It’s possible to land some of the highest paying jobs around with just a bachelor’s degree. However, there is usually more to it than simply picking the degree associated with a bigger salary. There are definitely a few majors associated with the highest salary potential, but there are other important factors to take into consideration when deciding upon a major in college as well. Ultimately, you should be able to find a path through college that prepares you for a career you find stimulating, rewarding, and that fits your interests and goals — both financial and personal.
Highest Paying Majors vs Highest Paying Careers
High earning potential is a complicated topic to broach, in part because so much of salary has to do with individual circumstances. For example, although Forbes claims electrical engineering is the degree with the highest earning potential, the Bureau of Labor Statistics points to a number of factors that affect engineers’ pay, including industry, location, education, and years of experience. While engineers employed with power companies earn $92,570 on average, engineers working in research and development earn $113,100 annually.
At the other end of the spectrum, although majors such as special education may not be able to boast of such high average starting salaries, you’re almost certain to secure employment as a special education instructor due to the consistently high demand for these positions—along with high level of difficulty due to common behavioral issues often associated with students diagnosed with learning disabilities.
In addition, it is becoming more common for humanities majors such as English degree holders to double major in something like Computer Science, in order to be more competitive for careers in web programming or technical writing—which the BLS reports as being well-paid, with a median salary of $69,850 per year. In this way, students need not necessarily sacrifice their passions for more ‘practical’ financial concerns.
Here are some tools for exploring the latest data on Bachelor’s degree earnings:
Payscale – Earning Potential by Job
Business Insider – Earning Potential by Undergraduate Major
It is important to understand that no major or degree guarantees employment, much less a specific job or starting salary. 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.
Historically Top Paying Majors
There are a few majors that 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.
One of the majors mentioned on that list, that of accounting, provides a respectable average salary of $67,190. Furthermore, accounting grads are fortunate to have a variety of careers to choose from besides bookkeeping or certified public accountant (CPA), including roles involving auditing, consulting, or tax specialization.
For example, some possible areas of expertise might include forensic accounting, which deals with investigating financial crimes such as embezzlement, securities fraud, contract disputes, or bankruptcies. Other specialized roles include management accountancy, government accountancy, internal auditing, external auditing, and information technology auditing. Most of these positions offer the possibility of advancement, after several years of solid performance with a company or organization.
For more information on accounting, check out these resources:
Business is far-reaching discipline, with specialties ranging from business administration to communication to financial services. There are various other specializations available, such as marketing, organizational leadership, business data analytics, management, and administration.
Several business specializations are especially high in demand, at the moment. For example, careers in financial planning have a projected growth rate of 30% from 2014 to 2024. And the finance industry blends skills from both business administration and accounting, which continue to be strong sectors in the current economy.
Moreover, the median salary for a financial manager is $117,990. Similarly, a financial advisor makes makes $89,160, while a market research analyst can make $62,150—not bad for a data expert who studies market conditions to help companies understand what products and services people will buy, all day.
In addition, Maryville University allows BSBA students to apply their skills to a variety of business settings: government/public sector, small businesses, private offices, nonprofit organizations, technology firms, marketing agencies, and so on. Clearly, business is a varied and wide-reaching discipline, and any undergraduate in hopes of a lucrative career would have a decent chance of financial stability with a degree from the business world.
Here are more salary-related resources on a career in business:
One last area that is consistently attractive to those seeking a career that’s in demand (and well compensated) is the healthcare field. For example, if you already have an RN certification, but are interested in earning your BSN in Nursing, you could eventually qualify for more highly-paid positions: nursing managers earn an average of $84,628; while a registered nurse supervisor earns about $70,787—both excellent median salaries for RNs hoping to advance in their fields.
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. For example, the average salary for a healthcare administrator is $82,000, and hospital CEOs or CFOs can make anywhere from $63,000 all the way to $415,000—with a median salary of $168,000. In addition, health administration is a varied field, with concentrations ranging from healthcare strategies and data management to senior services and population management.
If you’d like more information about careers in healthcare, check out the following resources:
Other High Earning Areas 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 cyber security. Although students may often feel pressure from family or friends to pursue a traditionally lucrative field, motivation can be difficult to muster if you aren’t 100 percent interested in your chosen major.
There are times, for example, that students who start out majoring in management information systems find themselves drawn to robotic engineering, 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.
Here’s some information about careers with high job security, satisfaction, and flexibility:
U.S. News & World Report (careers with job security)
College Board (healthier lifestyle and civic involvement)
The New York Times (pay versus job satisfaction)
Military (jobs with high job security for veterans)
USA Today (workplace happiness over high salary)
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 versus 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 before to secure an entry-level position after college.Or you may want to find out more about a prospective major before starting college—in order 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 have the opportunity to network with professionals who could prove vital to your success in the industry, as well. You’ll also 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 cyber security, 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 by avoiding posting unsavory photos on your Facebook profile, 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, in order 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 of 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. And 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. Now that’s an exclusive insider position that anyone would envy.
Consider Double Majoring
If you’re torn between the humanities and sciences—well, 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 in order 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 tenants of another, or you many want want to keep your options open if you have widely varied interests.
As you can see, there are a variety of factors to consider when deciding upon a major—and the salary potential should only be one consideration, rather than the sole deciding detail. If you have questions, there are a variety of resources available to help you on your journey. Should you find that you’re not ready to stop learning after your bachelor’s degree, there’s always graduate school to help you pursue your academic studies!