Payscale Reveals the Best (and Worst) Paying Bachelor’s Degrees

Posted By Terri Williams on March 25, 2016 at 5:11 pm
Payscale Reveals the Best (and Worst) Paying Bachelor’s Degrees

Money isn’t everything – but it’s pretty high on the average person’s list.  And for students choosing a college major, it’s useful to know the salaries associated with the highest- and lowest-paying degrees.

Payscale compiled a comprehensive list of the salaries of 319 bachelor’s degrees. Included here are the top ten, bottom ten, and ten of the most popular degrees, along with commentary on factors influencing these trends.

Highest-Paying Bachelor’s Degrees

Major Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay
1 Petroleum Engineering $101,000 $168,000
2 Nuclear Engineering $68,200 $121,000
3 Actuarial Mathematics $58,800 $119,000
4 Chemical Engineering $69,500 $118,000
5 Electronics & Communications Engineering $65,000 $116,000
6 Computer Science & Engineering $69,100 $115,000
7 tie Electrical & Computer Engineering $67,000 $114,000
7 tie Systems Engineering $67,100 $114,000
9 Aeronautical Engineering $65,100 $113,000
10 tie Computer Engineering $68,400 $109,000
10 tie Mining Engineering $71,500 $109,000


Lowest-Paying Bachelor’s Degrees

Major Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay
319 Early Childhood Education $30,000 $38,000
317 tie Child Development $31,500 $39,600
317 tie Child & Family Studies $30,900 $39,600
316 Counseling $32,300 $40,900
315 Early Childhood & Elementary Education $32,900 $42,300
314 Human Services $34,100 $43,400
313 Youth Services $32,200 $45,400
312 Elementary Education $34,300 $45,500
311 Social Work $33,200 $45,700
310 Biblical Studies $34,900 $47,100


Salaries for 10 of the Most Popular Degrees

According to a Georgetown University study, these are the most popular majors among college students:

Major Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay
1 Business Management $45,000 $72,100
2 General Business $44,900 $74,500
3 Accounting $46,900 $76,300
4 Nursing $56,600 $73,600
5 Psychology $37,600 $61,800
6 Communication and Mass Media $41,500 $71,400
7 Marketing $44,300 $81,400
9 English Literature $40,400 $75,300
9 Computer Science $63,100 $105,000
10 Finance $51,000 $89,000


GoodCall asked Kristen Zierau, director of executive recruiting at JMJ Phillip Executive Search, to comment on the report and the dominance of STEM degrees. “The trend continues to show that we – as employers – are under-staffed with STEM graduates, which results in higher salaries; nevertheless, that is only one function of the compensation reasoning.”

However, Zierau says the other – and most important – factor is the value of the degree. “From actuarial science to anything in engineering, those are often some of the roles that really drive a company,” says Zierau, who explains, “For example, insurance companies cannot function without their actuaries, so here you have a whole industry based on the foundation of one particular role – with that level of value and difficulty of the job, it will lead to much higher salary positions.”

And she says, it’s easy to understand why engineers are paid so well. “In many industries, new products cannot be developed or manufactured without engineers, so you see where the value is derived from there.” From nuclear engineers developing reactor cores to petroleum engineers who devise ways to extract oil, gas and minerals, these highly-paid positions require complex skills.

“So much of your degree comes down to what value you can add to a company, and what gaps you can fill in the market; you can have a great salary coming out of college if you choose the right path,” says Zierau.

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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