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College Education

The Most Valuable College Degrees

It's no secret that getting an education is expensive. After adding up tuition, room and board, books and supplies, the costs can seem frightening.

But there are some real positives: according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, someone with a bachelor's degree earns almost an average of $24,000 a year more than a high school graduate.1 Those with a college degree also may benefit from more career opportunities and greater opportunities for advancement. But not all degrees are created equal. The major picked in college can greatly impact your student's paycheck in the working world, and a good starting salary can mean the difference between leaving the nest and living with parents after graduation. So we wanted to know: what are the most valuable degrees?

Degree Potential Careers Median Starting Salary2
Petroluem Engineers
  • Laboratory researcher
  • Petroleum and coal product manufacturer
  • Drill site inspector
$97,900
Computer Science
  • Software publisher
  • Computer systems designer
  • R&D in the physical, engineering, and life sciences
$56,600
Software Engineers
  • Computer system designer
  • Computer and electronic product manufacturing
  • SoSoftware publisher
$54,900
Biomedical Engineering
  • Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing
  • Pharmaceuticals
$53,800
Civil Engineers
  • Architect
  • City engineer
  • Construction manager
$53,100
Applied Mathematics
  • Engineering researcher
  • Aerospace and transportation equipment researcher
$62,600
Environmental Engineers
  • Wastewater treatment technician
  • Technical consultant
$51,700
Management Information Services
  • Business system analyst
  • Systems administrator
  • Information Security Analyst
$51,000
Construction Management
  • Specialty trade contractor (plumbing, heating)
  • General building contractor
$50,200
Physics
  • Scientific research and development for the government (NASA, or the Department of Defense)
  • Scientific research and development for Information Technology
$49,800
Statistics
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Quality control tester (medicines, software, vehicles)
  • Statistical software creator
$49,000
Mathematics
  • Systems analyst
  • Computer science and software development
  • Operations research
$47,000
Finance
  • Portfolio manager
  • Fund manager (hedge funds or mutual funds)
  • Risk analyst
$46,500
Geology
  • Laboratory researcher
  • Field researcher
  • Conservationist
$45,300
Biochemistry
  • Molecular biologist
  • Lab researcher
  • Medical health technician
$41,700

Many of today's highest starting salaries are in research and development and technician roles. Whether you enjoy field work or lab work, the students on these career paths may not only experience higher starting salaries, they might also deal with fierce competition for coveted positions. The good news? While other students pursuing degrees in social work, culinary arts, and elementary education may struggle to find jobs after college, those in the mathematics, science and engineering fields will likely receive multiple job offers, as there is a high demand in the job market for these employees, but a low supply of people who can fill these roles.3

Whatever your child decides to study in college, there truly is a career out there for everyone, and encouraging your students to think outside the box with their field of study may lead to a great start in the working world. Whether they sit behind a desk or lab bench, these degrees really do pay for themselves.

Education Pays, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013

2 Career Information, Collegegrad.com, 2014

3 15 most valuable college majors, Forbes.com, 2012