Money definitely isn’t everything. But for recent college grads — especially those with student loan debt — it’s not a bad thing to have. So what college majors have the best pay potential these days? It’s all about the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, says Payscale data released earlier this month. According to Payscale’s annual survey, which included 3.5 million respondents from more than 4,000 United States-based colleges and universities, the most lucrative major is Petroleum Engineering.
The data is organized by mid-career pay (largest being ranked highest), but Petroleum Engineering majors also have the highest early career pay at $94,500. By mid-career, Payscale respondents claim to be making $176,900 — much more than all other majors. Next is Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (EECS). And while the EECS majors report making almost as much as Petroleum Majors in the early career at $88,000, they are “only” pulling in around $142,200 by mid-career.
Following Petroleum Engineering and EECS is the first business-related major with Applied Economics and Management at $140,000 mid-career and $58,900 in the early career. Operations Research follows with a mid-career pay of $137,100 and early career average of $77,900. Political Economy rounds out the top-five with $136,200 at mid-career and $57,600 during the early career. The standard Business & Economics degree comes in 78th with a mid-career average of $110,600 and an early career average of $55,500.
DATA ALSO MEASURED MAJORS IN WHICH ALUMNI BELIEVE THEY MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
One interesting trend when looking at all of the data is business-related majors start their careers with much lower pay than STEM majors, but make up a lot of ground by mid-career. Besides Actuarial Mathematics, which has an early-career pay of $63,300, the other STEM majors in the top-ten all start at more than $70,000. The business-related majors, meanwhile, are all less than $60,000 in their early careers.
Besides pay, Payscale also asked alumni if they thought their work made the world a better place, which is defined in the chart below as “% High Meaning.” Within the top 25, Pharmacy majors led that category with 77% of Pharmacy alumni saying their work made the world a better place. Interestingly, Petroleum Engineering followed with 72%. At the bottom of that category within the top 25 highest paying majors is Economics and Mathematics, where only 31% of alumni said their work makes the world a better place.
Among all majors, Cytotechnology — the microscopic technology of cells to interpret cancer and abnormalities — had the highest percentage of alumni saying they believe their work makes the world a better place at 91%. Cytotechnology tied with Early Childhood Special Education majors, which also had 91% say their work makes the world a better place. Not surprisingly, health-related fields dominated the top spots with music therapy, radiation therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and medicine all taking the next top spots, respectively. At the other end is a familiar business major in International Marketing, where only 16% of responding alumni believe their work makes the world a better place. Following International Marketing is Japanese Studies and Food Marketing, each with 22%. Next was Product Development at 23%.