Career Planning

10 College Majors with the Highest Salaries for Graduates

Make the most of your first job -- literally.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

November 30, 2021

NACE highlights the top 10 college majors that make the most money after graduation.
10 College Majors with the Highest Salaries for Graduates
In April 2020, the United States reached a 14.8% unemployment rate, which is highest since they began recording in 1948, according to the Congressional Research Service. Despite the job market challenges that many faced, college graduates entered the workforce after graduation making more than they ever have before. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that the average salary for the Class of 2020 was $55,260, as opposed to $53,889 for the Class of 2019. Though annual salary shouldn’t be the only factor in helping you decide a future college major or career, it certainly helps the decision-making process to know in which fields there is money.
It’s also a determinant of which careers are trending. You’ll notice in the list below that many of these high-paying careers are in STEM fields, Though we hope there is always room for the arts in the job market, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that science, technology, engineering, and math are leading the pack. Here are the top-paying career for recent college graduates, according to NACE: 10. Chemical Engineering Average starting salary: $72,713 9. Applied Mathematics Average starting salary: $73,558 8. Statistics Average starting salary: $75,916
7. Computer and Information Science Average starting salary: $78,603 6. Operations Research Average starting salary: $80,166 5. Electrical, Electronics, and Communications Engineering Average starting salary: $80,819 4. Computer Science Average starting salary: $85,766 3. Computer Engineering Average starting salary: $85,996 2. Computer Programming Average starting salary: $86,098 1. Petroleum Engineering Average starting salary: $87,989

How to Choose a College Major

Though how much you can make after graduation is important, it’s certainly not the only factor that goes into your ultimate college major decision. You’re going to spend a couple of years studying this subject as well as working in the field for years to come, so you need to love what you do as well. But how do you pick your life’s path at age eighteen or nineteen? Some college students know exactly what it is that they want to study and do with their career after graduation, but most students do not. An estimated 20 – 50% of students begin their college career “undecided,” according to a study from Butler University. Furthermore, about 30% of college students actually change their major, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. Once you get to college, you will likely have to take general education courses. While you are technically fulfilling graduation requirements, these classes are also a great way to dabble in different fields. You can get a sense of what the coursework is like for a particular field. If you have the ability, take classes that also just sound interesting, like Creative Writing or Art History or Communications. These “fun courses” could eventually become your major. That’s why it’s important to fulfill your graduation requirements but also use your courses as a way to explore different majors that are out there. Most colleges don’t require you to declare a major until your second year, but check with your Advisor to be certain. Though your sophomore year may feel far away as a college freshman, you need to be thinking about the kind of path you’ll chart until it’s time to declare your major. Will you only have time to take general education courses? How much flexibility do you have to be more exploratory in deciding your college major? If you don’t know what you want to major in, do a little exploration before college. What careers sound interesting to you? What do you have to study to make a path toward that career? How much of your undergrad career will you have to devote to taking classes toward your major? Additionally, you may want to look at careers and determine future income using a salary calculator. If you’re still having trouble nailing down a college major, it may be time to visit your College Career Center. They will be able to tell you which types of jobs are available to specific majors. They’ll also have details on salaries and benefits that those careers can expect. Finally, they’ll have connections. Your Campus Career Center will likely know where alumni are working and can help you network with those former students who can give you advice on choosing a major and making your way toward the field in which they currently work.

Changing Your College Major

At the same time, it’s important to note that you can change your college major if you’re unhappy in what you’re studying. In fact, many students do. You are not locked into a specific major once you declare. You can change your mind once or twice; however, you should keep in mind how this will affect your graduation timeline. It’s likely that changing you major once won’t impact when you graduate, but changing your major two or three times may push your graduation back a year or two. And that means you’ll be spending more on your college education than you originally intended, which could also lead to greater student loan debt. If you are considering a major change, meet with your Advisor. He or she will help you chart a path toward what courses you have to take and when in order to graduate. They may also be able to impart some great advice along the way. After all, they have been advising students for years on what they should major in, how it will affect their graduation, and career outcomes after college.

A Major Decision

You have a lo to consider when choosing your college major: what will give you the type of income you desire? What type of job will satisfy you and bring you a sense of fulfillment? How will you create a path toward that career? Fortunately, there are plenty of resources along the way to help you navigate this decision, and don’t get so locked into having to choose a major that you don’t explore the breadth of courses that your college offers. College is definitely a time to hustle, but it’s also a time to discover your passions and interests. What better place to start than in the classroom?

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