College majors that earn the most money

© NTNU, Faculty of Natural Sciences // Flickr

By Angela Underwood, Stacker

College is a time for many overwhelming experiences and exciting opportunities. Whether it’s forgoing sleep to prepare for an exam or studying abroad in an exotic city, college is a unique experience with a variety of trials. But post-graduation life can feel good, especially when the first paycheck from a graduate’s first job arrives, and it makes all that hard work feel worthwhile.

For some alumni, the stress of college is paying off. The rise of information technology and digitization has transformed the job market, leading to an unprecedented demand for technical and analytical skills. More and more students are majoring in math- and science-related fields, with the likelihood of earning at least $100,000 annually by their 30s.

To show just how valuable these college majors can be, Stacker used data from PayScale to rank the top 100 college majors whose alumni make the most money in their respective professional careers. The rankings are based on the highest average mid-career salary, and with a tie, the major whose alumni earned more money on average earlier in their career is ranked higher. Along with each slide, information is provided as to the jobs a major in that area might be hired for, which skills they’ll attain while in school, and what the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects their prospects are of finding a job upon graduation with a bachelor’s degree.


#1. Aeronautical science and engineering

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- Early career pay: $53,800

- Mid-career pay: $107,100

A degree in aeronautical science and engineering opens up job opportunities in aviation specific to aircraft design, propulsion, and performance. With this degree, graduates can become aircraft designers, rocket engineers, or even flight-test planners. Majors in the subject should be well versed in advanced math, physics, and computer programming.


#2. Japanese studies

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- Early career pay: $48,600

- Mid-career pay: $107,300

Japanese studies entails speaking, reading, and writing the culture’s language to learn its history, economics, and social science. As a subset of East Asia Studies, graduates can find work in a variety of fields, including public service, international relations, or multinational organizations. Depending on the area of concentration, the job outlook for those with a Japanese studies degree is highly favorable.


#3. Japanese language

© Pxhere

- Early career pay: $48,200

- Mid-career pay: $107,500

Graduating with a major in Japanese language sets one up for a career in translation, teaching, or political science, among others. With over 120 million Japanese speakers in the world, the need for translators and interpreters is expected to grow by nearly 20%, according to the BLS. Continuing to a master’s degree enhances job prospects by ensuring increased mastery of the language and culture.


#4. Finance and economics

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- Early career pay: $59,100

- Mid-career pay: $10,500

Finance and economics majors can become actuaries, accountants, business reporters, and credit, financial, or policy analysts, all of which entail strong mathematical skills. Additionally, strong analytical and communication skills are required for those who pursue the major. The double major combines qualitative and quantitative aspects of economics and teaches the ins and out of financial analysis and appraisal.


#5. Economics

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- Early career pay: $56,700

- Mid-career pay: $107,800

Collecting, analyzing, and forecasting data for specific market trends, including finance, labor, and agriculture is what economics majors well. The BLS projects up to 8% growth in the field from 2018 to 2028 for economists, who most often hold a master’s or doctorate. Critical thinking, reading comprehension, and decision-making are required skills for students who take on a variety of tasks, including conducting research, compiling reports, and supervising projects.


#6. Energy management

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- Early career pay: $64,000

- Mid-career pay: $107,900

Energy management majors study science, finance, engineering, and geology, all of which are required to graduate. These students, whose interests include communication, management, and business work with utility companies, government agencies, and energy trading firms. To date, the University of Oklahoma’s Energy Management program, formerly the Petroleum Land Management program, is the oldest and most prestigious curriculum of its kind in the U.S.


#7. Entrepreneurship and marketing

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- Early career pay: $46,800

- Mid-career pay: $108,500

Building launch-ready businesses are what entrepreneurship and marketing majors do best. Required skills include product development, merchandise management, and business planning. From bootstrapping to brand-building, majors must be able to take financial risks with their own business ventures to succeed. New venture formation and buyer behavior are examples of courses majors study to graduate.


#8. Industrial engineering and management

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- Early career pay: $62,300

- Mid-career pay: $108,500

Industrial engineering and management majors who graduate oversee major projects in a safe, well-timed, financially efficient manner. Some standard courses for the major, offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, are quality control, industrial psychology, engineering economy, and organizational leadership. These classes cover topics including risk analysis, inflation, and project financing. Career paths for these majors include project quality manager, process improvement analyst, and supply chain consultant.


#9. Optical science and engineering

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- Early career pay: $67,000

- Mid-career pay: $108,500

A major in optical science and engineering goes on to a career in optical design, fabrication, instrumentation, and communications. Optical engineers must have strong skills in math, physics, manual dexterity, and problem-solving. They should also be versed in optical design/analysis tools, such as Zemax, Code V or Trace Pro, and be able to use a variety of scientific and laboratory equipment.


#10. Telecommunications engineering

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- Early career pay: $59,600

- Mid-career pay: $108,600

Telecommunications engineering entails designing, maintaining, and troubleshooting data, voice, video, and image systems. Graduates have jobs setting up network systems or installing fiber optic cable, working for telecom companies, government agencies, or consulting firms. Available in an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees, majors in the subject learn computer programming and networking through studying digital electronics and satellite transmission, among other specialties.


#11. Structural engineering

© PIXNIO

- Early career pay: $63,600

- Mid-career pay: $108,800

Considered a specialty within civil engineering, majors in this field concentrate on the design and structure of buildings, bridges, and roadways. Both a college degree and a Professional Engineer’s license is required to practice, which requires an understanding of physics, math, and material properties. During their careers, structural engineers work alongside architects and construction officials to determine design safety in the face of elemental forces, including snow, wind, and earthquakes.


#12. Engineering physics

© Edwards Air Force Base

- Early career pay: $65,400

- Mid-career pay: $108,800

The dual degree in engineering physics opens up doors for careers in nuclear science and aerospace. Specifically, majors who graduate with the degree can become materials scientists, medical physicists, or atomic engineers, all of which earn a minimum of $65,000 annually.


#13. Materials science and engineering

© NTNU, Faculty of Natural Sciences // Flickr

- Early career pay: $68,600

- Mid-career pay: $109,000

A materials science and engineering degree combines the study of the structure and chemical properties of all types of materials, including metals, glass, polymers, graphites, plastics, and ceramics. While the BLS separates materials scientists (who study substance interaction on atomic and molecular levels) from materials engineers (who develop and test substances), both professions earn a considerable median income.


#14. Ceramic engineering

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- Early career pay: $65,700

- Mid-career pay: $109,100

Ceramic engineers develop materials needed for defense systems, transportation, and environmental technology by working with ceramics: an inorganic material handled at high temperatures. By combining math and science, majors learn to invent and work with products through critical thinking and problem-solving.


#15. Information and decision sciences

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- Early career pay: $53,000

- Mid-career pay: $109,500

By combining technology and business, a major in information and decision sciences can become a business analyst, data quality specialist, and business intelligence developer, among other titles. Graduates gain skills to analyze emerging technologies, use computer programs, and design and update operating systems.

See more at: Stacker

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