A Guide to Money-Making: The 10 Highest Paid College Degrees

By Christine Ascher on February 15, 2017
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Though the amount of money that you earn after graduating and entering into the career world depends significantly on the effort that you put into your education, there are generally some majors that earn graduates more money than others.

These tend to be S.T.E.M. majors — meaning that they’re based in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. If you’re hoping to find a job that you enjoy and earn a good salary upon graduation, see if any of the following degrees appeal to you.

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1. Chemical Engineering

According to Forbes, those who major in chemical engineering tend to have the highest average annual starting salary — $63,389 — out of all students with college degrees. Like many other types of engineering, chemical engineers are in high demand and, as such, can command a relatively high salary right out of college.

If you’re wondering what a job in chemical engineering would entail, the website Prospects describes the job of a chemical engineer as one who “designs and develops the processes that make a diverse range of products,” which can include “alter[ing] raw materials into required products while taking into consideration health and safety and cost issues.”

Think, for instance, of the process of oil refining and nuclear power generation; carrying out these processes could be the work of a chemical engineer.

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2. Computer Engineering

Computer engineering comes in a close second in terms of the amount of money that degree-holders earn on average post-graduation, with an average annual starting salary of $63,313.

According to Study.com, “a computer engineer, also called a software engineer, is responsible for developing, testing and evaluating the software that makes our computers work.”

In other words, computer engineers focus on the functioning and efficiency of computer systems. They can also “help in the design of new computer games and business applications,” so if you are innovative and passionate about technology, this may be the right field for you.

3. Electrical Engineering

On average, those graduating with a degree in electrical engineering earn an annual starting salary of $61,173, which ranks third among the highest-earning degrees. Electrical engineers “design, develop, and test electrical equipment” and have many options when it comes to the application of their degree.

The website WorldWideLearn states that “a degree in electrical engineering can qualify you to pursue a job in almost any industry,” given the technological skills that it teaches.

Electrical engineering is a field that requires both a great deal of knowledge concerning engineering practices in general as well as technology and a great deal of creativity — if you like to balance analytical thinking with more creative thinking, this profession will give you the opportunity to do so.

4. Software Design

Graduates who majored in software design earn an average annual starting salary of $60,104, which comes in fourth; typically offered as a subset of software engineering, “those who study software design learn about designing, developing, testing and implementing different types of software and operating systems.”

In terms of career options, graduates with degrees in software design can become, for instance, IT managers, software developers, and systems administrators. To implement your degree further, you can also find “work for software design firms, video game design companies, government agencies or independently.”

5. Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering came in fifth in terms of post-graduate earning potential, according to Forbes, with an average annual starting salary of $59,681. A generally broad sector of engineering, mechanical engineers “research, design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices.”

Essentially, this means analyzing and improving devices that can “range from medical devices to new batteries.” Like electrical engineering, mechanical engineering requires creativity to develop machinery, as well as the math and mechanical skills to back that creative side up.

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6. Computer Programming

Consistent with the trend of well-paid technological fields, computer programming came in sixth for earnings for graduates, with an average annual starting salary of $58,995. Computer programmers often work closely with software developers; according to the website CollegeGrad, they “write and test code that allows computer applications and software programs to function properly.”

Computer programmers use programming languages such as C++ and Java to write programs, as well as to update existing programs. As a profession, computer programming is fairly flexible; many programmers work alone and are able to work from home. If you want to go into a well-paid position that allows you the freedom of choosing your own hours and work location, this field may be for you.

7. Computer Science

According to Forbes, computer science ranks seventh in terms of what degrees make the most money, with an average annual starting salary of $56,974. Similar to a degree in computer programming, computer science majors can go into professions such as IT consulting, web design, or systems developing. Typically, professions for computer science majors include working with applications software, computer systems, and network systems.

8. Civil Engineering

Continuing with the pattern of high-earning engineering degrees, civil engineering has an average annual starting salary of $55,879. Civil engineers can work in a variety of different areas, but generally speaking, it is a major “geared towards those interested in building different structures,” as stated on the website Study.com.

Some of the most popular areas for graduates with degrees in civil engineering include water resource engineering, which entails “technologies that are associated with the flow and quality of water;”structural engineering, which involves developing “buildings and other large structures, while considering their functionality and the materials used;” and transportation engineering, which includes developing “plans for highways and freeways to improve traffic flow.”

9. Management Information Systems

A degree in management information systems is the ninth highest-paid degree for students post-graduation, with an average annual starting salary of $51,690. As described on the website Study.com, jobs involving management information systems “typically cover business and computer systems topics.”

Some possible options for applications of a management information systems degree include as an information systems manager, overseeing “the development, maintenance and functioning of organizations’ computer technology systems;” as a database administrator, using “[your] knowledge of database systems to identify storage needs, upgrade outdated systems and troubleshoot issues;” and as a computer systems analyst, “[assisting] organizations in developing or upgrading their computer systems for specific purposes.”

10. Construction Management

The tenth highest-paid college major, with an average annual starting salary of $49,672, is construction management. As a graduate with a Construction Management degree, you can work for property development companies, housing associations, and urban development organizations, among other enterprises.

According to the website CollegeGrad, construction managers typically take on duties including “[preparing] cost estimates, budgets, and work timetables;” “[interpreting] and [explaining] contracts and technical information to other professionals;” “[collaborating] with architects, engineers, and other construction specialists;” and “[selecting] subcontractors and [scheduling] and [coordinating] their activities.”

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By Christine Ascher

Uloop Writer
Hi! I'm Christine and I'm currently a junior at the University of Southern California, where I study English Literature, Economics, and French.

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