The Top 10 Highest-Earning Undergraduate Degrees
As the third decade of the 21st century rolls forward, the value of an undergraduate college degree remains high—and durable. That’s especially the case with the highest paying degrees.
According to a report from The New York Federal Reserve, the average college student who graduates with a bachelor’s degree earns, on average, 75% more than a high school graduate heading straight out into the working world ($78,000 for college graduates versus $45,000 for high school graduates.)
Even once the cost of college tuition is factored in, a college graduate may stand a better chance of out earning a high school graduate over their career. Of course, some college degrees are worth more than others, particularly to graduates facing significant student loan debt.
The Top 10 Highest Earning Undergraduate Degrees
To get a better grip on the topic, let’s examine the highest-paying “Top 10” undergraduate college degrees, and see which highest paying majors are the cream of the crop, income-wise, for a fresh-out-college graduate.
1. Petroleum Engineering
Right out of college, a petroleum engineering major is a top-paying degree for college graduates.
According to Payscale.com the average salary petroleum engineer stands at just under $94,500 for the first five years out of undergraduate college.
After 10 years on the job in the field, that average salary rises to $129,774.
A career in petroleum engineering may take several paths, including the design of equipment and tools to extract oil and gas under the sea or land, as an analyst who tests the veracity and abundance of oil and gas underground, or as specialized technicians who develop methods to inject chemicals and gases into reserves to extract oil and gas.
2. Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering graduates with less than one year in the field earn, on average, $86,282, according to data from Indeed.com .
If an electrical engineer major lasts 10 years in the field, he or she can earn an average of $142,200 according to Payscale, making it one of the highest-paying career fields for college graduates.
Top skills and qualifications in the electrical engineering sector include systems analysis, architectural engineering, and professional engineering, Indeed reports.
3. Applied Economics
Bachelor degree holders in applied economics earn an average salary of $58,900 in their first five years out of college Payscale reports. That pay scale rises to $140,000 after 10 years in the applied economics field, Payscale reports.
Most economics majors start out in select fields like business analyst, human resources specialist, insurance underwriter and supply chain manager. Additionally, it’s common for applied economics majors to go on to careers working in the public sector, usually at the local state and federal government levels.
4. Operations Research
Starting out in the operations research field leads to an average salary of $77,900, according to Payscale, with an average salary of $137,100 with 10 or more years of experience, the company reports.
Career-wise, operations research is deemed as an applied science, primarily tasked to solve business financial issues in a wide variety of fields, including manufacturing and industrial, transportation, health care services, finance and investment, and public policy and government sectors.
The field of operations research calls for robust skills in mathematics, system modelling, and statistical data research using advanced technology tools.
5. Political Economist
A career in the political economy field can yield immediate dividends in salary, with the average salary for career professionals with between zero-and-five years’ experience clocking in at $57,600 with salary levels rising to $136,200 after 10 years in the sector.
The skills necessary to succeed in a career as a political economist include a strong practicing knowledge of microeconomics, macroeconomics, political theory, U.S. public policy, international political economy, and quantitative economic modeling methods, according to MyMajors .
6. Actuarial Mathematics
In the actuarial mathematics world, numbers matter—especially the median salary of $63,300 for the first five years in the field, according to Payscale. Further advancement in the sector yields a media salary of $135,100 after 10 or more years as an actuarial mathematician.
College graduates who enter the field are expected to excel in the fields of mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to help their companies and organization get a better understanding of intricate risk management. Most actuaries, however, wind up working for insurance companies.
7. Electrical Power Engineering
A variation of electrical engineering that focuses on the utility sector, electrical power engineers command a median salary of $72,400 right out of college, with an upgrade to a median of $134,700 after 10 years as an engineer.
Electrical power engineers spend their careers on the grid.They’re counted on by utility companies to design, maintain and repair, when needed, generators, turbines and other power-related systems.
A thorough knowledge of power grids—especially electrical, nuclear and alternative energy grids—is expected from electrical power engineers.
8. Business Analysis
A business analyst major, also known as a data analyst or a business operations analyst, can expect to earn a median salary of $57,200 right out of college, and can expect to earn $133,200 with 10 years of experience in the field.
On the job, business analysts are constantly sifting through data to find opportunities to improve a company and make it run more efficiently.
Business analysts must be solid communicators, well versed in business or information technology services, and in many cases as that career path advances, be able to manage analytical teams and make sure that that the business data systems used to dissect analyze and disseminate data are properly implemented and are tested regularly and accurately.
9. Pharmacy Careers
A pharmacy major can walk right into a new career post with a median salary of $79,600 for graduates with zero-to-five years’ experience in the field, and earn a median salary of $132,000 with 10-years’ experience as a pharmacy specialist.
In general, pharmacists issue prescription medications to health care consumers and provide specialized expertise in the safe use of prescriptions on a regular basis. Pharmacy majors may move on to posts as retail store pharmacists, hospital or clinic pharmacists, or as marketing and sales professionals in the pharmaceutical industry, among other vocations.
A career in aeronautics may be lucrative, as well. The median salary for an aeronautics or astronautics college graduate starts at a median of $73,100 for years zero through five, and moves up to $131,600 after 10 years in the field.
A career in the aeronautics industry may take a graduate to a diverse set of vocations, including pilot or flight engineer, aviation and aeronautical design, aviation safety, or as an aeronautics drafter or engineer. By and large, the industry skill sets needed suits math and science majors. That said, aeronautics majors with solid business skills may wind up in a career as an airport manager or work as a manager at a major airline company or at an aviation manufacturing company.
By and large, the majors included in the Top 10 list come from the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), which also may be tied to schools with the highest tuition rates.
Money certainly isn’t everything a college graduate desires once the cap and gown are tucked away and the real career work starts.
That said, if a sterling salary with a clear path to a secure financial future matter, the fields of study listed above may be a good starting point for someone in the process of choosing their college major.
With the average cost of tuition for the 2020-21 school year at a four-year private university is approximately
$41,411 . A private loan could help plug any college financing gaps and help pave the way for a solid educational experience for borrowers.
That said, private student loans or personal loans should only be considered after all other college financing options, including federal student loans, grants, work study aid, and scholarships.
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