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Highest paying college majors

Find the highest starting salaries with these majors

by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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Introduction

Your education is worth more than the job you land after you graduate. College years gives you the chance to study across various disciplines, from ancient history to the newest advances in biotechnology. It’s a time for you to see how big and complicated the world you live in is and form a general idea of your place in it.

Finding the right career for yourself is a big part of that, and it helps to know which majors tend to offer the highest starting salaries. After all, money may not be everything, but it does pay the rent.

We looked at sources like The Michigan State Collegiate Employment Research Institute and PayScale to find the most profitable college majors of 2016-2017. We also looked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see how different fields are on track to grow over the next decade (from 2014-2024).

The majors are separated into three categories: STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), business and humanities. Our goal here is to highlight two majors from each of these categories as leading to the highest paying careers directly out of college. A STEM major like biology can lead to high-paying career in medicine, or, with a business major, you can become a successful investment banker or economic analyst. However, these career paths require advanced graduate school degrees. The majors we discuss have the highest-paying starting and median salaries and the best projected job growth specifically for people with undergraduate degrees.

Keep in mind that starting salaries reflect general trends rather than definitive guarantees about your own income. These numbers are also subject to change over the next few years, and salary will vary greatly by location.

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STEM majors

On average, the majors with the highest-paying starting salaries are in the STEM fields. If you think you want to work in the STEM sector, here are your top picks for majors.

Engineering

Engineering is a sort of umbrella field that encompasses several different concentrations. The demand for engineers has not changed much over the last few years, and it is also not expected to fall drastically over the next decade. Here are some quick specs.

  • Base salary: $50,000

  • Median salary: $85,000-$100,000

  • Expected growth: 4-5 percent

  • Popular specialties: Petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering, computer engineering

Computer science

With a computer science degree, you can work in a variety of sectors, from IT and troubleshooting to software development. Computer science is among the most popular majors because of the job growth in the tech sector. Here’s what you can expect to earn.

  • Base salary: $60,000

  • Median salary: $110,000

  • Expected growth: 15-17 percent

  • Popular specialties: IT, software development, systems analysis

Further advice

The STEM fields also have several other degrees with starting salaries that hover around $60,000 or above. Majoring in biology can lead to a career in medicine. A major in mathematics can help you land a job in operations management.

Person typing on laptop

Business and finance majors

Majoring in business can lead you to a career filled with facts, figures, organization plans and networking. You can also continue your studies in graduate school to get an MBA. Here are some majors with high starting salaries.

Business management

If you’re a business major, consider making business management your specialty. Careers in management and management information systems allow you to apply the principles you learn in college to help solve industry problems.

  • Base salary: $70,000

  • Median salary: $85,000

  • Expected growth: 10 percent

  • Popular specialties: Systems managers, management consulting,

Finance

Majoring in finance will rarely start you with a high-paying salary, but the need for financial advisors and accountants has not decreased in recent years. In fact, accounting majors are among the most dependable majors you can choose for finding steady work.

  • Base salary: $50,000

  • Median salary: $80,000

  • Expected growth: 12 percent

  • Popular specialties: Personal finance advisor, accountant, statistician

Further advice

Popular business major options include accounting, marketing and economics. An MBA will also help you advance your career and lead to a higher salary.

College girl reading book

Humanities majors

Humanities tend to have a bad reputation when it comes to high-paying jobs, and it’s not without reason. Still, a humanities major gives you a wide variety of communication and critical thinking skills you can use in a variety of careers. You just have to figure out the best way to market them.

English

Of all the humanities majors, English has the best track record for a starting salary, even though it is far below the STEM and business fields. In fact, there’s been a recent push for tech companies to hire English majors.

  • Base salary: $40,000

  • Median salary: $55,000

  • Expected growth: 2-3 percent

  • Popular specialties: Editing, creative writing, education

Art/Design

Art or design majors usually want to work in a field that indulges their creative sides. Graphic design and advertising sectors hire art majors, though job there is not a lot of projected growth with these jobs.

  • Base salary: $33,000

  • Median salary: $47,000

  • Expected growth: 1 percent

  • Popular specialties: Graphic design, advertising, teaching, fine arts

Further advice

Majoring in the humanities is not a fast track to a clear career. You’ll have to market yourself creatively and build your resume with internships to land a high-paying job. If you’re intent on majoring in the humanities, consider a double major or a minor in something like business or STEM to make yourself more marketable. You should also consider working a starter job in college that could be a stepping stone to your career. A starter job can give you valuable work experience you can use when you’re looking for a job full time.

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Conclusion

You should use your time in college to explore new ideas and take classes in subjects you’ve never studied to help you make the right career choice. Take chances with electives, and broaden your education every chance you get. If you find a subject you’re passionate about, talk to an advisor to find out about career options.

It never hurts to be a bit cautious and find a major with a strong record of consistent employment and a good starting salary. Keep in mind though, that a major is no guarantee of career success. You’ll have to put in the work to find the career path that will help you excel professionally.

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by David Chandler, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

David Chandler, Ph.D., writes for the ConsumerAffairs Research team to help consumers make smart purchasing decisions. David is passionate about creating content that is useful and informative, and he devotes several hours to researching companies, industries and articles for each piece of content he writes to help consumers find what they need.