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 
Degree Type 
Early Career Pay
 
Median salary for alumni w/degrees in this subject; 0-5 years work experience
% High Meaning
 
% alumni who say their work makes the world a better place
Mid-Career Pay
 
Median salary for alumni w/degrees in this subject; 10+ years work experience
Secondary & Middle School Mathematics Teacher EducationBachelors$41,90080%$63,300

Secondary & Middle School Mathematics Teacher Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$41,900
% High Meaning80%
Mid-Career Pay$63,300
Elementary Special EducationBachelors$42,30079%$57,100

Elementary Special Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$42,300
% High Meaning79%
Mid-Career Pay$57,100
Political Science/Public LawBachelors$47,50077%$77,300

Political Science/Public Law
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$47,500
% High Meaning77%
Mid-Career Pay$77,300
Early Childhood EducationBachelors$33,40077%$40,500

Early Childhood Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$33,400
% High Meaning77%
Mid-Career Pay$40,500
Nonprofit ManagementBachelors$37,90076%$53,800

Nonprofit Management
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$37,900
% High Meaning76%
Mid-Career Pay$53,800
Early Childhood & Elementary EducationBachelors$36,40075%$45,400

Early Childhood & Elementary Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$36,400
% High Meaning75%
Mid-Career Pay$45,400
Special EducationBachelors$37,90075%$53,700

Special Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$37,900
% High Meaning75%
Mid-Career Pay$53,700
Middle School EducationBachelors$38,00074%$48,200

Middle School Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$38,000
% High Meaning74%
Mid-Career Pay$48,200
Molecular BiologyBachelors$50,40074%$97,500

Molecular Biology
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$50,400
% High Meaning74%
Mid-Career Pay$97,500
Marine EngineeringBachelors$72,60073%$126,500

Marine Engineering
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$72,600
% High Meaning73%
Mid-Career Pay$126,500
Exercise PhysiologyBachelors$38,60072%$71,100

Exercise Physiology
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$38,600
% High Meaning72%
Mid-Career Pay$71,100
GeosciencesBachelors$46,30071%$78,500

Geosciences
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$46,300
% High Meaning71%
Mid-Career Pay$78,500
Physical Education TeachingBachelors$40,80071%$60,400

Physical Education Teaching
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$40,800
% High Meaning71%
Mid-Career Pay$60,400
Biomedical Engineering (BME)Bachelors$66,00071%$110,300

Biomedical Engineering (BME)
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$66,000
% High Meaning71%
Mid-Career Pay$110,300
Instrumental Music Teacher EducationBachelors$42,30070%$58,400

Instrumental Music Teacher Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$42,300
% High Meaning70%
Mid-Career Pay$58,400
Structural Engineering (SE)Bachelors$62,40070%$107,900

Structural Engineering (SE)
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$62,400
% High Meaning70%
Mid-Career Pay$107,900
Aeronautical EngineeringBachelors$67,90070%$122,500

Aeronautical Engineering
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$67,900
% High Meaning70%
Mid-Career Pay$122,500
Elementary EducationBachelors$37,40068%$50,000

Elementary Education
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$37,400
% High Meaning68%
Mid-Career Pay$50,000
Civil & Environmental EngineeringBachelors$60,40068%$98,800

Civil & Environmental Engineering
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$60,400
% High Meaning68%
Mid-Career Pay$98,800
MicrobiologyBachelors$45,60068%$86,600

Microbiology
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$45,600
% High Meaning68%
Mid-Career Pay$86,600
Management & Organizational DevelopmentBachelors$50,70067%$68,700

Management & Organizational Development
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$50,700
% High Meaning67%
Mid-Career Pay$68,700
Biochemistry & Molecular BiologyBachelors$49,80067%$103,400

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$49,800
% High Meaning67%
Mid-Career Pay$103,400
Biology & ChemistryBachelors$45,60066%$80,400

Biology & Chemistry
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$45,600
% High Meaning66%
Mid-Career Pay$80,400
Political Science & PhilosophyBachelors$43,80065%$74,600

Political Science & Philosophy
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$43,800
% High Meaning65%
Mid-Career Pay$74,600
Personal Financial PlanningBachelors$49,80065%$79,500

Personal Financial Planning
Degree TypeBachelors
Early Career Pay$49,800
% High Meaning65%
Mid-Career Pay$79,500
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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.


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