College is full of choices — dorm or commute? Roommates or solo living? Study or party? And naturally, one of the biggest decisions a student must make is which major to choose.
The analysis uses 2016 U.S. Census data, examining incomes reported by bachelor’s degree holders. It notes the proportion of grads with advanced degrees, which is helpful for showing if you’ll need to more schooling before launching into a career.
With college as expensive as it is, students deserve information about degrees and their potential earning power.
The following look at the 10 most valuable college majors uses Bankrate’s analysis.
Where possible, we added forecasts of job growth for 2016 to 2026 from a separate study, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Average income: $100,448
Unemployment rate: 2.7 percent
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the U.S. to add about 773,800 new jobs in finance between 2016 and 2026. Those jobs are a varied lot. Accountants, market researchers, event planners, logisticians and insurance claims adjusters all benefit from a background in finance.
Making this highly paid degree even more appealing is the fact that most graduates in finance can jump into the labor force right after college. Just 30 percent have gone on to earn an advanced degree, Bankrate finds.
9. Civil engineering
Average income: $96,405
Unemployment rate: 2.2 percent
Civil engineers may work in offices, but the nature of their work often requires them to get outside, too, monitoring projects at construction sites or other locations, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes.
Civil engineers play a crucial role in building and maintaining the nation’s infrastructure, including dams, bridges and airports. As our infrastructure ages, more civil engineers will be needed.
Employment of civil engineers is projected to grow by 11 percent, and just 36 percent of those who studied civil engineering got advanced degrees.
8. Mechanical engineering
Average income: $101,590
Unemployment rate: 2.4 percent
Mechanical engineers “design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, including tools, engines, and machines,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. Many, it adds, work in industries that manufacture machinery or automotive parts.
It’s a field one can enter with or without an advanced degree, although Bankrate’s analysis shows that 39 percent of graduates earned a master’s or doctoral degree.
7. Molecular biology
Average income: $105,849
Unemployment rate: 2.1 percent
A molecular biologist focuses on how various systems of a cell interact with each other, including the genetics, regulatory functions and chemistry of cells, says ScienceDaily, a science journalism site.
Bankrate’s analysis shows that 64 percent of those with degrees in this field have advanced degrees.
6. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences and administration
Average income: $103,350
Unemployment rate: 1.8 percent
Pharmacists dispense medication and instruct patients on its use. They also conduct health and wellness screenings, give immunizations and offer advice on a healthy lifestyle, among other tasks, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some 57 percent in this field have master’s or doctoral degrees. But not everyone with a degree in pharmaceutical science is a behind-the-counter pharmacist. Other careers can include working in drug research or advising health care facilities or insurance companies.
5. Applied mathematics
Average income: $105,679
Unemployment rate: 2 percent
As you might expect, more than half (51 percent) of people with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics also obtained master’s or doctoral degrees. But real-world opportunities go well beyond the movie images of eccentric geniuses or college professors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many mathematicians and statisticians work in the federal government and outside government, in engineering and science research companies.
4. Health and medical preparatory programs
Average income: $130,308
Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent
The highest average income on the top 10 list belongs to those with degrees in health and medical preparatory programs.
But the key to that high average income is the word “preparatory.” A whopping 78 percent go on to achieve advanced degrees.
Bankrate doesn’t specify which careers it included in the category. But Study.com, a source of online video-based courses for college credit, includes such professions as chiropractor, anesthesiology assistant, clinical genetic technologist, dental assistant, medical doctor, nurse, veterinarian and dentist among its large list of medical and health professions.
3. Nuclear engineering
Average income: $108,591
Unemployment rate: 1.8 percent
Nuclear engineers work in industry and medicine, researching and developing systems using nuclear energy and radiation, the Bureau of Labor Statistic says.
Bankrate finds that 48 percent of nuclear engineers have advanced degrees.
Average income: $111,889
Unemployment rate: 1.4 percent
Zoologist is a dream job for many an animal lover. This career lets workers go a little wild, so to speak, as they work to understand the behavior and physiology of animals. Of those in the field, 68 percent have graduate degrees.
Not all zoologists work in zoos, though. Says the BLS:
Zoologists and wildlife biologists work in offices, laboratories, or outdoors. Depending on their job, they may spend considerable time in the field gathering data and studying animals in their natural habitats.
1. Actuarial science
Average income: $108,658
Unemployment rate: 2.3 percent
Actuaries often work with insurance companies, analyzing the costs of uncertainty and risk. The average income for an actuary is a bit lower than for zoologists, which hold down the No. 2 spot in this study. But Bankrate’s research reveals that just 22 percent of actuarial science majors have a master’s or doctoral degree (compared with 68 percent of zoologists). That additional schooling is costly, and it means delaying launching your career so you can collect those six-figure paychecks.
What advice for choosing a major would you give a college student? Chime in by adding 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.