The 11 Most Meaningful College Majors — and How Much You Can Earn With Them

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If you’re preparing for a new career, there’s no need to choose between having a job that pays well and a job that makes a positive impact. There are a number of college majors that can result in graduates getting both a healthy paycheck and the satisfaction of contributing to a better world.

The 2019-2020 PayScale College Salary Report relies on information from 3.5 million people to determine which degrees and schools result in the highest-paying jobs. As part of its survey, respondents were asked if they feel like their job makes the world a better place.

Graduates with the following 11 majors were most likely to answer yes to that question.

Nursing science

nurse
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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 85%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $80,500

It’s not surprising that graduates who majored in health fields feel they’re making the world a better place.

Sometimes they provide services that can make a difference between life and death. In the case of students who major in nursing science, they aren’t necessarily on the front lines of patient care. Instead, people who work in nursing science may conduct research in the field of nursing, The College Board says.

Physician assistant studies

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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 85%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $109,600

Physician assistants provide comprehensive medical care.

But they don’t have to spend years in medical school to do so. Instead, they complete an accredited program that allows them to work as part of a medical team alongside physicians and surgeons.

Some PA programs are offered at the university graduate level. In other schools it may be given as an undergraduate program in the final two years of college, says the Princeton Review.

Of all the most meaningful college majors on this list, physician assistant studies results in the highest median mid-career salary.

Medical laboratory science

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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 85%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $69,400

This college major also may be called medical laboratory technology. Those who major in it may go on to become clinical laboratory technicians or technologists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These professionals collect samples of blood, urine and tissue and analyze them. They may work with sophisticated laboratory equipment. They consult with physicians to discuss their findings and doctors rely on their work to help diagnosis disease and monitor a patient’s health.

American Sign Language interpreting

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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 85%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $73,800

The vast majority of people who graduate with a degree in American Sign Language interpreting say they are helping improve the world.

They know how to communicate with people who have hearing loss and they serve as a bridge between the hearing and deaf communities.

The College Board notes there is a shortage of qualified interpreters for the deaf, so these skills may be in high demand.

Medicine

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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 86%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $97,000

A bachelor’s degree in medicine can be a stepping stone to medical school.

PayScale finds those who major in the field may go on to become physicians or specialists, and that 60% of undergraduates who major in medicine are women.

Regardless of their exact career path, most medicine majors say they make the world a better place through their work.

Occupational therapy

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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 89%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $88,500

Occupational therapists help people regain the ability to perform everyday tasks after an injury or illness. They may also provide these services to people with disabilities.

A master’s or doctoral degree may be required to become a state-licensed occupational therapist, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, with an associate or bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, you may find work as an therapy assistant.

Physical therapy

Physical therapist
GagliardiImages / Shutterstock.com

Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 89%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $93,200

Physical therapists help people improve their ability to move and manage pain through exercises, stretching and hands-on treatment.

Like occupational therapists, physical therapists are state-licensed professionals. A doctoral degree is the standard level of education in the field.

However, those who major in physical therapy can become physical therapist assistants if they don’t want to enter a graduate degree program.

Radiation therapy

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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 90%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $88,800

Students majoring in radiation therapy often pursue careers as radiation therapists.

These are health care professionals who administer radiation treatments using use advanced equipment to patients who have cancer and other diseases.

It’s rewarding work that can make a profound difference in the lives of patients.

Music therapy

iriam Doerr Martin Frommherz / Shutterstock.com

Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 90%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $55,700

People who want to combine a love of the arts with a desire to help others may consider a career in music therapy.

A degree in music therapy teaches students how to use music to help people relax, make friends, reduce pain and address health conditions.

Music therapy may be used to help with mental illnesses such as eating disorders or major depression, or to help women during childbirth, The College Board says.

Early childhood special education

iordan / Shutterstock.com

Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 91%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $50,600

Early childhood special education isn’t the highest-paying major, but it is one of the most meaningful, according to PayScale.

Graduates of these programs go on to work with young children who have learning challenges or disabilities. Through their jobs, these educators help children get the best start possible in life.

Cytotechnology

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Share of people with a degree in this subject who say their work makes the world a better place: 91%

Median mid-career salary for people with a degree in this subject: $73,000

The most meaningful major, according to PayScale, may be one you’ve never heard of before.

Cytotechnologists are specialized clinical laboratory technologists who test cells for early signs of cancer. With early diagnosis critical to the successful treatment of many cancers, this is a job that makes a very real difference in the lives of others.

Do you feel like your work makes the world a better place? Tell us your major in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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