The Highest Paying Majors (and Schools)

Highest Paid 2

Historically, business has ranked as the most popular undergraduate major. With business, there’s something for everyone. Value steady work? You won’t find a more stable job than accounting. Creative and puckish? You definitely belong in advertising. If you’re competitive, you can channel your drive into beating your sales quota. And if you love to run the show, you can always choose between management and entrepreneurship.

And business pays well too. Who hasn’t seen their local insurance broker breeze past them in a beamer on his way to the country club? In fact, business majors at 48 schools pull down $100,000 or more per year, on average, by the mid-point of their career. Despite the image of business graduates lounging on an Antilles beach or popping Cristal in some swank nightspot, they are far from the highest paid college graduates – particularly among those who’ve only earned their bachelor’s degree. If you want to pull down the big bucks, there is one major that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Are you ready? Here it is: That major is engineering. You know, those majors that you rarely see on campus due to their ridiculous workloads. You’ve probably heard them referred to “geeks” and “lab rats.” If you major in the liberal arts, their tips will be your sole source of income someday. When you become a manager, you’ll give them the floor to mask your bewilderment with technology.



How dominant is engineering in pay? According to August data released by PayScale, a leading data warehousing firm that specializes in employee compensation, 13 of the 14 highest-paying jobs by mid-career involve engineering. The list is headed by petroleum engineers, who search the globe for oil and gas reservoirs below the Earth’s surface. By mid-career, which PayScale characterizes as 10 or more years of experience, petroleum engineers earn a median of $168,000. They are followed by nuclear engineering ($119,000), chemical engineering ($118,000), and electronics and communications engineering ($116,000). In fact, the only major outside of engineering that cracks the top 10 for mid-career pay is actuarial mathematics, a science used in industries like finance and insurance to assess risk. Actuarial majors, which (like petroleum engineering) employs over 80% men, make a median $119,000 annually by mid-career, good for third place on the list.

So how do business majors (without an advanced degree) fare overall? Not so well, I’m afraid. The highest-paying business major, at mid-career, at least – is finance and economics. Ranked 24th overall, these graduates gross $101,000. Other business-related majors that make respectable incomes include economics ($98,500), statistics ($97,600), management information systems ($96,300), finance and real estate ($93,700), and management science ($93,000).


And business majors perform even worse on early career pay, defined by PayScale as 0-5 years out of school. Here, the highest-paying position is arguably an IT job: Business information systems ($58,600), good for 28th on the list. Other business-related positions that pay more early on include accounting and computer systems ($57,000), industrial and labor relations ($56,700), finance and economics ($55,700), statistics ($55,200), and finance and real estate ($55,100).

Par for the course, engineers again dominated early career pay, with petroleum engineers pulling down a median of $101,000 to start. Again, engineering disciplines represented 13 of the 14 highest-paying starting incomes in PayScale’s data, with only dental hygiene – ranking 10th at $65,800 – breaking up the engineering cluster.

Continue to next page to see what various business majors pay