05 September 2013
The Highest Paying College Majors: Which College Degrees Deliver The Biggest Payouts?

If you, or your child, are considering a career after college, it might be helpful to know which college grads earn the most right out of school. Some college grads find well-paying jobs quickly. For others, finding employment after college graduation can take time.

The Wall Street Journal®1 discussed the Department of Labor’s 2007 – 2011 data, which revealed 13.5% of bachelor degree holders were unemployed after their 2011 graduation. That may sound grim, but the figure is actually down from the unemployment rate of 17.6% among the graduates in 2009.

Average starting salary for the Class of 2013 is $44,928 – an increase of 5.3% over the average starting salary for 2012 grads. This increase in starting pay is driven by the health sciences and business fields.

Moreover, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)2, college graduates who major in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction receive, on average, a starting salary of $84,182 right out of college, outpacing  grads with degrees in business management by almost $30,000 a year. Business grads average a starting salary of $56,955, according to the NACE survey.

The Top 10 College Majors for Salary Potential

Payscale.com3 lists the top 10 majors by earnings potential. It’s important, however, to remember that these are average figures. The numbers may change from region to region, industry to industry, and company to company.

Payscale reports the top 10 college majors for earnings potential over a lifetime career as follows:

Petroleum engineering, with a starting salary just under $100,000 annually, and mid-career earnings averaging $163,000.

Aerospace engineering comes in second with an average starting salary of $62,500, with a jump to $118,000 by mid-career.

Actuarial mathematics places third on the list for mid-career average pay at $112,000, but these actuaries typically receive a lower starting salary out of school, averaging $56,100.

Chemical engineers can expect to receive an average starting salary of $67,500, increasing to $111,000 as the graduate gains experience and becomes more valuable to his or her employer.

Nuclear engineering grads, on average, start their careers at $66,800, and by the time they reach mid-career salary levels, these highly-trained professionals can expect to earn an average of $107,000.

Electrical engineering majors are looking at starting salaries of $63,400, increasing to $106,000 by mid-career.

Computer engineering degree holders earn an average of $62,700 right out of school, moving up to $105,000 as they acquire more real-world experience.

Applied mathematics grads typically start out with an annual salary of $50,800, moving up in salary to $102,000 half-way to retirement.

Computer science majors can expect to earn an average of $58,000 during the early years of their careers, with that number increasing to $100,000 at the mid-term of their careers.

Statistics majors earn an average of $49,300 to start, moving up during their careers to $99,500.

Graduates in these areas often find it easier to find a position after graduation, and additional earnings power may simplify college loan repayments in the years ahead.

Most of us choose careers based on expectations of job satisfaction – enjoying what we do for a living. However, if your interest lies in science, engineering, mathematics, and other related areas, you might consider a college major that delivers more employment opportunities, job satisfaction, higher salaries, and a higher standard of living.


  1. http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2013/04/29/and-the-highest-paid-college-majors-are/
  2. http://www.naceweb.org/uploadedFiles/NACEWeb/Research/Salary_Survey/Reports/salary-survey-april-2013-executive-summary.pdf
  3. http://www.payscale.com/college-salary-report-2013/majors-that-pay-you-back

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.

The Wall Street Journal® is a registered trademark of Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and Nevada State Bank does not claim any ownership or exclusive right to the use of this trademark.


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