Highest-Paying Bachelor's Degrees

By Rachel Zupek Farrell, Special to CareerBuilder

It's admirable when college graduates are determined to work in their dream job, no matter if it pays six figures or diddly squat. Unfortunately, it's also rare.

Before the inevitable realization that money doesn't always equal happiness, students enter their college years in a green haze. In other words, they want a job where they can earn lots of green -- which means majoring in something to take them there.

The good news is that the average starting salary for some professions is rising.

The average starting salary for the college class of 2011 is $51,018, up from $48,661 last year, according to a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The survey asked 900 employers and 1,800 colleges and universities to come up with a list of top-paying college majors and their corresponding average salary offers.

"The steady increases in starting salary offers we're seeing this year is a good indication that the job market for new college graduates is gathering strength," Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, said in a press release.

Overall, the average salary offer to graduates in the business disciplines rose 3 percent to $48,694, while students in the computer science disciplines saw their average offer rise 4.3 percent to $62,328. As a group, the engineering majors saw a 2.5 percent increase, giving them an average salary offer of $60,465.

Humanities and social sciences graduates also fared well, with a 15.3 percent increase in their starting salary offer to $40,057.

Here are 12 of the highest-paying bachelor's degrees and the lucrative careers you may be able to secure with them.

Petroleum engineering

Average starting salary: $80,849

Career: Petroleum engineer

What it pays*: $127,970

What you do: High-paying as it is, petroleum engineering is also a very small portion of engineering as a whole. As such, the demand for these engineers is high due to the need for clean, affordable energy. Petroleum engineers search for and produce oil and gas supplies.

-- Find petroleum engineering jobs

Chemical engineering

Average starting salary: $65,618

Career: Flavorist

What it pays: $58,000 to $76,000 annually, according to Fast Company.

What you do: Blend aroma chemicals, oils, botanical extracts and essences to create natural and artificial flavorings for foods, beverages and other products.

-- Find flavorist jobs

Computer engineering

Average starting salary: $64,499

Career: Programmer

What it pays: $74,900

What you do: Create, modify and test the codes and scripts that run computer applications.

-- Find computer engineering jobs

Mining and mineral engineering

Average starting salary: $63,969

Career: Mining and geological engineers

What it pays: $87,350

What you do: Conduct surveys below ground to identify the characteristics of potential land or mining development sites. You may also inspect areas for geological conditions, equipment and working conditions.

-- Find mineral engineering jobs

Computer science

Average starting salary: $63,402

Career: Network and systems administrator

What it pays: $72,200

What you do: Design, install and support an organization's computer systems, such as networks, servers, the Internet and intranets.

-- Find network/systems administrator jobs

Electrical/electronics and communications engineering

Average starting salary: $61,021

Career: Electronics engineer

What it pays: $92,730

What you do: Develop, design and test a wide range of technologies, from portable music players to GPS. Also supervise manufacturing of certain equipment such as communications systems.

-- Find electronics engineering jobs

Materials engineering

Average starting salary: $59,826

Career: Materials scientist

What it pays: $86,300, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What you do: Research and study various materials to determine ways to strengthen or combine them, or develop new materials for use in new products and applications.

-- Find materials scientist jobs

Systems engineering

Average starting salary: $58,909

Career: Project manager

What it pays: $90,260, according to the "PMI Project Management Salary Survey, Sixth Edition."

What you do: Project managers oversee all elements of a project, including developing requirements, budgets, scope and schedules. They are responsible for their team delivering a project successfully.

-- Find project manager jobs


Average starting salary: $49,671

Career: Auditor

What it pays: $68,960

What you do: Check organizations' records for mismanagement, waste or fraud.

-- Find accounting jobs


Average starting salary: $40,051

Career: Teacher, post-secondary

What it pays: $70,860

What you do: Impart your knowledge about history to college students.

-- Find history jobs


Average starting salary: $39,611

Career: Editor

What it pays: $59,340

What you do: Develop and edit content for a variety of platforms, including print and online vehicles.

-- Find editor jobs


Average starting salary: $40,069

Career: Social worker

What it pays: Varies, depending on type of social work.

What you do: There is a variety of sectors in which you can provide social work, including schools, medical and public-health facilities, or as a mental-health and substance-abuse social worker. No matter what sector, you are assisting people by helping them cope with and solve issues in their lives.

-- Find social worker jobs

At the end of the day, to be truly passionate about a career you must love your job -- no matter what it pays. And hey, if you can find something that makes you happy and earns serious cash, more power to you.

*Unless otherwise noted, all salaries are the May 2010 mean annual wage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rachel Zupek Farrell researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.

Next: Economy Adds 103K Jobs, Rate Stays 9.1 Percent

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I was in the Information Technology field for years and yes great pay but the hours were absolutely horrible...and we supported a Hospital so we took turns being on call which was even worse

October 07 2011 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

By far the highest paying degrees are in the science and engineering fields. Very few in these fields are protesting because they cannot find jobs or are not being fairly compensated. This in itself should tell the other 98% of BS (or other for that matter) graduates that they should major in something in demand if they expect to find a well paying job. Instead most of said others just protest and complain.

October 07 2011 at 9:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What has changed in the Chemical Engineering field? Chemical Engineers used to do everything that the Petroleum Engineer does. The Petroleum Engineer specializes in one area of engineering which admittedly is very broad and encompassing, however the Chemical Engineer handles everything else which is a lot bigger than petroleum. Synthesis and Unit operations alone are as big as petroleum eng'g. Chem. Engineering encompasses a lot of Mechanical and Electrical and structural engineering activities. Electrical, Mechanical and Civil engineers are kind of just the Oompahaloompahs of engineering. The Chemical Engineer does it all.

October 07 2011 at 9:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A BA in
Psych will get you no where in Florida - you need a master's degree in social work or in mental health counseling to be a social worker here. Careerbuilder needs to take more time in doing their research. We all don't live in the northeast.

October 07 2011 at 8:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Except it is almost impossible to find a job. College grads, returning military are suffering for lack of jobs available.

October 07 2011 at 7:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Notice the easy jobs that do nothing for the betterment of the economy pay the highest?

October 07 2011 at 7:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How could you NOT include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing with the average starting salary of $84,000 per year in California?

October 06 2011 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ellen's comment

an idiot did this survey and wrote the article. pharmacy bd grads start at nrarly to over 100,000 per year

October 07 2011 at 3:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to tom's comment


October 07 2011 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Is that called PRN work? only when needed?

October 06 2011 at 8:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

@LUISD482, What do you consider to be American jobs? The ones the African Americans got when they came from Africa or the ones the Whites got when they stole the land from the Native Americans? I don't see the difference between them and the Hispanics. Find a real reason not to like the hard working Latinos who are shaping this country for the better.

Where's the equal opportunity here????

October 06 2011 at 8:44 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

When a career, teacher, policeman, fireman, garbage man, bureaucrat of any kind, recipient of welfare, is a factor of the tax base, it is limited by the size of that tax base. When we do everything possible to drecipient destroy the "production" that creates the tax base, and it subsequently dimishes, every occupation related to the tax base must be lowered proportional to the loss. Must be? Therein lies a major factor in our current circumstances. The tax base has been diminished, but "we the people" want the honey-wagon of benefits and services to go on and on and on.

October 06 2011 at 8:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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