College students graduate on average with more than $20,000 in debt by the time they earn their bachelor’s degree. It costs them even more to get advanced degrees such as master’s and doctorate degrees.
It makes sense, then, that new college students would want to study a field in which they can expect to make decent money. What degrees turn into the highest-paying careers? Try earning degrees in some form of engineering. If that isn’t your speed, you can shoot for degrees in physics, economics or computer science. They all turn into careers that, on average, pay quite well.
In general, though, earning any college degree generally guarantees graduates a significantly higher level of lifetime earnings.
Here are some examples: People who earn nothing more than a high school degree tend to earn about $1.2 million during their lifetime. People who earn at least an associate’s degree, on the other hand, can expect to earn about $1.6 million.
Students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree will earn about $2.1 million during their lifetimes. Graduates with a master’s degree earn about $2.5 million in their lifetimes, while those who go even farther and earn a doctorate degree can earn an average of $3.4 million.
There’s a big spread, then, between those who earn higher college degrees and those who merely enter the workforce with a high school diploma. The average lifetime earnings differential for those who earn a doctorate degree and those who earn just a high school diploma comes in at about $2.3 million.
If you’re aiming for the best-paying undergraduate degrees think first of majoring in some type of engineering. Seven of the 10-best-earning undergraduate degrees are engineering based. Topping the list is aerospace engineering. Graduates start with an average median salary of about $60,000 and average more than $110,000 annually during the midpoint of their careers.
Coming in second is chemical engineering, in which graduates start at about $62,000 a year and reach a salary range slightly above $100,000 in the midpoints of their careers. Computer engineering degree holders start at about $60,000 a year and reach about $100,000 in the middle of their careers. Rounding out the top five are electrical engineering degrees (just under $60,000 at the start and right about $100,000 at midpoint) and economics degrees (about $55,000 at the start and about $100,000 at the midpoint.)
The other top-10 degrees are physics ($55,000 and $99,000), mechanical engineering ($60,000 and $98,000), computer science ($59,000 and $98,000), industrial engineering ($60,000 and $97,000) and environmental engineering ($54,000 and $97,000).
If you don’t want to make that much money, you can also earn one of the 10-lowest-paying undergraduate degrees. Bringing up the rear of this list is social work, where graduates start with an annual salary near $35,000 and reach about $42,000 in the midpoint of their careers.
Other bottom-earning bachelor’s degrees include elementary education, theology, music, Spanish, horticulture, education, hospitality/tourism, fine arts and drama.
Of course, that’s not to say that these degrees are worthless. Students should always pursue their passions. But it might be wise to refrain from borrowing too much money in student loans for a degree that won’t bring in a high level of income.