BY Meghan MalasApril 26, 2022, 1:41 PM
A group of graduating students opened a bottle of Champagne during a photo session at the Sample Gates, as seen in April 2022, in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan—SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)
Landing a job that delivers personal and professional satisfaction is the goal of most college students, but many people also hope they will earn a good salary. As prospective students weigh the cost of attending college with potential post-grad earnings, they may prioritize picking a major that will teach them a highly specialized skill set that could lead to a highly paid job.
So what are today’s highest-paying college majors? Engineering majors take the cake for the highest early-career earnings, according to a tool about labor market outcomes for recent college graduates that’s regularly updated by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“There is a growing demand for high-skilled labor,” says Jaison Abel, assistant vice president and head of the regional analysis function at the New York Fed. As a result, students with more specialized, technical majors—like engineering and computer science—see the highest starting salaries of $70,000 and up.
The latest data from the Fed shows that the top 15 college majors with the highest median wages among bachelor’s degree holders graduates 22 to 27 years old are:
- Computer Engineering: $74,000
- Computer Science: $70,000
- Aerospace Engineering: $70,000
- Chemical Engineering: $70,000
- Electrical Engineering: $70,000
- Industrial Engineering: $69,000
- Mechanical Engineering: $68,000
- Miscellaneous Engineering: $65,000
- Civil Engineering: $63,000
- General Engineering: $62,000
- Economics: $60,000
- Construction Services: $60,000
- Business Analytics: $60,000
- Finance: $60,000
- Physics: $55,000
The New York Fed’s labor market outcomes tool includes information about unemployment, underemployment, and the percent of bachelor’s degree holders of each major that go on to pursue a graduate degree. These components help paint a more complete picture of the job trajectory for each college major.
Engineering majors also earn the highest median wages mid-career. Chemical engineering graduates ages 35 to 45 make a median wage of $111,000. However, other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors, like pharmacy and computer science, also see six-figure or higher median wages mid-career.
Putting a major’s salary prospects into context
It’s important to remember that just because a major leads to the highest earnings, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right degree for a student to pursue, Abel says. Work is a key part of life, so career path satisfaction is key.
The five lowest earning majors are anthropology, social services, general social sciences, performing arts, and family and consumer sciences—all of which pay a median salary of $36,000 or less during the early-career stage.
Unemployment rates of specific majors is also a key factor to consider. According to the New York Fed tool, majors like construction services, education, biochemistry and nursing have some of the lowest unemployment rates for graduates.
However, if someone goes to college and pursues a major that is more general, that does not mean their degree won’t pay out, says Richard Deitz, assistant vice president and senior economist for the New York Fed.
Most people are better off earnings-wise if they graduate from college, no matter what major they choose. The National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2019, the median earnings of bachelor’s degree holders were 59% higher than those who completed high school.
Additionally, on average, people in all majors see their earnings increase from early to mid-career, Abel and Deitz say.
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