17 College Degrees That Lead to Top-Paying Jobs

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Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: April 16, 2024, Reading time: 15 minutes

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Studying the highest paying college major may lead to higher salaries and better job opportunities. On the other hand, less lucrative fields may leave students struggling to make ends meet. Failing to research, understand, and evaluate the highest paying college majors before making your choice could result in years of financial strain and limited career growth.

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

College Majors that Lead to Top-Paying Jobs

In terms of highest paying college majors, fields related to health sciences and computer engineering offer promising average starting salaries. Chemical engineering and computer science are also among the top-tier popular majors with high mid-career wages. A major like business administration still provides average starting wages and promises career growth.

Earning a degree means spending a considerable amount of time, money, effort, and energy, so expecting a financial advantage in the long run is natural. Here are the top high-paying degrees and potential career choices for college students.

DegreeMedian Annual WagePotential JobsPotential Jobs
Biology, Human Physiology, Health Sciences$85,200Medical Researcher, Physician Assistant, Health EducatorStrong job growth, laboratory, and research opportunities
Computer Engineering$130,000Software Engineer, Computer Hardware Engineer, Network ArchitectIn-demand skills, opportunities in various industries
Chemical Engineering$97,500Process Engineer, Production Manager, Research ScientistDiverse career paths, research and development roles
Business Administration$189,000Business Analyst, Operations Manager, Marketing CoordinatorPotential advancement to executive roles, entrepreneurship, especially with an MBA
Computer Science and Information Systems$164,000Software Developer, Data Scientist, Information Security AnalystHigh demand, potential for remote work and freelancing
Electrical Engineering$100,000Electrical Engineer, Control Systems Engineer, Electronics DesignerCutting-edge technology, opportunities in various sectors
Architectural Studies and General Engineering$159,000Architect, Construction Manager, Urban PlannerCreative and technical skills, project management experience
Naval Architecture, Marine Transportation, and Marine Engineering$132,000Naval Architect, Marine Engineer, Ship SurveyorSpecialized knowledge, potential for international travel
Aviation Administration and Professional Flight$148,000Airline Pilot, Air Traffic Controller, Aviation ManagerManagement roles within airlines or aviation organizations, opportunities for international travel
Industrial Engineering$87,400Manufacturing Engineer, Quality Control Specialist, Supply Chain AnalystJob positions in manufacturing and service industries, leadership roles in operations management
Finance, Accounting, and Mathematics$76,500Financial Analyst, Accountant, Actuary SpecialistAnalytical and quantitative skills, potential for professional certifications
Petroleum Engineering$131,800Drilling Engineer, Reservoir Engineer, Production EngineerHigh earning potential, opportunities in the energy sector
Civil Engineering$90,000Civil Engineer, Construction Project Manager, Environmental EngineerInfrastructure development, sustainable design
Pharmaceutical Sciences$132,000Pharmacist, Drug Researcher, Regulatory Affairs SpecialistCombining science and business, growth in the healthcare industry
Mechanical Engineering$96,100Mechanical Engineer, Product Designer, Energy Systems EngineerVersatile career paths, opportunities in various industries
International Relations$77,100Foreign Service Officer, International Trade Specialist, DiplomatGlobal perspective, language skills, potential for travel
Political Science and Social Sciences$128,000Policy Analyst, Social Researcher, Community OrganizerUnderstanding of social and political systems, research, and analytical skills

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

1. Biology, Human Physiology, Health Sciences

Doctor and little girl holding a miniature plastic heart together

Considering their highly demanding training, expensive education, and professional requirements, surgeons and physicians achieve desirable mid-career wages.

2. Computer Engineering

Man sitting on a long conference table while working on his laptop

Computer engineering is one of the best highest-paying college majors for students due to its strong employment prospects and lucrative earning potential.

3. Chemical Engineering

Beaker on top of a chemical elements diagram

Chemical engineers with a strong academic background and practical experience can command a high average starting salary upon entering the workforce.

4. Business Administration

Woman holding the paper with the Chief Executive Officer label

The work that top executives do is applicable in practically every industry, particularly in large companies and businesses with up to thousands of employees.

5. Computer Science and Information Systems Manager

Woman using her laptop while holding a notebook

A computer science, information systems manager, or IT project manager is tasked to determine and meet the IT goals of a company or organization in the private sector or public sector.

6. Electrical Engineering

Man wearing protective hat pointing to his team about an outdoor project development

Electrical engineering degree graduates can expect a competitive average starting salary upon entering the workforce.

7. Architectural Studies and General Engineering

Group of people reviewing a long product diagram laid on the table

To be an architectural and engineering manager, the candidate must hold a bachelor’s diploma at a minimum. Students need educational attainment and work experience to succeed in this field.

8. Naval Architecture, Marine Transportation, and Marine Engineering

Large boats out on sea

With a strong foundation in naval principles and maritime knowledge, these majors can lead to well-paying careers with an attractive average starting salary.

9. Aviation Administration and Professional Flight

Two men in the plane cockpit

For starters, aspiring pilots can start by enrolling in aeronautics or aviation bachelor’s programs where their coursework includes English, aeronautical engineering, physics, and mathematics. With experience and further studies, this profession provides an optimistic mid-career salary.

10. Industrial Engineering

Two people looking at a diagram

Upon graduation, industrial engineering bachelor degree graduates can expect a competitive average starting salary due to the global demand for their skills.

11. Finance, Accounting, and Mathematics

Woman with glasses browsing through her tablet

Graduates in these majors can also expect a competitive average starting salary, making them attractive choices for those seeking long-term financial stability and growth potential.

12. Petroleum Engineering

Oil plantation

Petroleum engineering deals with evaluating, exploring, extracting, recovering, and producing oil and natural gas. Students can expect mid-career profitability following years of training and experience.

13. Civil Engineering

Three people looking at a laptop while testing their mechanical models

Civil engineers degree graduates are in high demand, allowing them to command a competitive average starting salary upon entering the workforce.

14. Pharmaceutical Sciences

Person with gloved hands mixing chemicals in a medical equipment

Working in drug and healthcare is most suitable for college graduates with a background in the sciences. A bachelor’s degree (BSPS) can be your entry to medical school.

15. Mechanical Engineering

Man with protective gear welding metals

This field is perfect for students who want to master the design, development, and testing of mechanical systems, machinery, and materials science applications. 

16. International Relations

Person holding a toy plane while using a map

While average salaries upon graduation may be lower than other majors, International Relations majors can explore various career paths, such as diplomacy, international business, or non-profit organizations.

17. Political Science and Social Sciences

Man holding a pro environmental protest sign

While performing arts and humanities majors generally have lower earning prospects, political science and social sciences graduates can find opportunities in areas such as public policy, research, or advocacy.

What to Look for in a College Major

Do you want to learn how to find a college major? Research proves that the more the workers increase their educational attainment, the more that their unemployment probabilities drop and earnings climb.

Students listening to a lecture

Here are some questions you could ask yourself when looking for a college major: Does the major align with your interests? Will it allow you to thrive in your passion? Will it lead you to a fulfilling and stable career?

Then, there are questions that point to finances, which are equally important. It is no secret that individuals who have earned a degree can expect to do better financially than those with less education.

Median Income and Employment Rate

According to a report from the Georgetown University Center, the economic value of college majors shows that STEM majors are among the highest paying, even at the entry-level. 

The median annual wage provides insight into the earning potential of a college major. However, you must consider other factors that can impact employability and career prospects. 

Career Prospects and Advancement

One other important question to consider is this: Will the major increase my earning potential in the future and my chances of obtaining one of the highest-paying jobs? 

After all, going to university to earn a degree is an investment. And while you are at it, it doesn’t hurt to find out which degrees pay you back and promise a brighter financial future.

Schools, Programs, and Coursework

When choosing a major with the potential for higher earnings, it’s important to consider the school, program, and education coursework. Here are some key factors to keep in mind:

How to Achieve Job Security and a Lucrative Median Salary

Good-paying jobs are hard to find for most people. How can you assure yourself of job security and a lucrative median salary? Consider these points: 

Pilot checking controls before landing

Should I Study a College Major Based on the Projected Salary Alone?

No, studying a major should not be based solely on the projected salary. While salary can be an important factor in considering a degree or career path, it should not be the sole deciding factor.

There are many other important factors to consider, such as personal interests and strengths, job satisfaction, job market demand, and potential for growth and advancement. It is recommended you choose a degree and career based on your values, goals, and interests rather than just focusing on the potential salary.

Why do Most High-Paying Jobs Require a Degree?

Most high-paying jobs require a tertiary degree because it is seen as a minimum qualification for entry into certain professions and industries. A major degree shows that an individual has acquired knowledge and skills in a specific field, which is often necessary for complex and specialized job roles.

Employers may also view a degree as an indicator of dedication, discipline, and intellectual capability. For some professions, such as medicine and law, a college degree is required by law to obtain a professional license.

Employers may prioritize hiring individuals with a major degree as they are more likely to have the necessary qualifications and competence to perform well in the job.

Are College Degrees Necessary for Job Advancement Opportunities?

It depends on the industry and the specific job role. In some fields, a college degree may be necessary for job advancement as it demonstrates a certain level of knowledge, skills, and commitment. In other industries, experience, skills, and networking may be more important for advancement.

In highly technical or specialized fields, a major degree may be required to advance to higher-level positions. These positions may require a specific degree in a related field.

In competitive job markets, having a major can give job seekers an advantage over those without a degree. Employers may view a degree as a minimum requirement for certain job roles, particularly entry-level positions. 

However, in many industries, relevant work experience and skills are becoming increasingly important for job advancement. This can be demonstrated through internships, certifications, or skills-based training programs.

Woman wearing a dress and a graduation cap

What is the Most Valuable Major in College?

The most valuable and popular majors often include medical and engineering majors. Disciplines like computer science and chemical engineering also tend to offer high earning potential and strong job prospects.

Which Bachelor’s Degree has the Highest Salary?

When it comes to top-paying college majors, engineering degrees frequently top the list in terms of annual salaries. Computer science majors and quantitative business majors like finance and economics also have good average salaries.

Which Degree is Best for the Future?

STEM fields are often touted as having high average starting salaries and being well-positioned to meet the demands of an increasingly technological workforce. However, factors like passion, cost, and job fit should also be weighed.


Pursuing the highest-paying major can be a wise investment in your future financial security. Many of the highest-paying fields also have a global demand for skilled workers, providing ample job opportunities with competitive median annual wages. With these popular and sought-after majors, you can position yourself for a successful and rewarding career.

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