10 of the Highest-Paying Degrees That May be Best for You to Study in College

FT Contributor  | 

College is an expensive investment, so it’s important to know you’ll somehow make your money back with a successful career. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average academic cost per year for 2015 was just over $19,000 to attend a public four-year university. With such high tuition expenses, students not only have to know how much to save for college, they’ll also need to know how to face and eliminate high student loan debt once they’ve graduated.

When you attend college, you assume you’re setting yourself up for a financially stable future with your college degree. However, the major you choose can affect how much money you make and the job you can get after graduation. You may want to focus on the following list of top-earning majors if you’re looking for a hefty payoff after you invest in your secondary education.

1. Engineering

Engineering is one of the highest-paying degrees but you’ll need to choose the type of engineering you want to focus on. There are multiple engineering fields, including mechanical, industrial, chemical, metallurgical, aerospace, and more.

Job Description

As an engineer, you’ll learn about the field you’ve chosen and help to design and build devices that assist in that specific industry. For example, if you majored in mechanical engineering, your job may include helping to build cars, compressors,  or other mechanical components.

Educational Requirements

Educational requirements depend on the job you choose, but most engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree. In some cases, you may need to earn your master’s degree or certifications in certain engineering-related programs.

Median Base Salary

The median base salary in the engineering field is $80,170, but it depends on the industry you specialize in and your job title.

Common Jobs

With an engineering degree, you could become a civil, chemical, aerospace, computer hardware, or industrial engineer. There are many different engineering jobs in separate fields to choose from.

2. Computer Science

If you major in computer science, your secondary education will focus on computer systems, data structure, and programming.

Job Description

Depending on the job you choose in the field, you could help fix computer system errors, create new computer programs, or develop software applications.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements for your career depends on the job you choose, but in most cases, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science to develop computer programs. You may also need certifications in certain computer programs, depending on what your employer requires.

Median Base Salary

As a computer programmer, you could earn a median base salary of $84,280. Your pay may vary depending on the career path you choose.

Common Jobs

You could become a software engineer, web developer, or computer programmer after earning a degree in computer science.

3. Applied Mathematics

If you love math, applied mathematics can be one of the best college majors to choose because of the potential for high-paying job opportunities after graduation. Make sure you love mathematical problems and principles since that’s what you’ll be studying for four years when earning this degree.

Job Description

What you do with your applied mathematics degree depends on the field you want to enter. You could help analyze large amounts of data, develop statistical techniques for companies, or help with actuarial duties.

Educational Requirements

To snag a high-paying mathematics job, you’ll at least need to earn a bachelor’s degree related to mathematics. You may also be required to have a master’s degree that focuses on the type of mathematical career you want to pursue.

Median Base Salary

The median pay for a job in the mathematics field is about $88,190 per year.

Common Jobs

You could work in a wide range of fields, including insurance, technology, or finance. Some of the most common jobs for applied mathematics majors include an actuary, cost estimator, statistician, or financial planner.

4. Nursing

If you have a passion for helping and caring for sick and injured people, consider majoring in nursing. Not only is it a way to help people, it’s also one of the highest paying majors.

Job Description

As a nurse, you’ll care for the health and wellbeing of patients, either in a hospital or doctor’s office. You may also assist doctors in assessing patients or providing care and treatment.

Educational Requirements

To become a registered nurse, you’ll need to earn your associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Before you can get a job in the field, you may need to become licensed in your state.

Median Base Salary

Registered nurses earn about $71,730 per year as an average base salary.

Common Jobs

The most common job for nursing majors is to become a registered nurse. However, you could also get a job as a case manager or licensed vocational nurse after graduating.

5. Finance

Finance focuses on money management, so you’ll need to have a love for budgeting and numbers if you choose this high-paying degree.

Job Description

The way you use your finance degree depends on the type of job you choose, but in most cases, you’ll help individuals or companies budget, manage, and structure their finances.

Educational Requirements

To become a finance manager, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and you may need to start in an entry-level position and gain at least five years of experience before moving up.

Median Base Salary

If you have big financial goals, a finance degree may be just what you need. Finance managers earn a median annual salary of $127,990.

Common Jobs

In addition to becoming a finance manager, you could also use a finance degree to become an investment banker, financial advisor, or financial analyst.

6. Accounting

When earning your accounting degree, you’ll learn how to read spreadsheets, analyze spending, calculate taxes, and prepare financial statements.

Job Description

As an accountant or auditor, you’re responsible for preparing and examining financial and tax records for a company or individuals.

Educational Requirements

Most accountants earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance. You may also need to be licensed in your state to become a certified public accountant (CPA).

Median Base Salary

The median base salary for an accountant or auditor is around $70,500 per year.

Common Jobs

With your accounting degree, you could become an accountant or auditor for a company or for individuals.

7. Economics

Economics is one of the highest paying majors because it focuses on analyzing consumer or company behavior and patterns to draw conclusions on why resources are allocated the way they are.

Job Description

With a degree in economics, you can snag a variety of jobs, but they’ll mostly focus on analyzing how money is spent in an organization or throughout a customer base. You could work in a number of fields, including insurance, real estate, banking, or with the government.

Educational Requirements

If you want to become an economist, you’ll need a master’s or phD. However, you can start off in the field at a lower position with a bachelor’s degree.

Median Base Salary

Economists can earn a median base pay of $104,340 per year.

Common Jobs

As an economics major, your goal may be to become an economist. However, you could also start as a credit analyst, financial analyst, or insurance underwriter with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

8. Architecture

A degree in architecture will prepare you for a career that involves designing, drafting, and software technology as it relates to building and other structural systems.

Job Description

As an architect, you’ll use your knowledge of building codes and design to create architecture or present ideas for other structures.

Educational Requirements

To become an architect, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and experience in the field. You may also need to pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

Median Base Salary

Architects earn a median annual salary of $79,380.

Common Jobs

With a degree in architecture, you may pursue a job as an architect to design buildings, landscapes, or other structures.

9. Business

A degree in business is one of the highest-paying majors because you’ll learn about business operations and best business practices, which are crucial to help a company grow and thrive.

Job Description

With a business degree, your job options remain open and you could help with account management and business operations, or become an entrepreneur and start your own business.

Educational Requirements

The educational requirements depend on the job, but most business jobs require a bachelor’s degree unless you start with an entry-level position.

Median Base Salary

The median base salary in the business field is $38,640, which includes entry-level positions.

Common Jobs

With a business degree, your job options are open. The most common jobs include a marketing manager, market research analyst, or account manager.

10. Public Policy

With a public policy degree, you’ll study economics, political science, and sociology to learn how to evaluate laws.

Job Description

When you study public policy, you’ll likely get a government job in which you analyze and evaluate current laws to make public policy improvements in your area.

Educational Requirements

Your educational requirements depend on the type of job you want to pursue, but most public administration jobs require that you hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Median Base Salary

The salary you earn depends on the job you pursue. The average base salary for a social or community service manager is $65,320 per year.

Common Jobs

In addition to a social or community service manager, you could use your public policy degree to become a civil service administrator or city manager.

By pursuing one of the highest-paying majors in a field you’re passionate about, you can obtain a job that compensates well and that you enjoy. While education is expensive, these majors can lead to successful positions that can be well worth the investment.


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