33 of the Highest-Paying Majors You Can Choose in College

Highest-Paying MajorsCan you guess what the highest-paying majors are (i.e., the ones that can send your earning potential soaring)? When it comes to choosing a focus for college, it's important to know which programs generally lead to stellar incomes. Sure, the best college majors are in fields that appeal to your interests and offer opportunities for growth. But what if you could have all that while also earning an amazing paycheck? Even better, right?

As you might expect, the majors that tend to pay the most come from the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. In fact, 11 of the top 15 are engineering programs. But that doesn't mean you can't make a decent living in a non-STEM field. Above-average earnings can also be had in areas ranging from business and health care to agriculture and public service.

The following lists of college majors (as well as the median earnings for each major) are based on a report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. The report ranked 137 different college majors by the median salaries of full-time workers with bachelor's degrees.1 We noted the 15 highest-paying majors overall, then we combed through the data to find the best college degrees in a variety of non-technical fields. Use these lists to kick-start your career exploration and examine a range of rewarding options!

The 15 Highest-Paying Majors Overall

Highest-Paying MajorsIf your goal is to maximize your earning potential, you'd be wise to consider a career in the high-demand areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. The Georgetown University report found that not only do STEM majors have the highest salaries, but they also enjoy the largest wage growth over their careers—on average, they make 50 percent more in the late stages of their careers than they do at the beginning. Here, then, are the top-paying majors overall:

1. Petroleum engineering

The focus of petroleum engineering is on developing safe and efficient ways of locating and extracting underground reserves of oil and natural gas. Topics of study include geology, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and well drilling. Opportunities are available around the world in research labs, consulting firms, and energy companies.

  • Median salary—$135,754

2. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and pharmaceutical administration

Learning to develop and test drugs and other medicines involves training in a range of sciences, including biology, chemistry, and toxicology. These programs can prepare you for a career in pharmaceutical sales, research, marketing, or manufacturing; they can also provide a good foundation for graduate work leading to a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

  • Median salary—$112,519

3. Metallurgical engineering

In this type of program, you learn all about metals like iron, steel, aluminum, copper, and zinc: how to extract them, how to combine them for different purposes, and how to use them to create different products. You also learn how they react to stress and changing environmental conditions. Metallurgical engineers can work for any company that refines, produces, or manufactures metals or metal products.

  • Median salary—$97,743

4. Mining and mineral engineering

Mining and mineral engineering programs focus on teaching you how to design efficient systems for finding and extracting minerals like coal, gold, and diamonds. You also learn how to manage processing operations, ensure worker safety, and minimize the environmental impacts of mining. Much of a mining engineer's work is done on-site in remote locations.

  • Median salary—$97,372

5. Chemical engineering

Many of the products we use every day—from the food we put in our mouths to the fuel we put in our cars—are available to us because of chemical engineering. This kind of program prepares you to design and develop manufacturing processes and equipment that utilize different chemical properties to produce commercially viable products. Graduates can find work in research labs, industrial plants, or chemical refineries.

  • Median salary—$96,156

6. Electrical engineering

Electrical engineering majors learn how to design and maintain all kinds of electrical equipment, from calculators to communications systems. Courses typically cover topics like circuit design, electrodynamics, and signal processing. The telecommunications, energy, manufacturing, and construction industries all need people with this kind of training.

  • Median salary—$93,215

7. Aerospace engineering

Do you dream of designing airplanes, rockets, and satellites? Aerospace engineering programs offer training in areas like airframe design, structural analysis, flight mechanics, avionics, and thermodynamics. Some programs have separate tracks for those who want to focus on aircraft and those who would rather specialize in spacecraft.

  • Median salary—$90,141

8. Mechanical engineering

This is one of the most diverse branches of engineering. Generally speaking, majoring in mechanical engineering is about learning how to develop and build devices and machines that involve motion. That could include cars, airplanes, sensors, turbines, compressors, and so much more. Graduates can end up in a huge range of industries, such as the automotive, aerospace, electronics, biotechnology, or manufacturing sectors.

  • Median salary—$86,883

9. Computer engineering

Combining elements of electrical engineering and computer science, computer engineering focuses on the design and construction of computer components such as routers, circuit boards, memory chips, and microprocessors. These programs concentrate on the hardware aspect, but many also include some training in programming and software development.

  • Median salary—$86,553

10. Geological and geophysical engineering

While it's closely related to mining engineering, geological engineering takes a broader view. You learn how to evaluate soil and rock conditions to determine appropriate sites for mines, roads, dams, or pipelines. You also learn how to assess the possible hazards (such as floods or earthquakes) that could arise from site development.

  • Median salary—$86,553

11. Computer science

If you understand the logic behind operating systems and software applications, you can expect to make a pretty good income. Computer science programs feature courses related to data structures, system architecture, and discrete mathematics. They can prepare you to work in a wide range of roles, including computer programmer, database administrator, systems analyst, and network administrator.

  • Median salary—$82,858

12. Civil engineering

This branch of engineering focuses on designing and maintaining the infrastructure of our society: Office buildings, roads, bridges, dams, airports, and even water-supply and flood-defense systems are all made possible by civil engineering. This field encompasses many different specialties, such as structural, municipal, environmental, and geotechnical engineering.

  • Median salary—$82,858

13. Applied mathematics

Do you enjoy using mathematical models and principles to solve real-world problems? In addition to advanced courses in linear algebra, calculus, and statistics, many applied mathematics programs also include some training in computer science, economics, or physical sciences. Graduates can pursue work in the insurance, finance, or technology sectors.

  • Median salary—$82,858

14. Industrial and manufacturing engineering

How can factories and manufacturing facilities streamline their production processes to reduce inefficiency and waste? That's the kind of question that industrial and manufacturing engineering programs equip you to tackle. You learn how to devise the most effective ways to use materials, machines, and workers to produce products or deliver services.

  • Median salary—$81,452

15. Physics

The study of physics involves investigating the laws of nature and the relationship between energy and matter. You could observe things as tiny as atoms and molecules or as massive as planets and galaxies. The analytical and quantitative skills that come from these programs allow physics graduates with bachelor's degrees to find work in the finance, information technology, telecommunications, and energy industries.

  • Median salary—$81,143

The Best College Majors Outside of Technology and Engineering

Highest-Paying MajorsWhile engineering fields dominate the list of highest-paying majors, there are plenty of non-technical programs that can also lead to careers with pretty good wages. The Georgetown University report found that the average salary for bachelor's degree holders overall was $61,000; all of the majors in this section have median salaries that are higher than that. So if your interests run somewhere other than technology or engineering, here are some of the best college degrees to consider:

1. Economics

Part social science and part liberal art, economics involves examining how and why people and organizations choose to allocate resources the way they do. This type of training teaches you to analyze market and consumer data, detect patterns, and draw meaningful conclusions. Such skills can help you find work in fields like insurance, banking, real estate, and government service.

  • Median salary—$76,000

2. Finance

Money management is the theme of any finance program. You learn how to evaluate what's happening in the markets so you can advise individuals, companies, and organizations on the best way to structure and manage their finances. With a finance degree, you can pursue a career in investment banking, insurance underwriting, or financial planning or analysis.

  • Median salary—$73,000

3. Accounting

Every business needs someone who can track and report its financial activities, which is precisely what accounting programs train you to do. You learn about reading a balance sheet, calculating taxes, analyzing profitability, and preparing financial statements. Some programs offer a choice of specializations, such as auditing, tax accounting, or forensic accounting.

  • Median salary—$69,000

4. Oceanography

Did you know that oceans cover more than 70 percent of the earth's surface? Oceanography involves studying a broad range of areas, including marine ecosystems, plate tectonics, ocean chemistry, and tidal movements. You learn how human activity affects the oceans and how oceans influence the world's climate. Oceanography can often be combined with another science such as biology, chemistry, or geology.

  • Median salary—$69,000

5. Geology and earth science

The study of the structure, properties, and processes of the earth is a vast field. Earth science looks at rocks, soil, water, air, and everything related to those elements to learn how our planet got to be the way it is and how it might change in the future. Geology and earth science graduates can find opportunities with government departments, environmental consulting firms, and energy companies.

  • Median salary—$69,000

6. Food science

Food science programs focus on the physical, chemical, and nutritional aspects of the things we eat. You investigate the processes involved in harvesting and preparing different foods and learn what it takes to develop and maintain a safe and healthy food supply. An undergraduate degree can equip you for careers with manufacturing companies or government agencies.

  • Median salary—$67,000

7. Agricultural economics

This specialized branch of economics concentrates on the production and consumption of farm-based resources. You learn to analyze data affecting the farming industry in order to help policy makers and agricultural organizations make better decisions. Topics of study often include farm management, agricultural marketing, and agribusiness law.

  • Median salary—$67,000

8. Nursing

Do you feel called to care for the sick and injured? The training offered by nursing programs can prepare you to support the physical, emotional, or mental well-being of patients in hospitals, care homes, rehabilitation centers, doctors' offices, or other clinical settings. The huge demand for nurses across the country means that graduates of these programs may not have to look far to find opportunities.

  • Median salary—$66,000

9. Industrial and organizational psychology

Applying psychological principles to worker behavior is what industrial and organizational psychology is all about. This type of program aims to train you to examine things like employee recruitment policies, workplace training programs, and worker attitudes and motivations with an eye to helping improve the overall function of a business.

  • Median salary—$66,000

10. Meteorology

The study of atmospheric conditions and phenomena is the foundation of meteorology. In this kind of program, you learn to observe, explain, and predict weather changes and events. You also explore the relationship between climactic conditions and life on earth. Airlines, agricultural firms, broadcasting stations, and energy companies are just a few examples of places that hire meteorology graduates.

  • Median salary—$66,000

11. Public policy

Drawing on elements of sociology, economics, and political science, public policy programs train you to evaluate and analyze the laws and regulations that govern and affect our society. Courses typically cover topics such as constitutional law, ethics, labor economics, and public finance. Public policy students learn to assess and compare proposed solutions to societal problems. Graduates can find work in all levels of government.

  • Median salary—$65,000

12. Chemistry

Chemistry is the study of the basic properties of matter. It involves investigating how substances interact with energy and how they can combine to form brand new substances. For example, the principles of chemistry can explain how vinegar cleans glass, how sunlight helps plants grow, and how aspirin relieves a headache. With a bachelor's degree in chemistry, you can find work as a research assistant or lab technician.

  • Median salary—$64,000

13. Political science

Broadly speaking, political science programs focus on the underpinnings and operations of the institutions of power. You learn about a variety of ideologies, policies, and processes that form the basis for political activities all over the world. Political science graduates often end up working in government departments, law firms, media outlets, and private corporations.

  • Median salary—$64,000

14. Marketing

Influencing consumers to buy particular products or services is the essence of marketing. This type of program teaches you how to identify a target audience, analyze market data to develop pricing strategies, and devise the best ways to promote what you're selling. This kind of training can prepare you for a career as a marketing researcher or consultant; you could also pursue opportunities in the advertising field.

  • Median salary—$63,000

15. Forestry

Did you know that forestry programs are not just about trees? They're actually about learning how to manage forest resources and whole ecosystems in a sustainable way. Courses explore a range of topics, from geology and soil science to entomology and natural resource management. A degree in forestry can lead to a wide range of careers: arborist, environmental consultant, park ranger, and many others.

  • Median salary—$62,000

16. Business management and business administration

There's a lot of overlap between business management and business administration: Fundamentally, both fields are about understanding and optimizing the functions of a company. Both feature courses in marketing, ethics, and accounting. But management tends to look at big-picture issues such as expansions and mergers while administration focuses more on the daily operation of a business. Either degree will stand you in good stead.

  • Median salary—$62,000

17. International relations

Majoring in international relations involves studying politics, law, languages, history, geography, and more. You learn about cultural concerns, social issues, and economic trends that can affect the way governments and societies interact. International relations graduates often find jobs in the foreign service, state department, or other government agencies; opportunities are also available in the private sector.

  • Median salary—$62,000

18. Microbiology

Are you curious about those tiny organisms that can only be seen with the aid of powerful telescopes? Microbiology focuses on the study of bacteria, algae, viruses, protozoa, and fungi. You learn how these microbes can be used to produce better crops, prevent food spoilage, and make medicines and drugs. The health, agriculture, and biotechnology industries all need people with training in microbiology.

  • Median salary—$62,000

Median Earnings for Each Broad Academic Area

The Georgetown University report found that among 15 broad categories of college graduates with bachelor's degrees, those who pursued architecture and engineering majors earned the most, while education majors earned the least. Here are the median annual wages for college grads between the ages of 25 and 59 in each academic area:

Highest-Paying Majors

Keep in mind that salaries can vary considerably, even within the same category. For instance, the top 25 percent of education majors earned more than the bottom 25 percent of architecture and engineering grads. The lowest 25 percent of earners in architecture and engineering also made less than the average health or business grad. So just be sure to put the numbers into proper perspective.

Take Control of Your Training

The highest-paying majors are concentrated in the engineering field, but rewarding opportunities are available in many other academic areas as well. What do you consider the best college majors? Have you thought about how to pursue them? The job-driven training offered by vocational colleges and technical institutes can help you take the first step toward a fulfilling career in a huge array of occupational sectors. And it's easy to find programs near you. Just enter your zip code into the following search tool to explore convenient training options in your area!

1 Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce, The Economic Value of College Majors, website last visited on October 3, 2017.