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Pay Off: New List of College Majors by Salary

Curious how you can make your college degree pay off quicker? More data is emerging now about which college majors lead to the most lucrative careers. PayScale has been publishing a list of college majors by pay since 2008. But, now, a new study of Census Bureau data supports PayScale’s conclusions. Sorry Psych majors, we were right that the aeronautical engineers will likely be out-earning you… by a lot.

In 2009, the U.S. Census asked individuals for the first time about both their pay and undergraduate major. Then, researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. collected and analyzed this pay and degree data and drew conclusions about earnings and correlations to race and gender.

According to the AP story, “New Study Tells Students the Worth of Their Majors,” the Georgetown study included 171 majors in 15 fields and found that white men are the most likely to pursue the highest-earning majors, like engineering and pharmaceutical sciences, while women choose low-earning majors like education, art and social work.

While PayScale’s analyses do not focus race, we do know that certain majors are most likely to be lucrative and that women, on the whole, choose less lucrative fields of study and earn less than men, even with a similar degree.

For example, the median mid-career pay for petroleum engineers is $157,000 per year according to PayScale’s 2010 College Salary Report. By comparison, elementary education majors will likely be earning around $44,400 per year. That means that the engineers are earning 3.5 times more than the education majors, after 15 years in their careers.

And, 80 percent of chemical engineering majors are men, while 94 percent of elementary education majors are women. Plus, among chemical engineering majors, men earn more than women overall. This discrepancy could be from more years of experience, a higher level of management and other not-necessarily-gender-specific factors, but it is a fact that women with chemical engineering degrees typically earn less than men with chemical engineering degrees.

You will find degree, gender and pay information throughout the PayScale research center. For now, here are the top 10 and bottom 10 earning degrees, according to PayScale’s most recent College Salary Report. This list of college majors by pay correlates closely with what the Census Bureau data shows.

Highest Earning Majors

  1. Petroleum Engineering
  2. Aerospace Engineering
  3. Chemical Engineering
  4. Electrical Engineering
  5. Nuclear Engineering
  6. Applied Mathematics
  7. Biomedical Engineering
  8. Physics
  9. Computer Engineering
  10. Economics


Lowest Earning Majors

  1. Child and Family Studies
  2. Elementary Education
  3. Social Work
  4. Athletic Training
  5. Culinary Arts
  6. Horticulture
  7. Paralegal Studies/Law
  8. Theology
  9. Recreation & Leisure Studies
  10. Special Education

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