Road to Riches: Engineering Disciplines Pay Off

Does an aerospace engineer really earn more than a history major? Absolutely. An aerospace engineer’s typical starting salary ($60,700) practically matches what a history major earns, on average, after 15 years of working ($69,000). In fact, according to PayScale’s data, if you choose to pursue math, science or engineering disciplines, you are nearly guaranteed a lucrative career.

Last week PayScale released the results of its annual College Salary Report. In it, we stack up 1003 schools offering bachelor’s degrees, and 120 popular degree choices, by the starting and mid-career median salaries of their graduates. And, once again, science and math majors have come out on top as the big financial winners.

In our “Best Undergrad Degrees by Salary” list, you’ll see that the top 10 most lucrative degrees in 2011 are the following:

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

People with these skills are in high demand. The country’s leadership has worried for years that our numbers of mathematicians, scientists and engineers is declining, putting us behind in the battle for fiscal world domination. President Obama was quoted back in 2009, when speaking to members of the National Academy of Sciences, as saying, “We know that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

Engineering Skills in High Demand

So, why doesn’t everyone study math and science? It’s a challenging academic route for most people, and not very interesting to some. But, many students don’t consider engineering disciplines simply because they aren’t exposed to the idea and don’t know what is like to actually work as an engineer or mathematician.

For those who are on the curious, we decided to interview some of our engineers and data analysts here at PayScale to see what they majored in and why they chose to do so. Perhaps you’ll find that their quotes provide some inspiration.

“I studied engineering, which at my school meant I studied chemical, material, mechanical, electrical and, as I like to call it, computer-ical engineering. I like engineering because it is applying knowledge to make things real. Engineering is one of the few pursuits where you get to make useful, new things.”
– Mark, Software Developer, majored in Engineering

“I went into engineering, really, because it was the family business. My dad was an engineer. I grew up around soldering irons, oscillators, and Heathkit robots.”
– Dave, Senior Software Design Engineer, majored in Computer Systems Engineering

“I majored in math because I wasn’t smart enough for physics. Math people might not like hearing me say that. I like being an engineer because I like building things, creating something from nothing.”
– Doug, VP of Engineering, majored in Math

“I liked economics because you can use numbers to model decision making. I like to use numbers and statistics to explain how things work.”
– Katie, Lead Data Analyst, majored in Economics

“When I was a kid I always thought I would grow up to be a writer instead of an engineer. Instead, I became a computer science major in college. Having a computer science major still allows me to write every day, just with solid software patterns instead of articulate prose. The art of creativity, organization and simplicity flow through every part of engineering. The joy of seeing a good piece of software is virtually identical to seeing a good piece of writing.”
– Perry, Software Development Engineer, majored in Economics, Math and Computer Science

“Physics is the liberal arts major for a technological age. While I was not an expert in any technology after undergrad (unlike engineering or computer science majors), my major did give me the confidence to embrace and learn new technologies because I had the basics of math and science on my side.”
– Al, Director of Quantitative Analysis, majored in Physics

“I chose computer science because I already had a strong passion for it, and I knew it had a strong future for me.”
– Adam, Senior Program Manager, majored in Computer Science

“I got a economics degree so I could analyze and better understand things in the world using statistics instead of spending the rest of my life analyzing customers’ wants and needs that came on to the car lot every day.”
– Ryan, Data Analyst, majored in Economics, former used car salesman

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