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The One Bachelor’s Degree That Pays More Than an MBA (for Now)

You don’t necessarily need an MBA or a PhD to get a high-paying job, but the job outlook for this bachelor’s degree also shows why it’s a bad idea to pick a career based on cash alone.

PayScale’s College Salary Report reveals the degrees whose recipients have earned the highest paying median salaries after graduation. But, if we look at the top-paying degrees as a whole — meaning all degree levels, from associate’s to PhD — one thing stands out: those with bachelor’s degrees in Petroleum Engineering have out-earned many MBAs and PhDs by mid-career.

petroleum engineering
Image Credit: bseegov/Flickr

Seriously. Look at the top 10 highest-paying degrees. Petroleum Engineering is the only bachelor’s degree on the list:

  1. Petroleum Engineering

Degree Level: Bachelor’s

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Mid-Career Median Pay: $172,000

  1. Nurse Anesthesia

Degree Level: Master’s

Mid-Career Median Pay: $156,000

  1. Strategy

Degree Level: MBA

Mid-Career Median Pay: $149,000

  1. (tied) General & Strategic Management

Degree Level: MBA

Mid-Career Median Pay: $146,000

  1. (tied) Chemical Engineering

Degree Level: PhD

Mid-Career Median Pay: $146,000

  1. (tied) Organic Chemistry:

Degree Level: PhD

Mid-Career Median Pay: $146,000

  1. Computer Science (CS)

Degree Level: PhD

Mid-Career Median Pay: $145,000

  1. Electrical Engineering (EE)

Degree Level: PhD

Mid-Career Median Pay: $144,000

  1. Pharmacology

Degree Level: PhD

Mid-Career Median Pay: $141,000

  1. Entrepreneurship

Degree Level: MBA

Mid-Career Median Pay: $139,000

Can You Still Get a Job as a Petroleum Engineer?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that Petroleum Engineer jobs will increase 10 percent between 2014 and 2024 — much faster than average occupation growth. However, as oil prices continue to decline, that forecast might change. Today’s grads are already reportedly seeing fewer job offers.

“In 2014, 95 percent of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering found work in the oil and gas industry, according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers,” write Tom DiChristopher and John W. Schoen at CNBC. “This year, 64 percent found work.”

Texas Tech professor of petroleum engineering Lloyd Heinze tells CNBC that students may not wind up unemployed after graduation, because their degrees are applicable to other industries, such as managing water resources. But those jobs are unlikely to pay as much as petroleum engineering jobs.

Bottom line, while it’s always smart to learn as much as you can about job prospects before choosing a major, it’s a mistake to pick a career based solely on future earnings. When markets change and job prospects dwindle, the people who’ll remain satisfied with their jobs will be the ones who are passionate about what they’re doing — even if it no longer pays boom salaries.

Tell Us What You Think

How did you pick your major and career path? We want to hear from you. Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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