Which College Degrees Pay the Most?

Pile of Money

When undergraduates pick a major, it is often a personal, not a financial, decision. For some, a major is an extension of their natural strengths. For others, it is a reflection of what they value. A major taps into what intrigues them – or gives them the most joy. If a student takes apart complex instruments to see how they work, she’ll probably gravitate towards engineering. If she relishes self-expression, you probably have a budding theater (or political science) major.

Ultimately, a major isn’t necessarily a career choice. But it does push students towards a certain path. Even more, it sets parameters for how much they can earn after graduation. Their $29,000 student loans – on average – come due quickly. Once they enter the job market, pay takes on greater importance.

Business majors are no different. According to a 2013 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the average starting salary for the class of 2013 was $45,327 (a 2.4 percent increase over the previous year). Business majors averaged $55,635, a 7.9 percent increase from 2012 to 2013. Some majors, such as engineering ($62,062) and computer sciences ($58,547) performed better than business. Others, including communications ($43,835), math and sciences ($42,731), education ($40,337), and humanities ($37,791) fared worse.


What’s more, some business majors paid more than others, NACE shows. Management Information Systems (MIS) topped the list at $60,300 to start, followed by logistics ($59,500), finance ($58,100), economics ($56,300), management ($56,000), accounting ($53,500), and marketing ($51,900). In fact, finance salaries jumped by $5,300 over the previous year for new grads, while starting salaries for marketing and economics dropped over the same time period.

In short, business majors are doing well comparatively. But one question is certain to arise: Which schools deliver the highest starting salaries?  Among business majors, the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Virginia top the list, with business majors netting median starting salaries of $70,000 according to U.S. News and World Report.

Among all majors, the real winner is Carnegie Mellon University. That was the finding of a recent study conducted by NerdWallet, a website devoted to helping college students make informed financial decisions. For example, the site offers a proprietary tool where students can compare up schools in areas like employment rates, starting salaries, and graduate school placement. Through recent research, NerdWallet was able to pinpoint the 50 highest-paying degree programs in the United States.