The 10 Highest Paid Degrees

Which degrees gives you the most bang for your buck

By Pawan Naidu

While a bachelor’s degree isn’t the only avenue to obtain a job that gives us financial independence, it is a path that many teenagers and parents feel is an investment to transition into adulthood. However, when it comes to money, not all degrees are built the same. Your major largely determines your earning potential, and Payscale recently ranked majors based on alumni salaries.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the top 10 degrees, and whether the salary is going to be worth it.

Note: Early Career Pay is the median salary for alumni with said degree with zero to five years of experience. Mid-Career Pay is the median salary for alumni with said degree with 10 plus years of experience.

10. Electrical Power Engineering

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If you choose this major you can expect to make a salary of $68,600 a year during your early career, which rises to $119,100 after you have worked for 10 plus years. You can take solace in believing you are making the world a better place because 70 percent of alumni say the work they are doing is making the world a better place.

According to Times Higher Education, electrical engineering is the design, building, and maintenance of electrical control systems, machinery, and equipment. Typical employers for electrical engineers are consultancies, the civil service, telecommunications, engineering, computing, construction, energy, manufacturing, transport and utility companies, and the armed forces.

As computer and mobile technology are developing, they become the main areas where electrical engineers are wanted. But you can also choose to work on a freelance basis.

If you choose this path, you will need to demonstrate a high level of mathematics. Programs accept candidates that take advanced level courses in math pre-college, and while in college, students will be required to take high-level mathematics courses as well.

They work mainly in laboratories or office building, and there should be an expectation of working long hours, especially during the end of projects. Also, the jobs as an electrical engineer involve travel both domestically and internationally.

9. Cognitive Science

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Cognitive science is different from the previous major, because you will be earning less in your first five years, but you make up the difference during your mid-career salary. Right out of college a graduate can expect to make $54,000 a year, but the wage picks up to $121,900 towards the middle of your career. Forty percent of alumni say they are doing work that makes the world a better place.

According to UC San Diego, Cognitive Science is an emerging new science of mind and intelligent processes involving humans, animals, and computers. The field spans a wide variety of standard disciplines including psychology, computer science, anthropology, linguistics, biology, and education.

Common employment for cognitive science grads is technology-related positions demanding excellent technical, writing, and speaking skills.

Students should be prepared to undertake courses in psychology and technology as they need to be prepared to communicate to the public, or to the stakeholders of the company they are going to be working for.

The work is typically confined to an office because the job requires a lot of communication-related activities, but there are certain jobs that venture out into the field or a laboratory.

8. Geophysics

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This major has very similar earning potential as a cognitive science degree. A recent graduate can expect to make $54,100 a year after graduation, and see a bump to $122,200 during the middle of their career. However, it is a mystery on how this group of people feels about the job they do because there isn’t any data available on what impact alumni feel they are having in the world.

According to, geophysicists are specialized scientists who study the Earth’s physical properties. They typically do field and lab work for private companies in the engineering and oil industries. They also do governmental geological surveys or environmental protection groups.

To be a geophysicist you will need to have an advanced understanding of geology and mathematics. It is highly recommended to also specialize in chemistry and physics.

Students should be prepared to be on the road a lot. A geophysicist may help locate natural resources like groundwater or petroleum. Others assist with environmental preservation and protection. Many geophysicists, like those that specialize in seismic activities, develop methods and techniques for earthquake monitoring and prediction.

It also helpful to have a knowledge of data analysis, digital mapping and other forms of computer modeling.

7. Economics and Mathematics

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I’m not exactly sure if we’re ever going to need to trigonometry in our jobs or day-to-day life like are teachers told us, but having an advanced understanding of math helps the bank account. A person can expect to make around $60,000 a year soon after they graduate, and see a pay increase of $122,900 during the middle of their career. However, it needs to be mentioned that only 36 percent of alumni feel like they’re making a difference in the world.

According to Wake Forest, they have a program that combines these two majors and it allows students to apply mathematical methods to the development of economic theory, models and quantitative analysis.

Some of the most popular jobs with a degree in economics and mathematics are accountant, investment banker or financial consultant.

It safe to say you are going to be required to have advanced mathematics skills, but there are other skills that are required as well. Analytical skills are vital and a person is also going to have to be able to recognize patterns and hidden similarities within groups of data.

Jobs in these fields are typically done in office buildings but certain jobs like accountant and investment banker might require a significant amount of traveling.

6. Marine Engineering

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Now just because you fixed up a boat with your dad as a kid, doesn’t mean you get to walk around calling yourself a marine engineer. It takes a bit more education to consider yourself a marine engineer, and they are compensated well for it.

This is where we start kicking things up a notch. A marine engineer can expect to make $73,900 after college, which rises to $123,200 during the middle of a person’s career. Also, marine engineers sleep pretty well at night because 68 percent say they are doing something good in the world.

Marine engineers are responsible for the design and construction of seagoing vessels and structures, focusing primarily on their internal systems. Simply put, they design the onboard electrical, environmental and propulsion systems aboard everything from oil platforms to cruise ships.

Courses you should expect to take in college are electrical engineering, fluid dynamics, and power production. It would be a wise investment to also take a number of designing courses.

Like all engineering degrees, it requires a strong understanding of math and science. To be successful, you should not only have a strong understanding of the ocean but a childlike fascination as well.

Although most of a marine engineer’s work can be performed in an office, there are times when sea trials are part of the job. Marine engineers may spend time aboard ship to test how the vessel performs, or to gather information for maintenance or an upcoming retrofit.

Engineers who specialize in offshore drilling may spend some time on the oil rig to supervise maintenance or repair efforts involving the rig’s mechanical systems.

5. Chemical Engineering

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen at Unsplah

We have reached the top five and these next degrees have some attractive financial benefits, but also require a passion and a work ethic to thrive in the field.

Those of you who are thinking of pursuing a chemical engineering major can expect to make $70,300 a year after graduation. You can also expect an uptick in salary to $124,500 during the middle of your career. And over half of alumni feel they have a positive impact on the world.

According to Times Higher Education, chemical engineering can be defined as the supervision and design of chemical reactions on an industrial scale, for the purposes of energy production or human development in general.

Along with chemistry, a student will typically also be required to demonstrate sufficient understanding of other science fields before graduating. Students should also take business and economics courses. Chemical engineering will come with cost analysis and management responsibilities.

Chemical engineers will find jobs directly related to their profession in the energy sector. The engineer will be involved in the development of existing processes and the creation of new avenues for enhancing energy usage and extraction and is closely related to professions such as a nuclear or petroleum engineer.

Chemical engineering might have new opportunities today and the future, because it will be important in the global shift towards renewable energy such as solar and hydroelectric, requiring innovation and development to ensure these sources can meet our energy needs.

4. Nuclear Engineering

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This is one major that tends to get a lot of people, not only engineers, excited. This exciting field offers prospects appealing financial benefits. A graduate can expect to make $69,000 soon after graduation, and $127,000 a year when they are in the middle of their career. This is a highly satisfied filed, with 72 percent of alumni saying they are having a positive impact on the world.

According to College Grad, nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials.

Nuclear engineers are at the forefront of developing uses of nuclear material for medical imaging devices, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. They also may develop or design cyclotrons, which produce a high-energy beam that the healthcare industry uses to treat cancerous tumors.

Programs of nuclear engineering usually are “cooperative education” where students take courses but also gain experience working in the field. Students should expect to take advanced courses in math and science.

The careers typically associated with a nuclear engineering degree are civil engineers, electrical and electronic engineering technicians, electrical and electronic engineers, health and safety engineers, mechanical engineers, physicists, and astronomers.

Nuclear engineers typically work in offices. However, their work setting varies with the industry in which they are employed. For example, those employed in power generation and supply work in power plants. Many nuclear engineers work for the federal government and for consulting firms.

3. Actuarial Science

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This major might not reap immediate benefits compared to previous ones on this list, but it makes up for it later on. Students majoring in actuarial science can expect to make $61,200 a year after graduation, and see more than double in pay increase in the middle of their career with $130,800. A little over 40 percent of alumni say they are doing something good in the world.

Actuarial science is statistical analysis involving mathematics, statistics and financial economics.

While many think actuaries are confined to number crunching, there are opportunities to branch out to work in advertising, politics, and engineering, according to All About Careers.

Students should expect to take advanced courses in mathematics and science in college. It might also be useful to take business courses to advise the companies they will be working for.

It was previously mentioned that the degree can be branched out to other fields but the most common fields taken by graduates are statistical analyst and advisor to companies.

2. Actuarial Mathematics

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Actuarial mathematics is very similar to actuarial science. There is a difference in what they look at though. There is a slight pay decrease for starting salaries after graduation, but an increase when a person is in the middle of their career.

A recent graduate can expect to make $56,400 a year while receiving a significant pay increase to $131,700 later on. Almost half of the alumni feel their work is providing good in the world.

According to College Grad, actuaries working with math analyze the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. They use mathematics, statistics and financial theory to assess the risk of potential events, and they help businesses and clients develop policies that minimize the cost of that risk. Actuarial mathematicians’ work is essential to the insurance industry.

They must have a strong background in mathematics, statistics, and business. It would also be useful to take courses that help develop skills to make spreadsheets and other computer modeling.

Typically people pursue careers as accountants, analysts, and financial advisors. Actuaries usually work with teams and in office settings. However, those who work in consulting firms may need to travel.

1. Petroleum Engineering

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There you have it, if a student wants to have the highest earning potential after college they should major in petroleum engineering. A starting salary after graduation is a staggering $94,600 and that elevates to a whopping $175,500 during the middle of their career. Most people sleep well at night because 65 percent of alumni say they are doing good in the world.

Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. They also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

While a student is in college, they will take classes that include laboratory work and field studies in areas such as engineering principles, geology, and thermodynamics. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.

Students can expect to find work as architectural and engineering managers,
chemical engineers, civil engineers, geological and petroleum technicians, geoscientists, industrial engineers, mechanical engineers, mining, and geological engineers.

Oil and gas companies are typically the businesses that employ petroleum engineers. Also, be prepared to work more than 40 hours a week and travel to drilling sites.

I sure you noticed how many engineering degrees are on this list. So it might be worth considering becoming an engineering if financial rewards are really important to you when you choose a career. Almost all these careers require a high level of understanding in math and science.

STEM courses might not be your cup of tea and money might not be the most important thing to you. But if you are looking to use college to make as much money as you can, you should prioritize math and science courses.

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