Written by Angela Underwood
Choosing a college major is a big decision. Students must decide to study something that challenges and interests them while balancing the hard realities of the job market and outlook on career paths. A good salary coming out of college is key to a financially secure future, and with increasing student loan debts, choosing a major that yields bigger salaries out of the gate becomes even more desirable.
To show just how valuable some college majors can be, Stacker used data from a 2020 PayScale report to rank the top college majors that alumni make the most money from in their respective professional careers.
The rankings, released in 2021, are based on the highest average mid-career salary. For each major, information is provided about potential jobs, the skills students will attain in school, and Bureau of Labor Statistics projections regarding the likelihood of finding a job upon graduation with a bachelor’s degree.
#10. Electrical Power Engineering
– Early career pay: $76,100
– Mid-career pay: $142,600
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 68%
Designing, manufacturing, and maintaining electrical equipment are the fields of expertise for graduates with electrical power engineering degrees. A downturn in manufacturing and telecommunications will have an adverse effect on job prospects in the next decade, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting only 3% growth. Students can get ahead by internships, and will have to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam to become an engineer-in-training, while further work experience is needed before becoming a professional engineer.
#9. Actuarial Mathematics
– Early career pay: $64,300
Mid-career pay: $143,400
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 51%
Actuaries use math and statistics to analyze and assess financial risk for a business, usually in the finance or insurance fields. The field is relatively small, but competitive, and is expected to explode in the next decade at a rate of 20%. Graduates who pass two actuarial exams and have gained valuable internship experience in college in addition to possessing exceptional business skills, will set themselves apart while seeking a job.
#8. Business Computing
– Early career pay: $73,000
– Mid-career pay: $143,600
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: data not available%
A business computing degree prepares graduates to manage and leverage information systems to support a business. This may even require building new technology systems to maximize efficiency. Alumni of this degree program most often work in information technology roles.
#7. Applied Economics and Management
– Early career pay: $66,100
Mid-career pay: $146,400
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 67%
Applied economics and management majors use economic models to predict financial outcomes based on the decisions of a business or individual. Micro and macroeconomics, statistics, advanced algebra, and finance are just a few of the skills necessary to succeed in the field, which is expected to see solid growth in the next decade. Graduates can find work in public policy, private business, and as financial planners, among other paths.
#6. Operations Research
– Early career pay: $83,500
– Mid-career pay: $147,400
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 54%
The need for increased efficiency among businesses has the demand for operations research analysts projected to grow by 25% in the next decade. Students in the program will learn how to apply practical solutions to complex business problems, using math and statistical analysis to make informed decisions. Since these analysts are needed in a variety of business settings, adding additional specializations, like computer programming, political science, or economics can enhance job prospects.
#5. Public Accounting
– Early career pay: $59,800
– Mid-career pay: $147,700
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 47%
Public accountants offer financial services to businesses and people, like preparing tax documents, auditing financial statements, and providing consulting services. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to find a job in this growing field, as becoming a Certified Public Accountant requires passing an industry exam, ethics exam, and being supervised by a CPA for six months to two years.
#4. Interaction Design
– Early career pay: $68,300
– Mid-career pay: $155,800
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 55%
The very best interaction design—the process of anticipating and facilitating behaviors between users and technology— is undetectable to the user. When you engage with technology through the click of a mouse or touch of your finger, that is the result of interaction design. When a website feels intuitive or responds to your natural behaviors, that, too, is interaction design. While interaction design is a critical component of UX design, or user experience, smaller companies may only hire a UX designer, a more all-encompassing title. Conversely, large companies often break out the components of UX into separate roles, including interaction designers, visual designers, and information architects.
#3. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
– Early career pay: $108,500
– Mid-career pay: $159,300
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 46%
There are a wide range of careers for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science that all involve knowing the workings of both software and hardware for electronic devices. Jobs with this degree vary, from software design for major companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google, to creating systems for the aeronautical field. A firm understanding of computer languages, mathematics, and logic are critical to success, while continued education and certifications can advance job prospects.
#2. Operations Research and Industrial Engineering
– Early career pay: $84,800
Mid-career pay: $170,400
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 28%
Utilizing an operations research and industrial engineering degree means using mathematical models, statistical analysis, and real-time observations to design, optimize, and modify complex systems. Managing the flow of guests through an amusement park or scheduling a city’s bus routes are both examples of large scale and highly complex operational systems. As an industrial engineering and operations research degree holder, you can find work in a wide array of industries that require decisions to be made around safety, optimization, and efficiency, including transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and entertainment.
#1. Petroleum Engineering
– Early career pay: $93,200
– Mid-career pay: $187,300
– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: 67%
Finding and removing oil and natural gas from the Earth falls under the well-paid direction of petroleum engineers. They analyze, design, and implement plans for when a reservoir is found, requiring skills in math, science, mechanical engineering, and physics. The push toward renewable and clean energy may have an adverse impact on job prospects for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, though additional certifications and cooperative programs can boost job prospects.