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.
When it comes to the highest-paying jobs, it should be no surprise that highly technical fields make up the majority at the top of the heap. Engineering jobs in a variety of industries pave the way for new and better products and processes in almost every area; think of the things you use every day like your cell phone, refrigerator or car and how technology advances each year to make them better and more efficient. Engineers are the technical gurus behind these and other items to improve them year after year.
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
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.
Computer Engineering and Computer Science
Information Technology and Information Systems
Math, Finance, and Economics
If you hoped you'd never use what you'd learned in your high school math classes again, you'll probably be disappointed to learn that advanced mathematical concepts actually have several applications in the real world and can help you earn a good amount of money after graduation.
At the top of the earnings list when it comes to math-related fields is applied mathematics, with graduates earning over $50,000 when starting out and pulling in close to $100,000 at mid-career. Applied mathematicians can work in several fields building mathematical models to solve business problems or predict behavior or the results of systems and processes.
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 interests you, 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.
First up is fashion design, a field that requires a bit more than the ability to put together a well-coordinated outfit. Fashion and its trends can be an indirect gauge of what's going on in cultures and societies around the world. It takes a unique eye to identify these trends and the business sense to capitalize on them to make a successful fashion designer. Upon graduation, starting salaries aren't stunning off the bat (around $35,000) but this salary can double by mid-career.
Many people lament the generic-sounding English degree and it's often stereotyped as a major that doesn't do a good job of preparing graduates for a real job. While most stereotypes have a grain of truth to them, they're never entirely accurate. English majors can study literature and other types of writing from cultures around the world in multiple eras and build strong writing skills along the way as well. These abilities can easily translate to jobs in journalism, publishing, and other areas where writing or the evaluation of written material is key and can earn graduates under $40,000 shortly after graduation and over $65,000 per year at mid-career.
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.]