10 Highest-Paying Degrees

Highest-Paying DegreesThis article was originally featured on OnlineDegrees.com

By Maryalene LaPonsie

Recent media reports on the job market for new college grads are full of horror stories: sky high student debt and sub-par entry-level salaries. But it isn't all bad news. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found salary offers made to the class of 2011 increased 4.8 percent to an overall average of $51,018.

What's more, a trio of recent reports indicates picking the right degree can mean the difference between a $30,000 starting salary and a $60,000 starting salary. The latest of these reports is the 2011-2012 PayScale College Salary Report.

PayScale survey confirms engineering degree holders are top earners.

The annual PayScale survey results show that for those looking for the quickest financial return on their degree, engineering can be the way to go. Seven of the top ten degrees in terms of salary were in the engineering field. The PayScale results are similar to a 2011 NACE survey that found four of the five best paying majors were in engineering. A Georgetown University study this spring also gave top honors to engineering when it ranked median salaries by major.

The same Georgetown University study showed that many students in the top-earning majors went on to work within their fields, suggesting a tight link between the most lucrative degree programs and eventual employment opportunities.

Top dollar degrees according to PayScale

PayScale collected data from U.S. workers who have a bachelor's degree. Workers with advanced degrees were excluded from the survey to avoid skewing the income results. The survey analyzed starting and mid-career salaries for 120 of the most popular undergrad programs. Mid-career salaries measure earnings 15 years after graduation.

It's important to note, however, that just earning a degree doesn't mean today's grads will rake in the big bucks. Getting a job--and the healthy salary that can come with it--depend on everything a candidate can bring to his or her employer. Hiring managers cite work experience via internships, personality, specialties and more as factors when it comes to making hiring decisions.

Nonetheless, below are the 10 college degrees PayScale found to lead to the highest salaries, ranked by average mid-career earnings:

Petroleum Engineering1. Petroleum Engineering

Median starting salary: $97,900

Mid-career average: $155,000

The survey numbers suggest that petroleum engineering can be by far the best paying major available today. According to the Society of Petroleum Engineers, a large number of workers in the industry are expected to retire during the next ten years. Add the global demand for energy and you have a scenario in which petroleum engineering majors should continue to be in-demand and well-compensated for years to come.

chemical engineering2. Chemical Engineering

Median starting salary: $64,5000

Mid-career average: $109,000

According to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, professionals in this field are at the forefront of research in fields including energy, biomedicine, food production and electronics.

electrical engineer3. Electrical Engineering

Median starting salary: $61,300

Mid-career average: $103,000

PayScale reports that while salaries for electrical engineers remain high, competition for jobs is expected to be stiff. While job experience is important, having a degree in electrical engineering can be key to filling positions created by retiring employees.

materials science and engineering4. Materials Science and Engineering

Median starting salary: $60,400

Mid-career average: $103,000

As one of the lesser known engineering disciplines, materials science studies, manipulates and improves on materials used in the biotechnology, energy and communications industries. Emerging fields such as nanotechnology also play a role in materials science and engineering.

aerospace engineering5. Aerospace Engineering

Median starting salary: $60,700

Mid-career average: $102,000

From self-guided machines to helicopters to spacecraft, aerospace engineers are involved in the design and creation of any vehicle that travels above the Earth's surface. The technical skills learned by those with aerospace engineering degrees place graduates in the top five highest-earning majors, PayScale reports.

computer engineering
6. Computer Engineering

Median starting salary: $61,800

Mid-career average: $101,000

In a relatively new field, qualified computer engineering graduates are few and far between. "We are desperate to find skilled employees, but simply cannot do so," says Sander Daniels, co-founder of web start-up Thumbtack.com. With multiple companies vying for relatively few candidates, median starting salaries for computer engineering graduates are high. Sanders said, "I see supply slowly catching up to demand over the coming years--but at least today, there aren't enough computer engineers for all the available jobs."

physics7. Physics

Median starting salary: $49,800

Mid-career average: $101,000

Today, these professionals work in the fields of chemistry, oceanography, seismology and astronomy. Physics is the only major on the list with a median starting salary below $50,000, but by mid-career, the average rises to more than double that amount.

applied mathematics8. Applied Mathematics

Median starting salary: $52,600

Mid-career average: $98,600

According to the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, employers across a number of industries hire mathematicians and computational scientists. Jobs can be found in the energy, finance, science, health care and publishing sectors among others.

Computer Science9. Computer Science

Median starting salary: $56,600

Mid-career average: $97,900

In a society that is increasingly dependent on computer technology, computer science graduates can expect to see lucrative starting salaries. Make no mistake, these professionals do more than simply provide tech support and program games. For instance, computer science researchers at Cornell University work in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, computer architecture and security.

nuclear engineering10. Nuclear Engineering

Median starting salary:$65,100

Mid-career average:$97,800

Rounding out the top ten on the PayScale list is nuclear engineering. James Madison, President of CoolHandNuke.com, a job site for nuclear professionals, says several factors help boost the incomes of nuclear engineers. These include the high caliber of nuclear engineering graduates, the sensitive nature of their work and a decreasing number of individuals entering the field.

In addition, Madison predicts an upswing in the need for nuclear engineers that could mean better salaries in the future. "Over the course of the next 10 plus years, these engineers with start being paid very, very well," he said. "And the benefits packages are already the best of any industry."

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Crawford Andrew Gord

the fact that this article even implied computer science graduates do tech support...

January 10 2015 at 10:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I graduated with a bachelor's from Northeastern University in 2003 in Computer Engineering. I could not find a job. I bounced from temp to temp clerical jobs (non-engineering) just to pay student loans. This happened for 3 years. Then one day I received a 3 month temp assignment as a temp lab coordinator in a material science company. This was only to fill in on an admin who was leaving on maternity leave. After 6 months, I was hired after another lab coordinator retired. After working hard for a couple of years, I wanted to transfer from admin to lab tech role and started working in the lab. Luckily, I had a mentor, who prepared be for grad school. After working in the lab for a few years, I applied to grad school at WPI Material Science program. Next year I will have Masters for free and with 9 years of experience in material science.

The moral to this long story: Getting your foot in the door will help more than getting an expensive college degree. When one door closed another one can open, you just have to see the opportunity. Experience counts for everything with employers. Pay is not as important as happiness. You learn more with experience on the job than in school. School is the biggest ripoff. Also, the article doesn't mention that the salary median for material science is $60K, but only with a Masters! Also, college does little to help with career placement after graduation.

July 06 2014 at 9:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was almost fired by the construction guard. And I was publicly humiliated. If GM could care more about a power drunk guard than an engineer, then take my advice and stay out of engineering. You gain 500 pounds from stress, and travel, and treated like trash by customers.

July 05 2013 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All lies, all lies, become a lemming to the slaughter so that GM, Budweiser, and the fortune 500 can treat engineers as slaves, and dirt. Engineers are slaves to the man.

Devry pays good money to CNN, Yahoo, and Google to draw oversupplies of Engineer students. Remember, a university degree gets you no more job offers than Total Technical, or Renkin, or ITT technical, etc. So why pay the extra money to get a genuine BSEE from the university, when a trade school gets you the same job.

At my recent 25th Georgia Tech reunion, everyone I knew who had stuck with engineering (as opposed to becoming an entrepreneur or a VC) was either unemployed or in fear of becoming so. A woman from my freshman dorm told me her brother who’d gone to MIT was also unemployed as were many of his classmates.

When not even a Stanford or MIT engineering degree is good enough to keep an engineer employed at 60, there is genuinely no market for engineers that age. Plan accordingly.

July 05 2013 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Johns

Here's a great list of www.degreesfinder.com/online/articles/10-best-college-degrees.html to compare with the list above.

November 10 2011 at 12:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Interesting that article would use a picture of the Naval Academy graduation. My son graduated there 2005 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He spent the next 5 years serving his country, at one time in Afganistan building Afgan National Police stations in the northern provinces. He got home in Sept 2010 and has spent the last 11 months looking for a job. Where are the jobs? He"s been through LA, Riverside and San Diego counties looking for work, even employing a headhunter to no avail. He's had to travel from SoCal to New Jersey to interview for a possible position. Where are these engineering jobs? Any jobs for that matter......................................

August 25 2011 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to meraz7's comment

Tell him to consider moving to Texas. Plenty of engineering jobs out here.

November 19 2011 at 9:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why don't you post non degree jobs??? Seems to me the only jobs you post are degreed jobs. Mechanics need jobs too!!!

August 25 2011 at 5:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

See we need all types of Engineers in this country, almost 85% of all the current Engineers in all types of disiplines, working right now are over the age of 55. This country NEEDS more Engineers! BTW, we have enough lawyers! We need inventive minds to create the future, just like we had been doing from the 1940's through the 1970's. And the salary numbers are real, and it may seem like alot, but trust me, it does not go far after taxes and bills. Trust me I'm living it!

August 25 2011 at 3:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SVMD1996@aol.com's comment

Completely 100% agree with you.

November 19 2011 at 9:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What happened to the humanities? No wonder National Endowment for the Arts funding has been severed.

August 25 2011 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Honestly, I think they made those numbers up.

August 25 2011 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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