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Highest Paying College Degrees

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Are you concerned with the highest paying jobs and top careers, or are you more concerned with job satisfaction?

Right or wrong, one of the first criteria many college students look at when choosing a college major is how much the job pays right out of college. It’s always a good idea to know how much you can earn in any given field, but choosing your career path based solely on potential income is probably not the best way to make major life decisions – and when you look at the list of the 10 highest paying college degrees, you will see why. It takes a special mindset and skill set to get a degree in most of these fields.

Top 10 Highest Paying College Degrees

This list covers the starting salary for the top 10 paying undergraduate degrees for 2010. It does not cover the top paying 2 year degrees (such as some nursing degrees), or starting salaries for those with professional degrees, such as doctors, lawyers, MBAs, etc.

The starting  salary information was provided by National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) which analyzed data from 200 college career centers at public and private institutions across the United States.

  1. Petroleum Engineering ($86,220)
  2. Chemical Engineering ($65,142)
  3. Mining & Mineral Engineering (incl. Geological) ($64,552)
  4. Computer Science ($61,205)
  5. Computer Engineering ($60,879)
  6. Electrical/Electronics & Communications Engineering ($59,074)
  7. Mechanical Engineering ($58,392)
  8. Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering ($57,734)
  9. Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering ($57,231)
  10. Information Sciences & Systems ($54,038)

Best Undergrad College Majors By Starting Salary

This is another salary chart, this time breaking down the salary ranges into starting median salaries (Blue) and mid-career median salary (Gray). Methodology Used: Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology at PayScale for more information.

Degrees

Engineering & computer degrees have highest starting salaries

Regardless of which of these two lists you use, it is clear that the top 10 college majors, as far as entry level salary are concerned, share a common denominator: they are all based in science or engineering. In the NACE starting salary report eight of the top 10 highest paying college degrees are engineering degrees and the other two are related to computers and information sciences. The Pay scale report lists 7 of the top 10 as engineering degrees, two related to computers, and economics (though it appears economics makes this list based on the mid-career salary than starting salary).

Want to learn more about computers? Check out ITT Technical Institute, which specializes in computer technology education.

What are the highest paying jobs?

The jobs in these lists are some of the top career choices for starting salary, but that does not mean they are the highest paying jobs overall. These lists were compiled to compare starting salaries of jobs requiring a four year degree. Some jobs that require additional degrees, skills or certifications may pay more than these jobs, even at the mid-career salaries you will find on the PayScale chart. Some examples of higher paying jobs can be found in the medical field (doctors, anesthesiologists, surgeons), lawyers, MBAs, and similar jobs. Many people who get into top management or run a profitable small business also earn more than the top salaries you can earn in the jobs listed above.

Want to find the right college program for you?

Check out these resources, which will help match you with the right college program for your needs, including low cost educational programs, flexible schedules, and lucrative degree programs.

 

Chase your passions – don’t let starting salary be your guide

Starting salary is important, but it shouldn’t guide your life or every decision you make. Engineering and computer science are great fields to get into, but unless you are passionate about the subject, you probably won’t enjoy the required schooling or the job. You will probably be much better off in the long run if you go after the career that offers you the most job satisfaction.


Published or updated February 26, 2011.
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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Neal@Pilgrim

Wait a second…..just hold on….I thought Blogging was supposed to be the highest paid job.

Oh no…what have I done!@!

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2 myfinancialobjectives

Interesting, like you said computers and engineering make the most money after graduating. But as you stated, both of these jobs are surpassed by lawyers, doctors, and those are usually surpassed by business related jobs. Think about it, the top lawyers and doctors make more than the top engineers, and computer programmers, but the job business related positions make more than everything. Look at bill gates, do you think he still invents things today? I’m willing to guess that he is all business now.

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3 patrickpaul

On the other hand, if you want to really understand the business of technology, it helps to be an expert first. A candidate with a strong technical background and excellent management skills is better suited for the business side than someone with management skills alone.

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4 Squirrelers

I especially like your last paragraph, on chasing your passion.

Now, there is some practicality that needs to be involved in choosing what you do on a daily basis, and how you choose to support yourself and your family. That said, I like what you say on “chasing your passion.” Do what you like, what drives you and makes you happy and fulfilled, and your overall life will be rich – and by that I mean your health and relationships as well. Its all a balance, and its not just about maximizing the income stream (though for some it may be, and that’s ok).

Besides, if you do what you really like and what drives you, you will be more likely to be good at it and that might ultimately lead you to financial success in the long run anyway. Regardless, we can choose to live within our means and make sure that inflow exceeds outflow, with the difference saved and invested as appropriate.

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5 Ryan

I agree, you need to choose a practical profession – after all, money is essential for the modern way of life. But it’s not worth being miserable just so you can buy a nice car that you only sit in on your drive to and from the job you hate. It’s much better to enjoy your profession, or be one of those lucky few who are passionate about heir profession!

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6 Daddy Paul

Nothing worse than an engineer who got into the profession for the money and has no natural interest.

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7 The Rat

It’s fairly obvious that a lot of great paying jobs include positions that require technically-minded people, and that’s great if it’s what interests you. I think people should follow what they are passionate about and they will enjoy life more to the fullest.

Nice post.

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8 Kristine

I wholeheartedly agree with you and Squirrelers. Chase after your passions. It’s what you’re naturally good at…so focus on it. Find the avenue where you can generate the income stream you desire to really do what you love to do. Maybe create a blog or create a website about what your passion? :)

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9 The Rat

Sounds like a fantastic idea! :)

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10 John Hunter

On my Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog blog the science and engineering career category provides useful information for those interested in this topic. I completely agree with the sentiment that you need to find work you enjoy. Earning capacity makes sense as one factor to consider, but overall I think people make too big an issue of salary and are less happy due to that focus.

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11 Victor

Great insight, especially myfinancialobjectives comments. I guess my goal these days is to go into business then, if it will make the most money. Just out of college though, I am happy with my programming job. It pays well and isn’t overly stressful all the time.

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12 Jed Fisher

Ryan,

I appreciate the research and information, but there is one other thing to consider about those career fields: layoffs. Many of the poeple on those career paths find themselves laid off nearly one third of the time, because of economic cycles and the obsolecence of thier knowlege as technology advances. Considering the time spent unemployed and the costs of having to re-train to get re-hired makes the steady, predictable lifetime earnings of a high school teacher look very competitive.

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13 Ryan

Great point, Jed. The same thing can be aid about many fields, including the military, public sector, and similar career fields. The most important thing is to do something you enjoy, and if there is a toss up, then go for the more lucrative field. There will always be time to research other career opportunities, or in the case of many people, pursue a second or third career.

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14 Kelly

It’s nice to be someone who really likes working with computers. I get to be happy with my job and make a comfortable enough living for me and mine!

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