Within four years of graduation, some majors can earn as much as $256,539, while others earn less than $10,000 per year, according to a new report from the HEA Group, a higher education and research consulting firm.
The highest-earning careers are those with degrees in so-called STEM fields, or science, technology, engineering and math. Half of the top 10 majors with the highest-earning graduates are engineering subcategories.
Michael Itzkowitz, founder and president of the HEA Group, analyzed data collected by the US Department of Education on more than two million students who received federal financial aid and graduated in 2015 or 2016. His earnings were measured in 2019 and 2020.
Top 10 Highest Paying Careers
- Nuclear Engineering – $131,454 (average salary)
- Biomathematics, Bioinformatics, Computational Biology – $116,918
- Operations Research — $112,097
- Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering – $109,121
- Computer Science — $104,799
- Ocean Shipping — $103,626
- Computer Engineering — $99,063
- Veterinary Medicine – $97,533
- Petroleum Engineering — $96,957
- Systems Engineering — $95,224
Itzkowitz said the careers with the highest earning potential are those that provide specialized technical training in an in-demand field, such as health care or technology.
Nuclear engineering graduates earn the most with an average annual salary of $131,454. Growing demand for clean and renewable energy amid challenges with wind and solar power has fueled the demand for nuclear engineers.
Itzkowitz said engineers in general are needed in a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, cyber security, construction and agriculture. Chemical engineering and industrial engineering, two of the highest-paying college majors in recent years, are also two of the fastest-growing occupations through 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Biology is another major that can open doors to a wide range of high-paying opportunities, and not just in the medical field, Itzkowitz said.
“While many biology students may aspire to go to medical school, some have no problem finding a competitive paying job, such as a biotechnologist or research scientist, right after college,” he said.
Similarly, veterinary medicine is a field that includes a wide range of specializations, from veterinary technicians to veterinarians with “pre-vet” programs, a job that requires a bachelor’s degree in addition to a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. Is required.
War veteran Fred Taylor, a World War II fighter pilot, received his diploma from Cornell College at the age of 101.
Data from the US Department of Education does not currently include salaries for those enrolled in advanced degree programs such as medical and business schools.
Non-engineering majors in the top 10 are biomathematics, shipping, veterinary medicine, computer science and operations research, which typically focus on developing and applying mathematical or simulation models to solve problems with systems.
Jeff Levy, an independent educational consultant in Santa Monica, cautions students not to choose a major solely because of the potential salary. As he previously told CNBC Make It, “There’s no way to know with 100% certainty which professions will pay best in 5 or 10 years.”