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The 10 Most (and 10 Least) Profitable Undergraduate College Degrees

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Of course, you could make your millions after earning your bachelor's degree in English or art history, but if high earning potential is your post-graduation goal, you'll want to target your educational plans accordingly. (Hint: think STEM.)

Of course, you could make your millions after earning your bachelor’s degree in English or art history, but if high earning potential is your post-graduation goal, you’ll want to target your educational plans accordingly. (Hint: think STEM.)

(Photo Credit: Bradley P. Johnson/Flickr)

Institution, academic performance, geography, internship experience, the current economy, and luck, to name just a few factors, all have an impact on post-graduation earning potential. That being said, salary data can reveal valuable patterns that link specific undergraduate majors to higher median salaries.

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Overall, national median salary averages suggest that practical and technical degrees  are more profitable than creative or abstract ones. Petroleum engineering, for example, takes the number one slot on Payscale’s College Salary Report, whereas art, creative writing, and music all rank lower than the top 100.

In fact, the top 10 spots on  PayScale’s list are almost entirely dominated by STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees:

10 Most Profitable Undergraduate Majors*

1. Petroleum Engineering: $176,300

2. Actuarial Mathematics: $119,600

3. Nuclear Engineering: $118,800

4. Chemical Engineering: $116,700

5. Electronics & Communications Engineering: $113,200

6. Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE): $113,000

7. Computer Science (CS) & Engineering: $112,600

8. Computer Engineering (CE): $108,600

9. Aerospace Engineering: $107,900

10. Electrical Engineering (EE): $107,900

* Ranked by highest mid-career salary potential

Humanities-based majors requiring sharp analytical and critical thinking skills, including philosophy, history, and English language and literature, can also lead to profitable careers. These degrees, however, tend to produce higher salaries further down the line in one’s career in comparison to STEM majors. Of all the humanities majors, those who study philosophy earn the highest salaries midway through their careers ($84,000).

On the other end of the earning potential-spectrum, those who major in highly rewarding but less technical degrees unfortunately tend to have lower earning potential overall. In fact, four of the five least profitable degrees, according to PayScale’s data, involve teaching or education. Here’s a list of all of the 10 least profitable:

10 Least Profitable College Majors

1. Child Development: $36,400

2. Early Childhood Education: $38,000

3. Child & Family Studies: $38,600

4. Early Childhood & Elementary Education: $40,400

5. Human Services (HS): $41,300

6. Elementary Education: $45,500

7. Athletic Training: $45,900

8. Pastoral Ministry: $46,000

9. Social Work (SW): $46,600

10. Special Education: $46,800

While national averages should can’t be taken as an ironclad guarantee for how much money you will make after college, being aware of national trends can lead to more informed decisions about your academic and professional futures and provide a better understanding of what you want from both your education and career.

Tell Us What You Think

How did your education shape your post-graduate life? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Karen
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Karen

STEM fields are full of foreigners because they risk a lot to come here looking for better opportunities and study hard and work hard. No one is going to send their child to be 10k miles away to study music education or social work. However you’re correct about the misrepresentation of data is this article. It’s meant to push kids to pursue STEM careers. Unfortunately, many children lack the drive, determination, or work ethic it takes to truly thrive in these fields. It starts with changing their upbringing, their frame of mind, before you can instill a desire to do… Read more »

rob
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rob

In California those pay levels are typical for BS in engineering + 5yrs experience. More realistic for a new grad BSEE is around 87K and an MSEE 92K. SF area and San Jose regions will be 20% higher (about the same range listed in this blog article).

mike
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mike

Except that all the STEM fields are filled with foreigners on H1 and L1 visas. The salaries listed for the high earners are for those with a Masters plus 10 years experience or no masters and 20 years experience. The salaries for the low earners are for a BA + a cert or 5 years experience. Apples and bananas.

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