How do you know what college major is the best one for you? Whether you are currently in high school and are considering what lies ahead, or you already in college and at a point where you are thinking about changing your major, knowing what your long term economic prospects are is critical. You want to maximize your salary potential to help you pay back those student loans and be able to enjoy your success.
One of the challenges is finding a major that not only will pay well, but one that you have the ability to successfully complete. Not everyone can be an engineer, so knowing the solid alternatives will make your decision easier. Here are 20 college majors that offer the highest salaries for 2019 students and graduates. Some of these may surprise you if you have not kept up with the recent hiring trends, so do more than just glance through this list. (Figures provided by Monster.com, Kiplinger, and Best Colleges)
We will start with a surprise – a degree in Humanities. Despite all the talk about the uselessness of a liberal arts degree, it turns out that employers are really hiring graduates from this major. Why? Recruiters want to hire people who have those non-technical skills such as creativity and leadership, and be able to shape the new hire into the type of position the company needs. You will also be able to make a good salary, with offers starting at just over $55,000 a year.
On the flip side of the coin is the expected Engineering field. For the purposes of this list this is a broader category, so basically it’s hard to go wrong choosing this STEM major. But there are more specific majors that will pay more – a few being listed later. This allows you to move around within this broad major and find a comfortable option. You can expect to make about $70k a year as a base salary.
3. American Studies
This has nothing to do with a PolySci degree, deemed to be one of the more useless majors even if you plan on being a politician. Many History-related degrees sharpen your ability to perform quality research and analyze the information you have collected. Of course, this requires you to work hard and know the most efficient way of gathering the data. The good news is your starting pay will be just under $50k a year, and with experience you can expect that number to jump about 30k at the midpoint of your career.
4. Business Administration
Here is the next expected major, though many current and former students recommend getting your MBA for this major to have the most impact over the long haul. But getting your foot in the door and securing a job in 2019 or 2020 will help you gain experience and pay for graduate school. The average starting salary is about $48,000 a year, so compared to many of the other majors on this list it is in the bottom quarter when it comes to salary. Think MBA to maximize your potential.
This is a recommendation by Monster.com, and given the state of miscommunication in the media and between people, this will be a very useful major. There are concentrations in public relations and video editing, both very practical now and in years to come. Yes, that YouTube channel you’ve been playing around with can be a resume builder – if you start getting serious about it and combine it with a Communications degree. That should help boost your starting salary above the average $51k a year.
6. Computer Science
Another expected and broad category of STEM majors, this is a field like Communications where you can get some real world experience while pursuing your degree. Cited by Kiplinger has one of the top 30 hottest majors fields of study, you can start off making more than $80,000 a year with a core curriculum in an area such as System Analyst. You will have to work hard and select the right school to pull this off, but projections have graduates making six figures in just a couple of years. And don’t forget that practical experience making apps to give your resume some added bite.
7. Construction Management
Another major in our list of surprises, did you ever believe that you could make six figures at the midpoint of your career in Construction Management? A driving force in this major is the need for expertise in the field. If you are in high school and prefer to be outdoors for at least part of your day, this is a good choice. The number of available positions is relatively small – just over 110,000 – but remember this job is not for everyone. You can expect to make $59,000 as a base salary, but be able to double that within 10 years. Keep in mind those are only the current projections.
This is one of the “trickier” higher paying majors in this list. The reason for the adjective is that while demand is high, that demand is likely to taper off over the next decade as younger people are coming to grips with their health issues and the Baby Boomer generation fades into the sunset. You might want to think of it as a medium length career about 10 years out, but choose a solid alternative minor or consider graduate school in another field down the road. Right now you can make about $60,000 after finishing up your residency; more if you can excel in the right specialty.
9. Materials Science
An actual STEM major, this is a subset of Chemistry and a unique one at that. You basically study the composition of a variety of materials and have the opportunity to create new ones. If you are keen on making a positive impact on the environment, this is to be seriously considered. There is not a lot of demand right now, with only 44,000 positions trying to be filled, but if you are future oriented you can expect businesses and the public to demand more alternatives to existing product materials. You will start off at $57,900 a year and expect to multiply that by a factor of 2 or more at the midpoint of your career.
10. Food Science
Is it possible to actually make a decent living looking at food? In a manner of speaking yes. But you will have to want to deal with the science end of things as well. This is not about being a Nutritionist – that’s a different animal (or vegetable if your prefer). You will study subjects such as food chemistry and agricultural economics, so there is some math and chemistry obviously involved. You might consider this if you are concerned with helping people eat better and healthier. Your starting salary for this adventure will be right in the middle at $50k a year.
11. Actuarial Science
We didn’t forget those who love math, and being an actuarial is a good place to start. It is a place where math and business meet. Those insurance companies that need to calculate risk and determine those health care premiums will need your services. You can also cross over to the area of finance. The current median salary is just over $100,000 a year, though you will likely start off making less than that. Naturally you will want to keep an eye on the political climate to see where your best opportunities lie. There will be a fair number of economics courses to look forward to while you are pursuing your degree.
12. Architectural Engineering
The first of our specialty offerings from the STEM engineering field, the logical direction your career will take is that of an architect. Choosing this major is a bit of a risk in many ways. Your opportunities will be constrained by a number of factors: the economic health of the country, the demand for new commercial buildings, and the general housing market. You will also want to look at the trends in demand for older homes and the population’s general economic health as you are more likely to be in demand if people lean towards getting rid of the old and start anew. With some experience you may have the opportunity to start your own firm, being a successful entrepreneur. Use the traditional Boy Scout motto – Be prepared – when planning your career in this field.
Surprise! Yes, this field long considered to be old, stodgy, and almost completely useless is now moving up on employer’s lists of reputable college majors. First, expect your starting salary to be lower than the average on this list, but that is something that shouldn’t surprise you. What a major in the Classics offers is a solid background in research and critical thinking skills, both in demand from employers. Here is a statistics that will have you take notice; there are more than 2 million prospective job openings if you have this major. It is also a solid choice if you are looking at moving on to graduate studies in another discipline, such as law.
14. Software Engineering
Where there is a smartphone, an app will follow. If you are looking for a STEM major that will start you at $100k a year and has a projected 30% growth rate, then you can stop reading this list now. Those are the current statistics, but you will have to select the right sub-discipline to max out your opportunities. Even if you choose a path that is less in demand you can expect to climb the salary ladder quickly if you can prove your technical mettle. The key concentrations are as a developer in the applications and systems areas. To maximize your potential and flexibility, take some business classes as employers want people who are comfortable in a business environment.
15. Biomedical Engineering
Not only does this field add to our list of STEM engineering specialties, it definitely sounds like one of the most exciting of the group. It combines two of the most in-demand fields of study – technology and healthcare. With a focus on healthcare, you can take your interest in computers and technology in a different direction and open the door for future possibilities and a high salary. Depending on your specialty and field of interest you will start out at just under $70,000 a year. A six figure future is not far off. Many people who have the STEM skills report that this ranks among the jobs with the highest job satisfaction level. It’s not certain whether money buys happiness or happiness makes money, but it seems here you have a choice.
16. Aerospace Engineering
Does the name Samantha Cerio sound familiar? She was the Auburn gymnast who wrecked both her knees on a missed floor exercise jump. She is an aerospace engineering graduate. One consideration before entering into this field is the future demand for space and rocket technologies. Part of this is connected with the federal government’s funding of NASA, while part of it is connected with the more commercialized ventures such as SpaceX. Starting salaries are in the mid to upper 60’s, but with experience you can expect to reach the $100k annual salary level.
17. Nuclear Engineering
The last of our STEM engineering specialties, this major may be as much of a risk as the subject of constructing new nuclear power plants is perceived. You will make an above average salary to start with but there will be a lot of competition for jobs. On the positive side there seems to be a trend towards being more positive about the possibilities of nuclear energy as new ways of disposing of nuclear waste are being created and applied. If you like working in New Mexico then consider this major as it is the state that has the highest number of nuclear engineers – and a median salary of $130,000..
18. Management Information Systems
Despite its title, this is not as techie of a major as you might think. Management is only part technology, and a solid background in computer science with an equally solid background in management can lead to a profitable and successful career. The demand is high here, with more than 2.7 million positions waiting to be filled. But it is considered to be a STEM major, with a mix of math and science, and be prepared to also focus in areas such as psychology and sociology. There is a reason for the high demand.
Our list will close with two of the more traditional and pure fields of science. The first one is Physics which offers a starting salary in the low to mid 60’s range. But the projected demand is upwards of 16 percent over the next few years, so there will be plenty of future opportunities waiting the degreed and the experienced. Many Physics majors end up at universities and research labs, so loving an academic environment seems to be an essential requirement before delving into this major. There are teaching positions waiting to be filled, but you will want to be sure to keep up to date with this area of employment before making a final decision.
Oddly, a Chemistry degree doesn’t get you nearly as much as a degree in Physics. But note this applies only to an undergraduate degree. Most students continue on to earn a Master’s or PhD. In the field, offering far more opportunities and a higher salary. So consider it a first step and use you base salary of $47,000 to pay for your post-undergraduate education. You can also consider being a Pharmacist which offers a higher salary (median $123,000) and a long term career opportunity.