The 10 College Majors With the Best Starting Salaries

By on

“What’s your major?” is a question much better posed to yourself than as an icebreaker with that cutie down the hall. After all, the degree you earn will greatly influence your chances of getting hired and your starting income and lifetime earning potential.

Which majors provide the best return on your investment? Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson provides the answer in the video below. Watch it, then read on for more detail.

Degrees that make the most money

As Stacy said in the video, in order to have a blossoming career and bank account, remember the acronym STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

As you can see, PayScale’s list of the top 10 lucrative degrees for starting pay is chock-full of STEM majors. Median starting salaries are noted next to each major, followed by mid-career median pay with 15 years on the job:

  1. Petroleum engineering, $98,000, $163,000.
  2. Chemical engineering, $67,500, $111,000.
  3. Nuclear engineering, $66,800, $107,000.
  4. Electrical engineering, $63,400, $106,000.
  5. Computer engineering, $62,700, $105,000.
  6. Aerospace engineering, $62,500, $118,000.
  7. Mechanical engineering, $60,100, $98,400.
  8. Materials science and engineering, $60,100, $91,900.
  9. Industrial engineering, $59,900, $91,200.
  10. Computer science, $58,400, $100,000.

This information raises the question, “What are the least profitable majors?” On the other side of the spectrum, here’s the bottom of PayScale’s list based on starting pay.

  1. Child and family studies, $29,300 median starting pay, $37,700 median mid-career pay.
  2. Culinary arts, $31,000, $49,700.
  3. Exercise science, $31,300, $54,400.
  4. Elementary education, $31,400, $46,000.
  5. Fine arts, $31,800, $53,700.

Degrees with the lowest unemployment

Majoring in STEM degrees will not only boost your earning potential, but also increase your chances of snagging a job.

A Georgetown University study called Hard Times 2013 says unemployment rates are relatively low for recent graduates in engineering (7 percent) and health and the sciences (4.8 percent) “because they are tied to stable or growing industry sectors and occupations.”

Compare those figures with the rates for recent grads on the opposite end, led by information systems majors with 14.7 percent, and architecture majors at 12.8 percent.

“People who make technology are still better off than people who use technology,” the study says.

But you don’t need to be an engineer to snag a job. A recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers identifies the sectors that are most active in hiring new grads:

  • Educational services. That includes schools, colleges and universities and training centers. The average starting salary is $39,992.
  • Professional, scientific and technical services, $48,609.
  • Health care and social assistance, $42,698.
  • Government, $45,862.

It’s not all about the money

It’s also good to know that a college degree will most likely boost your income. A Georgetown University study called The College Payoff says people who earn a bachelor’s degree make 84 percent more over a lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. College graduates can expect to make about $2.3 million in their lifetime compared with roughly $1.3 million for those who didn’t pursue a higher education.

While earning potential is important, it shouldn’t be the only factor considered when deciding what to major in. Here are a few more suggested by Scholarships.com:

  • What type of career do you want?
  • What kind of work do you enjoy?
  • What are your skills?
  • “Are there in-demand career fields in the geographic areas where you would like to live following graduation?”

Need more help to decide if your college career will be worth the money, including the student loans you may take out? Forbes points readers to a website called College Risk Report, which might prove interesting although it won’t be conclusive. Forbes says:

[The website creator] warns that the analysis on the website may leave out certain important factors. Attending college, especially brand-name colleges, comes with intangible perks such as personal connections made while attending, mentorship and the development of social and networking skills. Colleges located in certain geographies also tend to produce better results, simply by virtue of being located close to an industry.

Are you happy with the major you selected in college? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,329 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • cybrarian_ca

    Well, librarianship doesn’t always pay well, but at my institution, where we are faculty and do research and publish in addition to providing reference service, teaching, and other services, the last few people we’ve hired have been at about $65,000. However, the education requirements are far beyond undergrad: you have to also have a graduate degree in a subject specialty (e.g. our biology specialist has an MSc in Biology), as well as a graduate degree in library & information science.

  • cybrarian_ca

    Oh, and there’s another reason engineering pays well – it’s difficult, & few people can cut it. I went to a school with a huge engineering department (as a math & computer science major), & the drop out and failure rates are astounding.