15 College Majors That Pretty Much Guarantee a Top-Paying Job

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

Getting a college degree is an expensive proposition. Students can get a lot out of the college experience, and one of the returns for the cost is hopefully a decent job.

The choice of a college major has a lot to do with getting a good-paying job.

Of course, everyone has to pick the course of study that suits them but it might help to know about the best college majors. And by best, we mean the majors that result in the best salaries.

The average starting salary for a college graduate is $55,911, This is a slight decline from the previous year, due to about a 4% decline in salaries in Big Tech.

The average salary of jobs that require only a high school diploma is $37,024, and that is after a few years of working.

Degrees for Sustainable Careers

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We looked at the top degrees that create sustainable careers.

Our calculations are based on average starting salary; the median salary after five years in the field; the most in-demand majors; projected job growth rate; and whether an undergraduate degree or postgraduate programs were needed.

We also wanted to know what the unemployment rate was for these fields, and what the average cost of the college is.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great resource if you are interested in a college major not mentioned here.

How Much Does College Cost?

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College costs vary widely from state to state and from private to public schools.

The average tuition is from $8,700 to about $40,000, not including room and board, which can tack on up to $14,000 more.

The cost of college has skyrocketed in the 21st century, according to Education Data. Total cost of getting a bachelor’s degree has risen an average of 134% in the last 20 years.

Some degrees, like engineering, cost more per credit hour. Business, education, and fine art majors also cost more, while math and sociology majors pay the least.

According to a study done by Education Next, “Most social-science disciplines and philosophy are relatively less expensive, while science, technology, and pre-professional programs like nursing are more costly.”

Average Tuition and Fees

Piggybank with mortarboard on a pile of bills.
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According to the 2023 Trends in College Pricing report, on average the price of tuition and fees in the 2021-22 academic year were:

  • $39,400 at private colleges
  • $10,950 at public colleges (in-state residents)
  • $28,240 at public colleges (out-of-state residents)

They also report that room and board runs:

  • $14,030 at private colleges
  • $12,310 at public colleges

Financial Aid

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Almost 85% of students get some sort of financial aid. Federal grants, averaging just over $10,590 go to 42% of college undergraduates. Federal loans, averaging $3,780, go to 37% of college undergrads.

In 2022, the average amount of student aid for undergraduates was $15,330. Graduate students averaged $27,300 in financial aid.

All told, students received $140.6 billion in grants and $94.7 billion in loans as federal aid in 2021-2022’s school year.

In November 2022, the FAFSA Simplification Act (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) made it easier to apply for financial aid, including adding categories and expanding the Pell Grant eligibility.

For many degrees, you may be able to take basic courses at community college and transfer to another college or university for your major. Tuition and fees for a public two-year college average $3,860 a year.

STEM Versus Liberal Arts

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STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors are most frequently mentioned as good college degrees for higher earning career options than in the humanities.

Labor statistics continuously show steady or increased projected job growth in STEM fields.

While visual and performing arts might feed the soul, STEM careers often have a significantly higher entry salary than those in the liberal arts.

What Is the Best College Degree for You?

College students
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It is important that you study something interesting to you, and that fits your natural aptitudes.

Make sure you study something that fits who you are, rather than changing yourself for the major. Your college major decision doesn’t have to lock you into one path for the rest of your life.

You might pick a college major as a freshman, then change it the next year. That is fine.

Good communication skills are important in every career. Critical thinking works whether you are doing project management or petroleum engineering.

When choosing a college major, pay attention to what keeps you engaged in a subject, and what turns you off. These are important cues for success on your career path.

Top College Majors for Good-Paying Jobs

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  • Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Healthcare Informatics
  • Nursing
  • Finance
  • Cybersecurity
  • Public Administration
  • Economics
  • Construction Management
  • Logistics
  • Physics
  • Marketing
  • Game Design
  • Pharmaceutical Sciences

Keep in mind when looking at salaries listed for each major that there is a wide variation between states, regions, and urban and rural centers.

We looked at several employment websites to figure out the starting salary, and mainly used the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the median salary.

Plus, for helpful comparison, average job growth in the United States is 5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook index.

Here are some really valuable degrees. Let’s figure out what is the best college major for you.

1. Engineering

Worker wearing a hard hat
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There are a lot of engineering career paths. The beginnings of those paths are pretty similar, but then you get to branch out.

There are electrical engineering, industrial engineering, civil engineering, architectural engineering, marine engineering, nuclear engineering, petroleum engineering and chemical engineering.

Every type of engineering pays well, and even though the job growth isn’t especially high, unemployment is very low. Engineering is one of the safest degrees for job markets. College students have multiple career options with these majors.

Most engineering fields require at least a bachelor’s degree to get started. For example, environmental engineers can get work with their bachelor’s, but nuclear engineers usually need at least a master’s degree or doctorate to begin. Here is a breakdown of salaries for a variety of engineering jobs from Michigan Tech.

  • Starting Salary: $68,600
  • Median Salary: $100,640
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 4%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: No, but people with a master’s degree earn almost 20% higher salaries than those with a bachelor’s degree. 41% of people working in engineering have advanced degrees.

2. Computer Science

Women tech jobs technology working collaboratively
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For this degree, you study the design, development, theories and application of computer systems and software development.

This can include careers such as computer systems analysts, information systems manager, or a computer systems analyst. It is one of the best college majors because it can be applied to almost any field.

Software engineering majors will always find work; unemployment hovers around 2%.

  • Starting Salary: $75,900
  • Median Salary: $131,490
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 21%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: About a third of people working in computer-related career paths have postgraduate degrees.

3. Computer Engineering

Male computer programmer or software developer
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Computer engineers also work on development, design, and software, but focus more on computer architecture like hardware design, artificial intelligence, and operating systems.

There is a low unemployment rate for these college majors. Careers include app developers, IT specialists, and firmware engineers.

There has been a slight decrease in tech salaries as Big Tech adjusts, post pandemic.

  • Starting Salary: $70,100
  • Median Salary: $128,170
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 5%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: About 40% of people working in this field have post-graduate degrees.

4. Health Care Informatics

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This relatively new career field has one of the highest projected job growth in any field, at 32% (the average is 8%).

This field combines health care and computer system knowledge to create digital systems for all medical fields.

Health care informatics workers develop systems that do data analysis and processing, as well as digital communication between health care facilities and data security. Health information privacy laws are partially driving this field’s rapid growth.

  • Starting Salary: $89,000
  • Median Salary: $101,340
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 28%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: 57% of workers in this field reported having postgraduate degrees.

5. Nursing

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Nursing as a college major combines STEM majors with people skills, which makes it a popular course of study. Health care professionals can branch off into multiple directions when they have a nursing degree.

The highest-paying nursing jobs are as a nurse anesthetist ($195,610) and nurse midwives ($112,830).

It has become more common for nurses to further train to become a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners take on responsibilities similar to doctors.

Nurse practitioners return to school for either master’s degree or doctorate and have to pass a national board certified exam. The field is growing extremely quickly at 40%, and the average salary is $123,680.

  • Starting Salary: $65,775
  • Median Salary: $77,600
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 6%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: 28% of nurses have advanced degrees. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree to be a registered nurse.

6. Finance

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Business majors and accounting majors can find a lot of opportunities. You can work in business administration, financial analysis and financial planning, or so many other jobs in the business world.

Management analysts, personal financial advisors, and project management specialists earn the highest average salaries.

Finance majors also frequently work in real estate, and we can all see that the housing market can be rewarding. Business administration is one of the most popular college majors.

Unemployment in finance is less than 3%.

  • Starting Salary: $55,000
  • Median Salary: $95,570
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 9%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Just under a third of the people working in finance have advanced degrees.

7. Cybersecurity

Working on computer with multiple monitors coding
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One of the best college majors for the current job market, and for job growth, is cybersecurity. It is one of the fastest-growing fields.

Not all colleges offer this degree, so you can look for information technology as a college major, or the other computer majors mentioned earlier.

A doctorate or master’s degree really pays off in this field. A chief information security officer can make over $475,000 annually.

  • Starting Salary: $76,482
  • Median Salary: $119,860
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 35% (the fastest growing on our list)
  • Postgraduate degree needed: About 25% of cybersecurity jobs require a master’s degree.

8. Public Administration

Human resources, interview and resume with a woman manager and candidate meeting at work.
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College majors getting political science or public administration degrees can go into government, nonprofit, and academic careers. They might be city managers, nonprofit directors, work in human resources, or as a public health manager.

Public policy director jobs pay very well, with a median salary of $211,530. There is a great deal of variety in salaries in this field.

Degrees in public administration are good for people interested in going to law school. You can combine a desire to make the world better with a career that pays well. This is an area with extremely low unemployment.

  • Starting Salary: $51,630
  • Median Salary: $122,510
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 6%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Yes. More than half of job holders have a postgraduate degree.

9. Economics

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An economics major is different from finance because it is one of the social sciences, rather than a business degree.

College graduates with this degree can become an economist, financial analyst, management consultant, data scientist, and more.

It is a high-earning field that pays people with postgraduate degrees best. Almost 10% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies hold undergraduate degrees in economics.

  • Starting Salary: $65,100
  • Median Salary: $105,630
  • Growth rate 2020-2030:6%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Yes. More than half of the people working in this field have postgraduate degrees.

10. Construction Management

Construction workers
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Construction management is a great degree for someone who is interested in buildings, has good communication skills, and can understand both the cost analysis and materials science of a project.

It is one of the best career options for bachelor’s degree holders who don’t want to go on to get a masters.

Salaries vary widely in construction management, heavily influenced by experience and special skills. Residential construction generally pays the least, and civil or heavy duty projects pay the most.

  • Starting Salary: $54,607
  • Median Salary: $98,890
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 8%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Most jobs require bachelor’s degrees, not postgraduate.

11. Logistics

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Logistics is a college major that has job growth starting with an associate’s degree, which has a vocational emphasis.

The bachelor’s degree emphasizes transportation management, systems design, accounting and statistics, and supply chain management, with a human resources component.

Logistics is another quickly growing field. The pandemic has brought news coverage to the field of logistics, with shortages and other issues making headlines.

  • Starting Salary: $41,370
  • Median Salary: $77,030
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 28%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Less than a quarter of employees in this field have postgraduate degrees.

12. Physics

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A physics major gives college students many job opportunities, as long as they are willing to go through graduate programs.

Astronomy, meteorology, photonics (the science of using light, such as in bar codes and lasers), climate science, education, robotics, gaming and the list goes on.

Physics is the study of how everything functions, including space, time, and energy. As a field it has a huge amount of flexibility, allowing you to work in academic, research, business, and science settings.

  • Starting Salary: $61,200
  • Median Salary: $152,430
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 8%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Yes, at least 67% of people in physics-related occupations have advanced degrees. Most jobs require a doctorate.

13. Marketing

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Marketing, advertising, and public relations careers are non-STEM majors that provide good salaries, relatively low unemployment, and don’t require advanced degrees. Marketing promotes and advertises goods and services.

People can start working in the field with a high school diploma, though a bachelor’s degree is needed for advancement.

The starting salary isn’t that high, but marketing managers are well paid, so a few years of experience makes a big difference.

  • Starting Salary: $40.000
  • Median Salary: $133,380
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 10%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Not really, only 18% of workers in this field have them.

14. Game Design

Video Game Designer
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Game design is a relatively new college major, and isn’t offered everywhere. Other college majors for game design are software development and graphic design. Game design can be used in multiple careers.

For example, journalism and education fields are increasingly using game design principles in reporting and teaching.

The gaming market is steadily growing after a big pandemic-related bump. It is a strong international market, with even faster job growth in Middle Eastern and African markets.

  • Starting Salary: $62,043
  • Median Salary: $79,890
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 15%
  • Postgraduate degree needed: No.

15. Pharmaceutical Sciences

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Bachelor’s degrees in pharmaceutical sciences lead to many jobs, though a graduate degree is needed to become a pharmacist.

One of the most lucrative jobs for someone with this bachelor’s is in pharmaceutical sales, earning an average of $70,000 a year.

Being a pharmacist requires a doctor of pharmacy degree, also called a Pharm.D. Pharmacists work in hospitals, medical research, retail locations, and academics.

While there isn’t high job growth, the median salary has grown 64% over the last 20 years.

  • Starting Salary: $56,038
  • Median Salary: $128,570
  • Growth rate 2020-2030: 2% — this is not a growing field, but the BLS projects 11,300 jobs opening annually through 2030.
  • Postgraduate degree needed: Yes.

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