The Best Paying Undergrad College Degrees

September 8, 2009

Cool little piece on the best paying undergrad college degrees has this accompanying graph.

(Parts of the graph aren’t showing up very well on wordpress, so feel free to head over there to check it out.)

Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary
Degrees Degrees
Methodology
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.

If you’re thinking about choosing your major, my only advice has stayed the same over the years: Go as technical as you think you can handle.

Many employers assume that, if you have a technical degree they can teach you the other stuff. Very few of them assume that if you have a liberal arts degree they can teach you the technical side.

11 Responses to “The Best Paying Undergrad College Degrees”


  1. Guess I’m screwed! English major here, although I am pretty computer literate and creative as well. Sucks, though, that us “liberal arts” types are typically passed over because we sometimes can’t prove, on paper (read: résumé) that we have any technical know-how. Luckily, I’m not in it for the $$$. That can come later if it wants.

    Still, good reference for those out there who are into the super-technical sorts of professions.

  2. Gaston Says:

    Choosing what to study based in how much you are likely to end up earning is very greedy and I would say characteristic of the way things are done in the US. I’m very sorry for you, you have a pathetic idea of what is important. After all, people who choose like this, end up being “in it for the gold”. I suggest you review this ideas.

    • politicalmath Says:

      I think you missed the point. I study philosophy, literature, and history voraciously. But I don’t have my degree in these things because only a very small percentage of people who get a degree in philosophy actually get to “do” philosophy.

      One of the things this chart is telling you (albeit subtly) is “If you want to actually do what you studied, pick something at the top. People will pay you for it.”

      As an example, inside of university my father completed most of his Masters degree in Applied Statistics and got a wonderful job in it. Outside of university, he studied T.S. Elliot, James Joyce, Plato, Descartes, Kafka, Shakespeare, John Calvin, the history of the American Civil War… the list goes on.

      I challenge you to find someone who studied these things in university and then picked up applied statistics in their off time.

  3. Nathan Says:

    Conspicuously absent is math, an extremely technical major that doesn’t seem to pay well after graduation.

    • politicalmath Says:

      If you follow the link, mathematics is #13 (out of over 70 majors), between biochemistry and civil engineering.

      I don’t know where to get the data, but I’d be curious to see if math majors are more likely to do graduate work. If so, it might lead to higher paying jobs down the line.

  4. Amanda Says:

    Perhaps this emphasizes your point, but you ought to note that the graph does not limit itself to jobs in the same field as what the degrees are in. (See http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/salary-report.asp – they say “All jobs are included, not just those specific to the major. …. For example, a history major may choose a job in a general business field.”)

    It also surprises me that you can earn up to $109K with only a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. It might be interesting (if you could find the data) to see how much of that money really goes to “cost of living” expenses. Many big aerospace jobs are located on the west coast (e.g. southern California, Washington state, etc.) where there are higher taxes, higher property costs, and so on. Within the field, there is even a large difference in salary. As an intern, I realized this when I was in California one summer and Texas the next summer. (My pay grade had been bumped up, but I received a $2/hour cut in pay because I had moved from California to Texas.)

    Yet another thing to note is that huge companies pay more because they can. I can name several large corporations that employ engineers, but not so many that employ historians.

    • politicalmath Says:

      You’re right… the data as it is certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.

      I’d actually be surprised if this is all due to B.S. study. I think is a pretty simple “What was your undergrad degree? What do you make?” survey. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the people with degrees toward the top also were more likely to attend graduate school of some kind (which would also bump up the salaries).

      Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s also a certain level of “self-selection bias” in here too. I’ll bet that people who choose some of these degrees are interested in making more money, so they pursue that goal, so they achieve it.

  5. Joseph Somsel Says:

    I would note that nuclear engineering pays even MORE than aerospace but is too small a field to be included in the survey.

  6. Tom Says:

    Speaking from experience, Economics degrees are NOT worth 6-figures without graduate education.

  7. Trina Panama Says:

    There is evidently a lot for me to learn outside of my books. Thanks for the great read,


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