systems analyst, who can expect to earn
5. Computer Science
- Starting salary: $65,900
- Mid-career salary: $110,100
- Annual online job postings: 2.0 million
- Related job: Software Developer
- Projected 10-year job growth: 21.6%
It should be no surprise that computer-related fields frequent this list of best college majors. Computers are everywhere, and people who know how to make, modify and master the machines are in high demand—and compensated in kind. Developers of both applications and systems software (among our Best Jobs for the Future) typically earn about $96,461 and $103,083 a year, respectively.
Along with computer science majors, students focusing on computer engineering and software engineering have promising career prospects, too. Software engineering majors go on to earn an annual median salary of $104,300 after ten years on the job. Those entering the field now can find 760,530 online job postings seeking their degrees. Computer engineering majors do even better with median mid-career pay of $116,000 and over 1.5 million online job postings.
All these majors take a lot of technology-focused classes, of course, such as computer science and programming. Business and communications classes can help, too, since many employers prefer high-tech workers with business skills and communication capabilities on top of standard tech savvy.
4. Mechanical Engineering
- Starting salary: $64,000
- Mid-career salary: $106,800
- Annual online job postings: 241,345
- Related job: Mechanical Engineer
- Projected 10-year job growth: 9.4%
In the broadest of engineering fields, these majors study machines, including what they’re made of and how they work, with courses such as circuit analysis, fluid mechanics, materials
And it likely all pays off in the end. These degree holders tend to have little problem finding work with 85.1% being employed full-time, according to the Hamilton Project. Most majors go on to become mechanical engineers (obviously), who have a median salary of more than $83,400 a year. But some also find other well-paying jobs as other types of engineers, including civil and aerospace, and even as software developers and similar positions.
3. Civil Engineering
- Starting salary: $57,700
- Mid-career salary: $98,500
- Annual online job postings: 201,886
- Related job: Civil Engineer
- Projected 10-year job growth: 10.5%
A number of engineering fields are well known for paying well. Petroleum engineering, for example, turns out the top earners of all 126 majors we analyzed with an impressive median pay of $175,500 a year for mid-career workers. However, the size of the job market, with just about 33,200 petroleum engineers in the country, means scant opportunities for those looking to join the field. (Its inextricable tie to the volatility of oil prices also makes it difficult to recommend, especially right now.)
For civil engineering students, the potential median pay might not be quite as high (although Mexican business mogul Carlos Slim studied civil engineering, and he’s one of the richest men in the world), but the employment prospects are much better. Civil engineers, who design and supervise the construction of airports, sewer
An inclination toward math and science would make you a good civil engineering candidate. Your course load would include fluid mechanics, statics, structural analysis and design, and thermodynamics. Also be prepared to think through many word problems and work on group projects.
2. Biomedical Engineering
- Starting salary: $62,900
- Mid-career salary: $103,500
- Annual online job postings: 51,070
- Related job: Biomedical Engineer
- Projected 10-year job growth: 23.2%
The increasing overlap between biology and technology is expanding the field of biomedical engineering. For example, three-dimensional printers and smartphone apps being applied to health care
It helps to have a creative mind and an ability to problem-solve, as well as an interest in medicine, to succeed in this field. Expect a schedule packed with science and technology courses, such as anatomy, organic chemistry, robotics and computer programming.
- Starting salary: $58,200
- Mid-career salary: $76,300
- Annual online job postings: 1.9 million
- Related job: Registered Nurse
- Projected 10-year job growth: 17.2%
The need for nurses is as persistent as the common cold. In terms of demand, most health care professionals, in general, benefit from the aging population, as well as an increasing number of insured people, which was brought on by the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of what may happen with health care coverage in our country, prospects for registered nurses (RNs) are promising—and even more so for nurse practitioners (NPs), whose ranks are expected to grow a whopping 32.3% by 2026. Both professions are among our best jobs for the future. NPs typically make nearly $98,288 a year; RNs earn a median $67,418 a year. And the field is as rewarding as it is lucrative: 82% of employees with this degree report feeling a high sense of meaning in their careers, according to PayScale.
To reach RN ranks, nursing students must take many science courses, including anatomy, chemistry,
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor