The 10 Highest-Earning College Majors

The primary reason many of us go to college is to increase our lifetime earning potential. It simply doesn’t make financial sense to go to college for four years only to make the amount of money only having a high school or associate’s degree. These are the highest-earning college majors that can be worth a college diploma.

As you will quickly see, there is a recurring trend of the most lucrative college degrees according to the annual Payscale College Salary Report. They are primarily STEM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). If you have a gift for numbers or can think abstractly, you should strongly consider one of these in-demand majors.


1. Petroleum Engineer

Highest-Earning College Majors

Starting Salary: $96,700
Median Salary: $136,000

While energy prices might be at recent historical lows, there is still a strong demand for petroleum engineers as the world relies on petroleum-based products for nearly every facet of life. In addition to a high starting salary near $100,000, you might also be offered a signup bonus if a company really wants you.

2. Systems Engineering

Highest-Earning College Majors

Starting Salary: $66,400
Median Salary: $121,000

Becoming a systems engineer can take you down many different roads. In a nutshell, you design and manage complex projects. You might work in the Silicon Valley for a technology firm, an engineering firm on the East Coast, or in the aviation industry. The possibilities are almost endless.

3. Computer Science and Engineering

Highest-Earning College Majors

Starting Salary: $71,200
Median Salary: $116,000

Computer Science is the first non-engineering major to be on the list. There are many different positions that require a computer science background and some have higher salaries than other. Your most lucrative positions might be serving as a software developer, hardware engineer, or database administrator as these positions require a high amount of creativity to keep up with the constantly evolving tech sector and consumer markets.

4. Chemical Engineering

Highest-Earning College Majors

Starting Salary: $69,800
Median Salary: $116,000

Become a chemist and help influence products and processes that industries and everyday people will use tomorrow. Being a chemical engineer doesn’t automatically relegate you to a laboratory. There are plenty of field jobs available too.

5. Actuarial Science

Highest-Earning College Degrees

Starting Salary: $60,800
Median Salary: $116,000

Actuarial Science can net a high paycheck if you want to become an actuarial engineer or an actuary. If you like crunching numbers and are excellent at advanced math, this can be a great career option. While this degree might be more difficult to obtain than some other engineering degrees, there might be less competition when you are trying to find your first job or climb the corporate ladder.

6. Nuclear Engineering

Highest-Earning College Degrees

Starting Salary: $68,500
Median Salary: $116,000

There is also a strong demand for nuclear engineers as the world transitions away from fossil fuel energy sources but cannot fully adopt clean energy like wind and solar. Some of the potential jobs you can do include being a research scientist, fuels engineer, or a reactor engineer.

7. Electrical Engineering

Highest-Earning College Degree

Starting Salary: $68,100
Median Salary: $114,000

Electrical engineering is one of the harder college majors to acquire because of the advanced math, but, your skills are highly sought after. If you like playing with circuits, designing electrical systems, and thinking about future electrical devices, this can be an engaging academic discipline.

8. Aeronautical Engineering

Highest-Earning College Majors

Starting Salary: $63,000
Median Salary: $113,000

Aeronautics has helped make the world smaller. As more people fly and space transport becomes a possibility, aeronautical engineers are needed to design aircraft and spacecraft to handle the increase in traffic. While powered flight has been around for over a century, the future is still bright when it comes to defying gravity.

9. Physics and Mathematics

Highest-Earning College Majors

Starting Salary: $56,200
Median Salary: $111,000

You have a couple different career options as a Physics and Mathematics major. You can be a mathematician that crunches numbers for a technology firm, a government agency, or an engineering firm. While not every job in this field will be an engineering job, there will still be plenty of data to crunch and mathematical equations to be written.

10. Physician Assistant Studies

Physician Assistant

Starting Salary: $85,200
Median Salary: $103,000

This medical profession will require advanced school, but, it can be a very rewarding career field if you want to help others. Becoming a PA is also one of the fastest growing professions within the medical industry. And, you can always to decide to become a full-fledged physician in the future.

How to Pay For a High-Earning College Degree

Whether you decide to major in one of these academic disciplines or not, you will still need to be able to afford college to earn your degree.

You have three primary financial streams to pay for college:

You do not have to repay the first two financial streams and should pursue these options first to pay for college without going broke.

If you need to borrow money for college, read these tips on student loan payments from someone that paid back $75,000 of student loans in five years.

College can be a rewarding experience, however your first working years can be financially difficult if you have high student loan payments. Even with a highest-earning college major!


College majors that predominately focus on science, technology, math, and engineering have the highest income potential. There is a shortage of workers with the backgrounds required for these critical positions. If you are good with numbers, interested in science, or like building and designing things, these are some of the best college majors with good future career potential.

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