This year’s top 10 highest-paying college majors include some you may have never heard of

Personal finance

Increasingly, your earnings potential varies greatly depending on your choice of major in college.

“Even more so than the school itself, choosing a major is key in determining what skills a graduate can perform out of school, and what types of professions they’re qualified for,” said Jackson Gruver, data analyst at Payscale.

“Ultimately, the degree you decide to pursue could have a significant impact on your lifetime earning potential.”

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While students who pursue a major specifically in science, technology, engineering or math — collectively known as STEM disciplines — are projected to earn the most overall, Payscale’s college salary report found that petroleum engineering currently holds the top spot for highest-paying bachelor’s degrees in 2023.

Graduates in the field earn nearly six-figures just starting out and over $200,000 with 10 or more years of experience.

After petroleum engineering, operations research and industrial engineering majors are the next highest-paying majors, followed by interaction design, applied economics and management and building science. 

“STEM degrees dominate the rankings for highest paying majors and STEM careers continue to offer highly competitive salaries in the job market,” said Payscale’s Gruver. “These ‘hot’ jobs rely on specialized skill sets that are hard to come by; such talent scarcity drives up the demand for these workers along with their pay.”

Payscale’s college salary report is based on alumni salary data from nearly 3.5 million respondents nationwide.  

Determining ‘real return’ on academic investment

Of course, “not every student knows what they want to major in when they are applying to college,” said Robert Franek, editor-in-chief of The Princeton Review. But it is important to consider your area of study before taking out student loans to pay for college, he added.

“Just as a rule of thumb, students shouldn’t take on more debt then they expect to earn their first year after graduation,” Franek said. At the very least, that “forces the conversation of what is going to be the real return on my academic investment.”

Even with college application season in full swing, many families still question what a four-year degree is worth.

Some experts say the value of a bachelor’s degree is fading and more emphasis should be directed toward career training. A growing number of companies, including many in tech, are also dropping degree requirements for many middle-skill and even higher-skill roles.

However, earning a degree almost always pays off, according to “The College Payoff,” a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. 

Finishing college puts workers on track to earn a median of $2.8 million over their lifetimes, compared with $1.6 million if they only had a high school diploma, the report found. 

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