Most Meaningful College Majors

Money isn’t everything. Some majors lead to more meaningful jobs than others. If you want to change the world with your education, check out the most meaningful college majors (and we’ll tell you the earning potential as well).

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Major% High Meaning
Early Career Pay
Mid-Career Pay
Major:Alcohol & Drug Studies% High Meaning:94%Early Career Pay:$35,700Mid-Career Pay:$47,800
Major:Radiation Therapy% High Meaning:92%Early Career Pay:$61,400Mid-Career Pay:$93,300
Major:Cytotechnology% High Meaning:91%Early Career Pay:$58,600Mid-Career Pay:$73,000
Major:Early Childhood Special Education% High Meaning:91%Early Career Pay:$34,500Mid-Career Pay:$50,600
Major:Music Therapy% High Meaning:90%Early Career Pay:$39,100Mid-Career Pay:$55,700
Major:Radiation Therapy% High Meaning:90%Early Career Pay:$66,400Mid-Career Pay:$88,800
Major:Occupational Therapy (OT)% High Meaning:89%Early Career Pay:$62,500Mid-Career Pay:$88,500
Major:Physical Therapy% High Meaning:89%Early Career Pay:$56,600Mid-Career Pay:$93,200
Major:Medicine% High Meaning:86%Early Career Pay:$73,300Mid-Career Pay:$97,000
Major:Nuclear Medicine Technology% High Meaning:86%Early Career Pay:$60,800Mid-Career Pay:$76,100
Major:Diagnostic Medical Imaging% High Meaning:86%Early Career Pay:$45,700Mid-Career Pay:$59,900
Major:Special Education% High Meaning:86%Early Career Pay:$26,700Mid-Career Pay:$39,800
Major:Physical Therapist Assistant Studies% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$49,200Mid-Career Pay:$62,000
Major:Diagnostic Medical Sonography% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$57,400Mid-Career Pay:$73,000
Major:Nursing Education% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$59,900Mid-Career Pay:$71,000
Major:Medical Laboratory Science% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$52,400Mid-Career Pay:$69,400
Major:American Sign Language Interpreting% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$39,800Mid-Career Pay:$73,800
Major:Physical Therapy% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$48,400Mid-Career Pay:$64,500
Major:Nursing Science% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$63,200Mid-Career Pay:$80,500
Major:Physician Assistant Studies% High Meaning:85%Early Career Pay:$91,100Mid-Career Pay:$109,600
Major:Respiratory Care% High Meaning:84%Early Career Pay:$51,700Mid-Career Pay:$68,900
Major:Radiology% High Meaning:84%Early Career Pay:$52,000Mid-Career Pay:$76,300
Major:Nuclear Medicine% High Meaning:84%Early Career Pay:$62,500Mid-Career Pay:$79,800
Major:Surgical Technology% High Meaning:84%Early Career Pay:$39,100Mid-Career Pay:$51,900
Major:Veterinary Technology% High Meaning:83%Early Career Pay:$30,000Mid-Career Pay:$40,500

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College Student

When it comes to choosing a career and picking a college major that will help you achieve your goals, money isn’t everything. Job meaning counts for a lot too. That’s why PayScale asks everybody who takes our survey if they feel like their job makes the world a better place. This list ranks college majors by the percentage of graduates in each major who answer that question with a resounding “yes.”

Careers that involve directly helping people are generally perceived as the most meaningful, so majors that prepare students for a career working with people to improve lives rank highest on this list. If you look at our study of the Most and Least Meaningful Jobs, you also see that jobs in the health sector generally feel that their jobs are very meaningful.

Another job type that leads to a high sense of job meaning is Community and Social Service. So it makes sense that a high percentage of workers with a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry say that their work definitely makes the world a better place. Graduates who chose this path definitely sacrifice income potential for good karma, since the median mid-career salary for pastoral ministry majors is quite low.

That doesn’t mean that all meaningful majors lead to low salaries. Many of the health-related majors on the top of this list have high earning potential as well as job meaning. Workers who majored in subjects like Medical Laboratory Science, Respiratory Care, Clinical Laboratory Science, Nursing, Dental Hygiene and Diagnostic Medical Sonography have salaries above $60,000. And people with one of the highest-paying majors on our list, petroleum engineering, don’t seem to feel like they’ve sold their souls for a high income; the majority of them report high job meaning.