Most Lucrative college degrees


It’s college acceptance and graduation season, which means parents and students alike are asking the perennial question: What’s the most lucrative major? According to the January 2014 Salary Survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the final overall average starting salary for Class of 2013 bachelor’s degree graduates increased 2.6 percent to $45,633 from the results of the Class of 2012. The most lucrative degree is engineering, engineering and engineering! Figure 1: Top-Paid Majors for Class of 2013 Bachelor’s Degree Graduates

Major Average Starting Salary
Petroleum Engineering $97,000
Computer Engineering $70,900
Chemical Engineering $67,500
Computer Science $64,700
Aerospace/Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering $64,500
Mechanical Engineering $64,500
Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering $63,000
Engineering Technology $61,500
Management Information Systems/Business $60,700
Logistics/Materials Management $59,800

Perhaps you are wondering what your kid should do if he or she has no aptitude for, or interest in, engineering. Well, there's always computer science, management information systems/business, and logistics/materials management, which were the non-engineering majors whose average starting salaries were among the highest for Class of 2013 bachelor’s degree graduates.

Figure 1: Average Salaries by Discipline

Broad Category 2013 Average Salary 2012 Average Salary Percent Change
Business $55,144 $53,900 2.3%
Communications $44,552 $43,717 1.9%
Computer Science $59,084 $59,221 -0.2%
Education $40,590 $40,668 -0.2%
Engineering $62,564 $62,655 -0.1%
Humanities & Social Sciences $38,045 $36,988 2.9%
Math & Sciences $42,956 $42,471 1.1%
Overall $45,633 $44,482 2.6%

Source: January 2014 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers

Pity the poor liberal arts major! It seems like people like me, who loved taking English and political science classes, are doomed! Before you get too depressed, there is still ample opportunity for liberal arts majors to land a good job, but they may need to set their sights a little lower. As a group, liberal arts graduates received starting salaries that averaged $38,045 and among the top employers for 2013 liberal arts graduates were those in healthcare and social assistance (counselors, and human resources and social workers); professional, scientific, and technical services (market research analysts, marketing specialists, paralegals, and legal assistants); and information (artists, writers, authors, and editors).

Figure 1: Top-Hiring Industries for Class of 2013 Bachelor’s Degree Graduates

Industry 2013 Average Salary
Educational services $40,302
Professional, scientific, and technical services $49,154
Healthcare and social assistance $43,335
Federal, state, and local government $47,123
Manufacturing $55,020
Finance and insurance $54,660
Information $42,763
Management of companies and enterprises $57,891
Wholesale trade $53,691
Other services (except federal, state, and local government) $34,071

Source: January 2014 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers

So here’s the deal, with nearly $1.2 trillion in total student loans outstanding, its clear that many students will have to borrow money to earn these degrees. The key is to keep total student loan borrowing levels at or below those first year salaries, so that recent graduates don’t drown under the weight of repayments. That may mean foregoing an expensive school or working harder at finding grants and scholarships.