Business Trails STEM In Salaries

Still, business degrees are just not competing with technical degrees in engineering and mathematics. A glimpse at the top 25 major subgroups based on earnings reveals little representation from very much outside of engineering. The highest paid major based on median earnings at ages 25 to 59 is petroleum engineering at $136,000, surging from last year’s report of $120,000. Next is pharmacy with $113,000. But then a slew of various types of engineering take the next eight spots.

The two highest traditional business-related majors, economics and business economics, sneak into the top 25 at numbers 24 and 25, with $76,000 and $75,000 respectively. “STEM comes in first and business comes in a strong second,” Carnevale says. “If you had to pick between the two, based on earnings, computing and engineering is number one.”

Top 25 Majors Ranked By Wages (ages 25-59)

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RankMajor SubgroupMedian Annual Earnings
1Petroleum engineering$136,000
2Pharmacy$113,000
3Metallurgical engineering$98,000
4Mining and mineral engineering$97,000
5Chemical engineering$96,000
6Electrical engineering$93,000
7Aerospace engineering$90,000
8Mechanical engineering$87,000
9Computer engineering$87,000
10Geological and geophysical engineering$87,000
11Computer science$83,000
12Civil engineering$83,000
13Applied mathematics$83,000
14Industrial and manufacturing engineering$81,000
15Physics$81,000
16General engineering$81,000
17Engineering mechanics, physics and science$81,000
18Architectural engineering$80,000
19Engineering and industrial management$78,000
20Statistics and decision science$78,000
21Management information systems and statistics$77,000
22Environmental engineering$76,000
23Miscellaneous engineering$76,000
24Economics$76,000
25Business economics$75,000

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey micro data, 2009-2013.

The researchers do put management information systems and statistics into the larger business category, which ranks 21st with $77,000. The other three specific business majors that earn more than the average of $65,000 are finance, operations, and accounting, at $73,000, $71,000 and $69,000, respectively.

A graduate degree in business does prove lucrative. Once an advanced degree is figured into earnings, finance shoots to the top with a median annual earnings of $101,000. Next is business economics with $100,000 and operations with $97,000. Management information systems and statistics has a much smaller jump to $92,000. The average for all business majors is $87,000.

Median Annual Earnings Of Business Majors (ages 25-59)

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MajorBachelor’sGraduate
Management information systems and statistics$77,000$92,000
Business economics$75,000$100,000
Finance$73,000$101,000
Operations$71,000$97,000
Accounting$69,000$91,000
General business$65,000$89,000
All business majors$65,000$87,000
Marketing and market research$63,000$81,000
Business management and administration$62,000$81,000
All majors$61,000$78,000
International business$60,000$79,000
Miscellaneous business and medical administration$59,000$78,000
Human resources and personal management$58,000$75,000
Hospitality management$52,000$69,000

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey micro data, 2009-2013.

But extrinsic value is not all that matters when deciding on a college major and career path, Carnevale says. And money may or may not buy happiness. “If your degree or job doesn’t interest you, it will be a bad situation for you and your employer,” Carnevale explains. “You can’t decide you want to be a petroleum engineer if you have no interest in it.”

So Carnevale says a decision on a major should be about more than what’s going to earn the largest paycheck.

“Be mindful of your own interest and values,” says Carnevale. “But also look at what kind of career prospects you have. If you place high value on Lithuanian history, that’s fine, but you need to be aware that’s not going to give you a job. Make that your minor and pick something else for your major. The whole process of choosing majors and careers begins with your own interests and values and then matching what it is you want to do to something you can do for 45 years out of college. If it’s only going to be interesting for four years of college and then you have to do something else, that’s not a smart way to go. It’s a complicated decision to make for young people. Figure out what interests you and do it in a way to make money.”

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