Top 10 College Degrees for High Pay ($80k+ Starting Salary)

As the cost of higher education continues to climb, the choice of college degrees with high salary hold more weight than ever before.

While personal passion and interests play a role in this decision, the financial outlook is a crucial factor.

So, which college degrees yield the most rewarding starting salaries upon graduation? To guide your choices, we’ve assembled a roster of bachelor’s degrees with the highest initial earnings.

Our data source is Payscale’s College Salary Report, which annually ranks early career salaries, encompassing fresh graduates with zero to five years of experience.

In the 2021-2022 report, a comprehensive 827 different majors were surveyed.

Highlights:

  • Identifying degrees that lead to lucrative post-graduation salaries can pave the way for a prosperous financial future.
  • STEM-related disciplines dominate this list, boasting high starting salaries in fields such as electrical engineering and computer science, petroleum engineering, and computer science paired with business expertise.
  • Electrical engineering and computer science secure the top positions in terms of starting earnings.
  • The runner-up is a healthcare profession: physician assistant studies.
  • Completing the roster are welding engineers, offering competitive starting salaries.

Below, you’ll find the top 10 Bachelor’s degrees with high salary:

RankBachelor’s DegreeMedian Starting Salary
1️⃣Electrical Engineering and Computer Science$108,500
2️⃣Physician Assistant Studies$95,900
3️⃣Petroleum Engineering$93,200
4️⃣Operations Research and Industrial Engineering$84,800
5️⃣Operations Research$83,500
6️⃣Nuclear Engineering Technology$83,500
7️⃣Metallurgical Engineering$81,800
8️⃣Computer Science and Business$81,100
9️⃣Electronic Systems Technology$81,000
🔟Welding Engineering$81,000

1. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

In an era where businesses and organizations rely heavily on technology for efficiency, the demand for qualified professionals capable of maintaining and enhancing electrical systems and computer infrastructure is on the rise.

Graduates in these fields embark on their careers with an impressive average starting salary of $108,500, securing the top spot according to Payscale’s data.

Moreover, the potential for career growth is substantial, with mid-career salaries soaring to as high as $159,300, ranking at number three.2It’s worth noting that electrical engineers and computer scientists are categorized separately by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In 2021, electrical engineers earned a median annual salary of $101,780, while computer scientists had a median of $131,490.

2. Physician Assistant Studies

Physician assistants collaborate closely with surgeons, physicians, and other healthcare professionals within medical settings like hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices.

To commence practice, licensure from the state is a prerequisite. According to Payscale, the average starting salary for physician assistant studies graduates stands at $95,900, ranking them at an impressive second place.

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However, mid-career earnings plateau at $118,500, positioning the field at number 76 on the list. The BLS reported a median annual salary of $121,530 for physician assistants in 2021.

These professionals can anticipate a robust job market, with job growth expected to outpace many other occupations. Between 2021 and 2031, the field is projected to grow by 28%, resulting in the creation of 12,700 jobs annually.

3. Petroleum Engineering

When it comes to initial compensation, engineering degrees are prominently featured at the top of the list.

Petroleum engineers, who operate in the oil and gas industry, are responsible for researching, designing, and developing methods to extract fossil fuels from the Earth.

Graduates in this field, holding a bachelor’s degree, commence their careers with substantial earnings, potentially reaching $93,200, securing a commendable third place.

Impressively, this figure climbs to an average of $187,300 in mid-career, comfortably positioning petroleum engineers in first place, with a nearly $17,000 lead.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for petroleum engineers in 2021 stood at $130,850. Job growth was expected to be around 8% from 2021 to 2031, equating to approximately 1,700 job openings annually.

4. Operations Research & Industrial Engineering

This major skillfully combines two disciplines into one. Those specializing in operations research employ their mathematical and computer competencies while maintaining an interest in business, analysis, statistics, and computer programming.

Industrial engineers, on the other hand, enhance efficiency and effectiveness by ensuring smoother and safer processes. Early-career salaries in this field, as reported by Payscale, average $84,800, securing the fourth position.

However, the potential to reach $170,400 in mid-career elevates it to an impressive second place. It’s worth mentioning that operations research analysts and industrial engineers are categorized separately by the BLS.

In 2021, operations research analysts achieved a median annual salary of $82,360. Industrial engineers, on the other hand, commanded a median annual salary of $95,300.

Job growth projections are robust for both categories, with operations research analysts anticipating a 23% increase from 2021 to 2031, resulting in about 10,300 annual job openings.

Industrial engineers are predicted to experience a growth rate of 10%, equating to 22,400 annual job openings.

5. Operations Research

Operations research takes a prominent place on Payscale’s list of highest-paying starting salaries as its own distinct major. Often found within the engineering departments of most schools, operations research degrees offer unique opportunities.

Payscale reported early career salaries for operations researchers at $83,500, securing the fifth position. However, mid-career salaries see a rise to $147,400, causing the profession to slip down one notch to sixth place.

It’s worth noting that operations researchers and industrial engineers are reported separately by the BLS.

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In 2021, operations research analysts earned a median annual salary of $82,360. Industrial engineers, on the other hand, had a median annual salary of $95,300 in 2021.

Job growth projections for these fields are promising, with operations research analysts anticipating a 23% increase from 2021 to 2031, resulting in approximately 10,300 annual job openings.

Industrial engineers are predicted to experience a growth rate of 10%, which translates to 22,400 annual job openings.

6. Nuclear Engineering Technology

Professionals in the field of nuclear engineering technology are responsible for researching and developing tools and processes essential for nuclear energy.

These engineers collaborate within teams and engage with new or existing systems. Some also focus on decommissioning outdated systems.

Nuclear engineers start strong, securing the sixth position for average starting salary at $83,500. However, they experience a significant drop to 158th place in mid-career, with earnings averaging $106,000, as reported by Payscale.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for nuclear engineers in 2021 was $120,380.

Nevertheless, the field is expected to witness an 11% decline in employment between 2021 and 2031, with only 700 jobs anticipated to open up each year during that decade.

7. Metallurgical Engineering

The realm of metallurgical engineering explores the transformation of metals into a wide array of products, from microchips and automobiles to surgical instruments and household appliances.

Metallurgical engineers delve into the properties and safe utilization of metals for human benefit.

Aspiring metallurgical engineers can expect an average starting salary of $81,800 per year.

However, mid-career earnings escalate to $122,200, causing the field to move from seventh to 58th place on the list, as per Payscale’s data.

These engineers are classified under the materials engineering category in the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook.

According to the agency, materials engineers earned an average of $98,300 in 2021. The job growth rate in this category is estimated at 6%, resulting in roughly 1,700 job openings each year between 2021 and 2031.

8. Computer Science and Business

If you aspire to merge your passion for computing technology with a business environment, the field of computer science and business may be your ideal career path.

This combined major equips professionals with both technical and business acumen, focusing on commerce and computer science.

The College Salary Report positions the average starting salary for computer science and business graduates at eighth place, with earnings averaging $81,100. However, mid-career salaries in this domain exhibit limited growth, plummeting to 279th place at $94,600.

Occupations in this field fall within the BLS’s category of computer and information research scientists. These professionals earned an average of $131,490 in 2021.

Forecasts suggest a 21% growth rate by 2031, with up to 3,300 job opportunities emerging annually.

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9. Electronic Systems Technology

Electronic systems technologists are integral in the world of computers, robotics, medical machinery, and circuitry.

They design and produce these technologies, which are in high demand across various industries.

Starting strong, this degree program secures ninth place with an average starting salary of $81,000.

However, mid-career earnings paint a different picture, with professionals expecting to earn an average of $91,200, sliding down to 331st place on the list, according to Payscale.

In the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, these professionals fall under the category of electrical and electronic engineering technologists and technicians.

They earn an average annual salary of $63,640, with job growth projected to be stagnant at 0% between 2021 and 2031.

10. Welding Engineering

Welding engineers boast diverse backgrounds in scientific disciplines, including physics, metallurgy, materials science, engineering, and welding.

They play a pivotal role in constructing buildings, vehicles, and structures requiring welding.

These professionals secure the tenth spot with an average starting salary of $81,000.

By the midpoint of their careers, they have the potential to earn an average of $126,600, placing them in the 37th position on the list, as reported by Payscale.

Welding engineers fall into the category of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers, as per the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The median annual salary for this category was $47,010 in 2021. Job growth is anticipated to be around 2% between 2021 and 2031, resulting in approximately 47,600 job openings each year, primarily due to retirements and transitions.

☞ Degrees with High Salary FAQ

Which Bachelor’s Degree Has High Salary?

When it comes to the highest-paid college degrees in mid-career, petroleum engineering takes the lead.

Following closely in second place is operations research and industrial engineering. Meanwhile, electrical engineering and computer science secures a solid third position in terms of earning potential.

Which Major Leads to a Millionaire?

Once again, engineering emerges as the college major that propels individuals towards millionaire status. The world of engineering offers a plethora of specializations, and the demand for these professionals remains consistently high.

This demand is particularly pronounced as new technologies emerge, necessitating engineers not only to troubleshoot but also to pioneer innovative products from the ground up.

What Degrees CEOs Have?

CEOs shoulder the monumental responsibility of overseeing an entire business entity. Given the multifaceted nature of this role, CEOs typically possess degrees in business administration, economics, business management, or related fields.

These educational backgrounds equip them with the managerial acumen needed to steer companies toward success.

☞ Final thoughts

While pursuing a master’s or advanced degree is a common path for many graduates, a well-chosen bachelor’s degree can yield an attractive income, enabling you to commence repaying your student loans while evaluating the merits of further education.

Notably, fields in engineering present some of the most promising options for those seeking an impressive starting salary.

However, it’s essential to remember that the initial salary is just one aspect to consider. Many degrees, initially associated with high earnings, may see a significant drop in mid-career income.

Conversely, certain majors should be approached with caution if a substantial salary is a key factor in your educational and career decisions. Those venturing into teaching, social work, or the arts, for instance, may encounter lower salaries.

Nevertheless, selecting a college major and career path is ultimately a personal decision, one that each individual should make based on their unique aspirations and priorities.

References
Sources
Payscale – Highest Paying Jobs With a Bachelor’s DegreeU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Electrical and Electronics Engineers: SummaryBerkeley Engineering – Industrial Engineering & Operations Research
Payscale – Highest Paying Jobs With a Bachelor’s DegreeU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Computer and Information Research Scientists: SummaryU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Operations Research Analysts: Pay
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Physician Assistants: SummaryU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Petroleum Engineers: Job OutlookU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Industrial Engineers: Summary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Physician Assistants: Job OutlookU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Petroleum Engineers: SummaryU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Operations Research Analysts: Job Outlook
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Industrial Engineers: Job OutlookU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Nuclear Engineers: SummaryProspects – Nuclear Engineer
South Dakota Mines – Metallurgical Engineering DegreeU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Materials Engineers: Job OutlookU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Materials Engineers: Summary
The University of British Columbia – Business and Computer ScienceU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Computer and Information Research Scientists: Job OutlookLake Area Technical College – Electronic Systems Technology
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technologists and Technicians: SummaryCareers in Welding – Welding EngineerU.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers: Job Outlook
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Welders, Cutters, Solderers, and Brazers: Summary

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Pavlos Written by:

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