New Reports Reveal the Class of 2016 Highest-Paying Majors in Business and Humanities

Posted By Terri Williams on May 13, 2016 at 5:07 pm
New Reports Reveal the Class of 2016 Highest-Paying Majors in Business and Humanities

Many college students graduating with degrees in a business or humanities discipline are on track to earn much more than the median annual wage for the average U.S. worker – which currently stands at an unimpressive $36,200, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Before the ink on their diplomas is dry, some humanities grads will earn almost $12,000 more than the median wage, and some business grads will earn almost $24,000 more.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveyed its member employers to obtain projected salaries for 2016 graduates. The results, published in NACE’s 2016 Salary Survey, list the eight highest-paying business majors and the six highest-paying humanities majors.

Projected salaries for business majors with a bachelor’s degree

Among business grads with a bachelor’s degree, Management Information Systems is projected to be the highest-paying major:

Highest-paying business majors Median annual wage
1 Management Information Systems $60,000
2 Logistics/Supply chain $55,000
3 Actuarial Science $55,000
4 Economics $54,000
5 Finance $54,000
6 Accounting $54,000
7 Business Administration/Management $50,250
8 Sales $50,000


Projected salaries for humanities majors with a bachelor’s degree

While philosophers tend to grapple with abstract issues, they have a concrete lead in salaries among humanities graduates with a bachelor’s degree:

Highest-paying humanities majors Median annual wage
1 Philosophy $48,000
2 Visual & Performing Arts $46,000
3 History $46,000
4 Foreign Language & Literature $43,250
5 English Language & Literature $43,500
6 Liberal Arts/General Studies $45,000


Management Information Systems is the highest-paying business major

Most people would not have correctly guessed that Management Information Systems (MIS) would be the most lucrative business major – in fact, some people would assume that MIS is a technology degree. Actually, MIS merges business and technology. For example, students may take accounting, business law, economics, finance, and strategic management classes, but they may also take courses in business programming, business database management, and systems analysis and design.

According to Michigan Tech, graduates with this degree can pursue a variety of career options, including:

  • Business systems analyst
  • Management analyst
  • Network administrator
  • Client-server support specialist
  • Specialist data network analyst

Joe Devine, a partner at Bridge Technical Talent, tells GoodCall that information technology is a vital part of every organization. “Companies that unlock technology internally and in their product or service offerings will gain a competitive advantage in their marketplace and improve their profit margins.”

And he says that MIS students are so valuable – and highly paid – because they’ve (1) learned about information systems, (2) become knowledgeable in the functions of business, and (3) are cognizant of the impact of technology on business.

Of course, not every business major will choose a concentration in MIS, but Devine advises business students to take as many MIS classes as they can – and consider pursuing a minor in MIS if it’s available. “Companies will always need accountants, marketers, and other business majors, but MIS majors can directly impact how companies use information systems to build a competitive edge,” explains Devine. “It’s no wonder they’re receiving the highest starting salaries.”

And, it’s possible for these grads to command even higher wages. “Students pursuing MIS degrees that also attend a college or university that intentionally builds workforce readiness skills like teamwork and communications will see their salaries start even higher,” says Devine.

Humanities majors possess soft skills in high demand

As Americans, we have a tendency to measure success by income levels. And we may underestimate the value of skills gained by students who pursue majors that may not pay as much as some business, tech, and healthcare degrees. Dr. William Carpenter, chair of the Department of English at High Point University, tells GoodCall, “Liberal arts majors often develop precisely the skills and attributes that enable them to learn on the job, take initiative, and manage large projects.”

Carpenter says that these students develop strong communication skills, empathy, intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking skills. “They know how to learn: that is, they can enter new situations and quickly determine what needs to be done and what resources are required.” And, he notes that liberal arts graduates are adept at cultivating partnerships, synthesizing information from various sources, and adapting to office culture, making them highly desirable employees.

Also, if history has taught us nothing else, we would do well to remember that the only constant is change. The “hot” job today may not be in demand a few years from now. Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University, warns GoodCall readers against choosing a field of study based on the opportunity to gain a high salary.”

Paulson explains, “As every prospectus notes, ‘Past results may not be indicative of future performance,’ and the world – and demand for specific occupations – can change very quickly.”  He notes that law was once the “hot” career, but now, there are a lot of underemployed lawyers. “I continue to believe that students are best served pursuing studies in fields that intrigue, motivate and move them.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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