The average grad who takes out student loans owes $28,400 by the time they get their bachelor’s degree, according to the College Board. But not every newly minted degree leads to high earnings and thus the ability to easily pay off debt.
While it would be a mistake to pick a major based solely on salary potential, it’s a good idea to think about future pay when taking on student loans. PayScale’s 2018-19 College Salary Report shows which degrees lead to high earning potential … and which may make it harder to pay back those loans.
One thing stands out as you look at the list: the highest paying majors are all STEM-focused. Students who choose to study science, technology, engineering or math have an edge when it comes to earning potential after graduation.
The 5 Highest Paying College Majors for Bachelor’s Degrees
Petroleum Engineering routinely tops our list of degrees that pay students high salaries after graduation. Petroleum Engineers oversee the retrieval of oil and natural gas, working for employers such as Exxon, Chevron Corporation and British Petroleum. This is a male-dominated field of study; only 11 percent of graduates are women. Median Mid-Career Pay: $183,600
Graduates with this degree can work in industries as diverse as manufacturing, entertainment, finance and the military. Berkeley Engineering describes it as the combination of two disciplines “focused on the operation of complex systems” and says that students “learn statistically rooted frameworks to model and solve systems-level engineering problems.” Median Mid-Career Pay: $166,300
Want a job as an Actuary or Analytics Specialist? A bachelor’s degree in Actuarial Mathematics can help you get there. Early pay for alums with this degree is on the low side for our list of top-earners at $54,700, but salary nearly triples with 10-plus years of experience. Median Mid-Career Pay: $158,100
This degree can lead to a job as a Chemical Engineer, Operations Manager, Project Engineer or Strategy Associate. Rare among STEM degrees, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering is female-dominated. Seventy-five percent of graduates are female. Median Mid-Career Pay: $138,100
Accountants, Controllers and Financial Analysts may start their careers with this degree, which is slightly female-dominated (61 percent female). Popular employers include KPMG, Deloitte & Touche and EY. Median Mid-Career Pay: $135,000
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