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The 5 Highest Paying Bachelor’s (and Associate!) Degrees

Very few students choose their major from a list of top-paying degrees. Even if financial considerations are paramount in your decision process, you'll probably start by examining your strengths and interests. In other words, you might not choose your major for love, exactly, but you don't want to sink time, effort, and money preparing for a career you won't enjoy. That said, there's value in knowing which degrees are most likely to net high-paying jobs for their recipients. PayScale's College Salary Report ranks the highest paying associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees – because no matter what you decide, knowing is better than not knowing.

Very few students choose their major from a list of top-paying degrees. Even if financial considerations are paramount in your decision process, you’ll probably start by examining your strengths and interests. In other words, you might not choose your major for love, exactly, but you don’t want to sink time, effort, and money preparing for a career you won’t enjoy. That said, there’s value in knowing which degrees are most likely to net high-paying jobs for their recipients. PayScale’s College Salary Report ranks the highest paying associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees – because no matter what you decide, knowing is better than not knowing.

gold bars 

(Photo Credit: New Old Stock)

These are the five highest paying bachelor’s degrees:

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1. Petroleum Engineering

Early Career Median Pay: $101,000

Mid-Career Median Pay: $168,000

% High Meaning: 71 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 80 percent male to 20 percent female

2. Nuclear Engineering

Early Career Median Pay: $68,200

Mid-Career Median Pay: $121,000

% High Meaning: 58 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 60 percent male to 40 percent female

3. Actuarial Mathematics

Early Career Median Pay: $58,800

Mid-Career Median Pay: $119,000

% High Meaning: 48 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 83 percent male to 17 percent female

4. Chemical Engineering

Early Career Median Pay: $69,500

Mid-Career Median Pay: $118,000

% High Meaning: 61 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 85 percent male to 15 percent female

5. Electronics and Communications Engineering

Early Career Median Pay: $65,000

Mid-Career Median Pay: $116,000

% High Meaning: 55 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 87 percent male to 13 percent female

bachelors degrees

Not interested – or not able – to sink four years of tuition into your education right now? These associate degrees also offer high salary potential:

1. Management Information Systems (MIS)

Early Career Median Pay: $45,100

Mid-Career Median Pay: $72,100

% High Meaning: 48 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 85 percent male to 15 percent female

2. Construction Management

Early Career Median Pay: $43,900

Mid-Career Median Pay: $71,200

% High Meaning: 64 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 94 percent male to 6 percent female

3. Economics

Early Career Median Pay: $36,800

Mid-Career Median Pay: $71,100

% High Meaning: 49 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 48 percent male to 52 percent female

4. (tie) Electronic and Communications Engineering

Early Career Median Pay: $45,100

Mid-Career Median Pay: $69,600

% High Meaning: 58 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 94 percent male to 6 percent female

4. (tie) Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET)

Early Career Median Pay: $40,600

Mid-Career Median Pay: $69,600

% High Meaning: 49 percent

Male/Female Ratio: 98 percent male to 2 percent female

associate

What can we learn from these rankings? Significantly, for both bachelor’s and associate degrees, STEM majors topped the lists. So, if a big salary is a big priority for you, STEM is still a good bet.

Also, nearly every top-paying major was heavily dominated by men, according to PayScale’s data. This dovetails with PayScale’s Women at Work report, which found that the gender wage gap was due in part to women opting into lower-paying fields.

Of course, there are a variety of reasons why women choose not to major in STEM subjects, from cultural messages that tell them women aren’t “good at math,” to sexism in the tech industry, to the need for flexibility in order to raise a family. Regardless, if we want to close the gender wage gap for good, convincing more women to go into STEM – and supporting their careers after they graduate – needs to be a top priority.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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