If you’re getting ready to attend college, or have already started and need to declare a major, you’re probably wondering the best major to choose to get a good-paying job after you graduate. After all, unless you’re lucky enough to go to one of the 10 Best Colleges with Free Tuition, those tuition loans won’t pay for themselves. You can plan ahead now by choosing a major that will increase your chances of earning a solid income after graduation regardless of where you live: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, etc.
At the very top of the list is Petroleum Engineering, yielding a base salary of nearly $100,000 for recent graduates. The oil and gas industry is a hot one as companies around the world seek new petroleum resources and how to mine and use them as efficiently as possible and Petroleum Engineers provide the know-how when it comes to geology, drilling and other fields to accomplish this.
Chemical and electrical engineering jobs are next, earning recent graduates base salaries around $61,000, which grow to over $100,000 at mid-career. Graduates in these disciplines can find employment in a wide variety of fields, from developing and improving consumer products like laundry detergent and cosmetics to designing automated production systems for factories.
Aerospace Engineering is another field that has generally commanded good salaries for graduates, though a severe cut in funding of the federal space program in the U.S. will likely have a large negative impact on job prospects in this field. However, there are other organizations that require the expertise and knowledge of Aerospace Engineers to build and refine all types of aircraft for consumer, commercial, and military use. Majors in this difficult discipline can expect to earn just over $60,000 to start and surpass $100,000 per year at mid-career.
Given the prominence of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices in so many jobs and everyday use at home, the software and peripherals needed for them are extremely important as well. This is where Computer Engineering and Computer Science majors come in, developing the software and firmware that drive electronic devices and computers as well as the hardware, peripherals and accessories that interface with them. Majors in these fields can expect to earn around $60,000 after completing an undergraduate degree, which will grow close to $100,000 at mid-career.
Note that Computer Engineering and Computer Science are different from Information Technology and Information Systems majors. The fields of Information Technology and Information Systems deal primarily with the application of computer systems in businesses, from systems that manage automated production lines to the email and other communication and management systems used within a company. These fields, while still challenging, don’t require the same type of knowledge and expertise as Computer Engineering and Computer Science majors and their starting salaries are around $48,000.
Math, Finance, and Economics
Statistics is another field where college graduates have the earning potential to stay in the black with starting salaries around $50,000 for recent graduates and in the low-$90,000s at mid-career. Statisticians focus on the collection, organization, and analysis of data and can work in a variety of industries from pharmaceutical to insurance companies and many others. This major also requires strong computer knowledge and skills since the data analysis is primarily completed using complex computer programs.
If you’d rather use your math skills to manage money, a major in Finance may be right up your alley and will put you on track to earn around $46,000 per year after graduation and up to nearly $90,000 at mid-career. Finance majors go on to work in financial institutions, government agencies and companies in every industry to analyze and report on assets and liabilities.
Now if neither math nor science is your fortÃ©, you’ll be happy to know that it’s still possible to earn a good salary in other non-technical fields as well. While you won’t need to memorize equations or the periodic table of elements to do them, you’ll need other skills and even some innate creativity to do well in them.
Beyond the undergraduate degree
There are several lucrative fields that require a graduate degree, including professions in the medical and legal fields. Your undergraduate major can help you prepare for graduate studies in these fields, so if your eye is on one of these areas in the long run and you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort to complete a master’s degree (or higher) to get into one of these professions, choose wisely now.
If you want to become a doctor, majoring in Biology is a solid choice as an undergraduate since you’ll learn about the functions of living organisms, including human beings, in great depth. And should you choose to not go on to medical school after all, you can still earn a very good salary as a biologist in bio-technical, medical and other industries with a starting salary around $40,000 and over $71,000 at mid-career (or even more as a microbiologist).
While getting into law school doesn’t usually require a specific major, having critical reading and writing skills are essential and these can be developed and honed in majors like English, Political Science, and Marketing and Communications, among others. As we’ve already discussed, English majors aren’t completely left behind when it comes to earning potential after completing an undergraduate degree. Political Science and Marketing and Communications majors also enjoy good salaries, earning around $40,000 at the start of their careers and up to double this amount at mid-career.[Note: Salary data comes from the PayScale College Salary Report.]