Which Bachelor’s Degrees Have The Highest Earning Potential?
November 16, 2021
Some of the highest paying jobs can be pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree. Yet, there’s more to choosing a career path than simply enrolling at an institution like Maryville University and picking a degree associated with a high salary.
While several majors are associated with the highest salary potential, there are other important factors to consider when deciding on a major in college. Ultimately, you should be able to find a path through college that prepares you for a career you find stimulating and rewarding, and that fits your interests and goals — financial as well as personal. That said, it’s worth considering some of the highest paying jobs with a bachelor’s degree to determine if any of them are a good fit for you.
Highest Paying Jobs vs. Highest Paying Majors
High earning potential is a complicated topic to broach, in part because individual salaries are closely aligned with individual circumstances.
For example, while data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests that chemical engineering roles — jobs that can be pursued after earning a bachelor’s degree — have high earning potential, there are a number of factors that affect engineers’ pay, including their industry, location, education, and years of experience. While chemical engineers employed with engineering services companies had a median annual salary of $152,430 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chemical engineers in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry had a median salary of $96,220.
At the other end of the spectrum, although majors associated with education may not be correlated with high average starting salaries, they can lead to careers that appeal to individuals looking for job security. The New York Fed’s data shows that education roles have unemployment and underemployment rates well below the national average. Elementary education, for example, has an unemployment rate of 1.7% and an underemployment rate of 15.1% — significantly lower than the overall unemployment rate of 4.9% and underemployment rate of 41.1%.
In addition, undergraduate students majoring in humanities subjects such as English are increasingly pursuing a second major in a subject like computer science to be more competitive for jobs in web development or technical writing — professions the BLS reports are well paid, with median salaries of $77,200 and $78,060 per year, respectively, in 2021. In this way, students do not need to sacrifice their passions for more “practical” financial concerns.
Of course, no major or degree guarantees employment, much less a specific job or starting salary. This is the case for recent graduates as well as for those who already have a degree and are making a career comeback. Even the degrees associated with the highest average starting salaries can lead to a wide variety of specific careers. Similarly, if you look at jobs and career paths with consistently higher-than-average salaries, you are likely to discover that most of them have multiple points of entry for students from different disciplines.
Highest Paying Majors
A few majors historically have been associated with the highest paying jobs for graduates with bachelor’s degrees. Each major field of study — and the associated jobs and titles — allows students to pursue several different degrees.
The accounting field, for example, provided a respectable median annual salary of around $77,250 as of 2021, according to the BLS. Furthermore, accounting grads are fortunate to have a variety of roles to explore besides bookkeeper or certified public accountant (CPA), including roles involving auditing, consulting, or tax specialization. Most of these positions offer the possibility of advancement. The field also offers a unique form of job security — no matter how business evolves, accounting professionals and their expertise will always be needed.
Business is another example of a well-paying industry in which opportunities are available for those with a bachelor’s degree. It is a far-reaching discipline, with specialties ranging from business administration to communication to financial services. The median annual salary for people in business and financial roles was $76,570 in 2021, according to the BLS. Various specializations are available, such as marketing, organizational leadership, business data analytics, management, and administration.
In addition, degree programs such as Maryville University’s Bachelor of Science in Business Administration allow students to prepare for work in a variety of business settings, including government/public sector, small businesses, private offices, nonprofit organizations, technology firms, and marketing agencies.
Another area that is consistently attractive to those seeking a career that’s in demand — and well compensated — is healthcare. For example, if you already have registered nurse (RN) certification but are interested in earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), you could earn a median annual salary of around $89,000 as of July 2022, according to Payscale. In addition to clinical healthcare roles, some career paths can lead to the administrative side of healthcare.
Highest Paying Jobs
Once you decide what’s the best online bachelor’s degree for you, you’ll have the chance to dig deeper into the different career paths associated with your field of study. If you choose a career in accounting, for instance, you can pursue a role as a budget analyst. This profession, whose primary focus is to help organizations plan their finances, had a 2021 median annual salary of $79,940, according to the BLS. You also may consider pursuing a career as a financial manager. The 2021 median annual salary for this role, which chiefly oversees the overall financial health of an organization, was $131,710, according to the BLS.
The role of financial manager can also be pursued with a bachelor’s degree in business, as its duties require a blend of skills from business administration and accounting. This hints at the wide range of career options available for people with a business-related bachelor’s degree.
For instance, someone who applies their business interest in human resource management can pursue a career as a training and development manager — a position that had a median annual salary of $120,130 in 2021, according to the BLS. Earning a bachelor’s degree while specializing in marketing, meanwhile, can lead to a career as a marketing manager, a profession that in 2021 had a median annual salary of $135,030, according to the BLS.
In healthcare, those who use their bachelor’s in nursing degree to take on the role of nursing manager had a median annual salary of around $90,000 as of July 2022, according to Payscale. The salary aggregator site also notes that a registered nurse supervisor had a median salary of about $77,000 in the same period.
If you’re more interested in the administrative side of healthcare, you may opt to follow the business or executive route and earn a BS in Healthcare Management. Doing so can lead you to a lucrative job as a healthcare administrator. This role coordinates and manages a healthcare facility’s services, and in 2021 the profession had a median annual salary of $101,340, according to the BLS.
Choosing Your Area of Study
Although some majors may boast a higher eventual career salary than others, there is a wide variety of degrees and related careers to choose from — from healthcare to organizational leadership to cybersecurity. It’s not a choice to take lightly: While students may feel pressure to pursue a traditionally lucrative field, motivation can be difficult to muster if you aren’t 100% interested in your chosen major. In other words, going after the highest paying jobs with your bachelor’s degree may not necessarily align with what may make you happiest.
There is one more bit of career advice to consider: Interests change. There are times, for example, that students who start out majoring in management information systems find themselves drawn to digital media instead. So, pay attention to the subjects and fields that naturally catch your attention: You may be surprised by a major that you hadn’t initially considered in your search for a viable vocation.
How to Maximize the Earning Potential of Your Degree
If getting the highest paying job after graduation were as simple as picking the right major or earning the right degree, you might expect all students to go after the same few areas of study. Obviously, that is not the case; students across the country study countless different subjects in pursuit of hundreds of different degrees, and earning potential is (and should be) only one of the ways they make their choices.
Fortunately, there are some ways college students can make the most of their time in college and set themselves up for success and greater earning potential, regardless of what degree they earn, what major they declare, or even whether they prefer STEM or the arts and humanities.
Apply for Internships
Due to the competitive nature of today’s job market, many argue that internships are becoming more important than ever in securing an entry-level position after college. You also may want to find out more about a prospective major before starting college — to help ensure you are truly interested in that field. Part of the reason internships are so desirable is because they solve that age-old conundrum of “experience required” on a job application — especially experience in a degree-related job field.
Therefore, an internship provides a solution to the Catch-22 of “only qualified applicants with experience need apply.” In addition to gaining valuable experience in your field, you will also have the opportunity to network with professionals who could prove vital to your success in the industry. Additionally, you’ll have a chance to demonstrate your professional ability beyond what is listed on your resume — a must in a competitive job market. And liberal arts-based fields such as journalism and marketing that require experience may consider internship experience mandatory for entry-level candidates.
Research Your School Options
When looking into your college options, don’t make the mistake of applying to only highly selective schools or assuming you won’t be able to afford the tuition at a private school. You may be surprised at what you learn after thoroughly researching schools of interest — and connecting with alumni, if possible.
For example: the financial aid package from a small, private liberal arts college may be more generous than that of a state school; and after visiting a campus or contacting an enrollment advisor, you may discover that you enjoy the college’s culture and appreciate their willingness to answer your questions.
Be sure to thoroughly research your options regarding transfer agreements between community colleges and larger universities: Many states offer ways for students to save money by taking first- and second-year courses at the community college level, then transferring out of state or to a nearby research school.
Network with Industry Contacts
If you’re interested in a competitive field like finance or cybersecurity, it could be to your advantage to start networking with professors, other students, and industry contacts now — as opposed to after graduation. Not only can you get a proverbial foot in the door once you do start applying for jobs, but you can also learn more about what types of positions may be the best fit for you, upon graduation.
Before admission, you can attempt to make a positive first impression via social media, for example, or through participating in group conversations with admissions professionals who represent the school. You’ll also want to make it a point to contact an enrollment advisor, to avoid becoming a “ghost applicant.” If you live close enough for an in-person visit, you might enjoy spending the day on campus and meeting people in person. However, you certainly don’t have to. You can make an online appointment, and you can engage with other prospective students through university social media accounts.
Connect with Career Services
There are numerous benefits to contacting your college’s career services office — even if it’s your first year as an undergraduate. In addition to providing connections with alumni capable of offering job shadowing or informational interviews, career service departments often offer to print business cards for students at no charge.
Moreover, you can connect with a career counselor who can provide you with career aptitude or personality assessment tests that can help you gauge the best career fit for you — regardless of whether you have any idea of “what you want to be when you grow up,” so to speak. Additionally, college career centers often post information about jobs that are made available exclusively to students at your school, rather than simply being open to the public.
Consider Double Majoring
If you’re torn between the humanities and sciences, there’s no need to pick just one. It’s entirely possible to double major in both subjects, provided you understand the number of courses you’ll need to take to meet all the necessary requirements.
Some majors work especially well together: for example, biology and chemistry, or English and business. The coursework in one subject may naturally support the topics in another, or you may want to keep your options open if you have widely varied interests.
How to Choose the Best Online Bachelor’s Degree
Earning an undergraduate degree is much more complex than choosing the bachelor’s degree with the highest paying job opportunities. There are a variety of factors to consider when deciding on a major — and salary potential should only be one consideration. By exploring degree paths that align with your personal and professional interests, you can make your educational experience one that is fruitful in ways that go beyond how much you earn.
Maryville University can help you meet your educational goals, whatever they are. Our undergraduate programs offer several ways for you to cultivate the knowledge and skills you’ll need for the next phase in your life, whether it’s entering the job market or continuing your education through graduate school. Learn how we can help you excel.