Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary 2010

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Job FairCan you guess what the best undergraduate college degree is? What about the top ten? If you answer didn’t have “engineering” in it somewhere, chances are you’re wrong. Pick any type of engineering and you’re almost guaranteed you’ll hit something that will get you above or close to six figures by “mid-career,” defined as 15 years of experience. Start at $60,000, get 15 years of 4% raises, and you’ll pierce $100,000 (though your purchasing power will be reduced by inflation, something to consider).

Aerospace engineering, Chemical engineering, computer engineering, and electrical engineering degrees can expect to break the $100,000 limit by mid-career, joined only by Economics majors (perhaps working in finance?). The back half of the top ten? Physics, mechanical engineering, computer science, industrial engineering, and environmental engineering. The lesson here isn’t that you should pick a degree based on where it sits on this list, the lesson is that if you’re going to pick a career, pick something in engineering.

This list shouldn’t surprise you. We’ve been posting similar studies for years and every year engineers, specifically chemical engineers, have topped those charts. In 2006, the best paying job was in chemical engineering. In 2007, the best paying job was in chemical engineering. In 2008, surprise surprise, the best paying job was in chemical engineering. In each of those years, chemical engineering barely edged out other engineering disciplines (oil prices!) but the point was clear – a degree in engineering is a safe bet.

Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary

Degrees Degrees
Annual pay for Bachelors graduates without higher degrees. Typical starting graduates have 2 years of experience; mid-career have 15 years. See full methodology for more.

Here’s’s full listing, with my beloved Computer Science putting up competitive numbers – $56,400 starting median salary and $97,400 mid-career median salary. The two careers bringing up the rear – elementary education (not bad considering you get summers off) and social work.

(Photo: argonne)

{ 27 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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27 Responses to “Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary 2010”

  1. Elle says:

    My husband graduated with a degree in computer Science too Jim!He’ll be happy to know that it’s pretty competitive with pay.

  2. Scott says:

    I think my wife will attest that a good chunk of elementary education could be considered social work.

    • Shirley says:

      And I would so agree with her! The stress level is both unexpected and unbelievable. I wanted to do so much for so many with such a little amount of backup support.

      After only five years in elementary education I left that field to go into (of all things!) retail grocery, where I thoroughly enjoyed the people and work, nearly stress free, for the next 27 years.

  3. thunderthighs says:

    It was on a lucky whim that I chose economics!

  4. Shirley says:

    ~~ “elementary education (not bad considering you get summers off)” ~~

    Teachers do get summers off but you must remember that they are not paid for those months unless they opt to have their annual salary averaged over 12 months instead of being paid in full during the 9 teaching months.

    Most either work Summer School where available or take summer jobs elsewhere.

    • cubiclegeoff says:

      Plus the best ones tend to work additional hours throughout the year and spend much of the summer planning.

    • My wife would agree with you. The pay is horrible and education funding is always getting cut. It’s ridiculous how little our teachers get paid yet they have to deal with so much. As for Summers, it’s not really summers considering that teachers have to go back by mid-August at the latest, leaving their break at less than 2 months, or even less sometimes.

      I actually have my degree in Computer science and do not regret my decision. The only problem with most engineering and tech degrees is that not everybody is cut out to do these types of jobs. I love what I do and would never change my career, but most people couldn’t stand sitting in front of a computer programming all day long.

  5. Glad to see Economics place in the top five! I guess that will make me feel a little better while paying off all of these student loans.

  6. billsnider says:

    I graduated with an Aerospace engineering degree. At the time only about a third got jobs. The Viet Nam war was on and they wanted people who could manufacturer, not design.

    Bill Snider

  7. Ash says:

    The two careers bringing up the rear – elementary education (not bad considering you get summers off) and social work.

    I work 7am to 5 pm with a 30 minute lunch. I’m paid to stay for the first 8 days of June and return the first week in August. BUT I’ve had to return to pack, move, and unpack my supplies during each of my 7 week vacations over the last 3 years. There’s a serious disconnect between the perceived benefits of the job and the actual work involved.

  8. cubiclegeoff says:

    Too bad I thought of engineering and economics after graduating. Thanks to my crappy guidance counselors in high school.

  9. Darren says:

    Cool list! I graduated with an econ degree, and I didn’t think it would rank higher than some of the engineering degrees. That kinda surprised me.

  10. GPeng says:

    For those that earned a degree in economincs, what carrer pathes are you planning on pursuing?

  11. zapeta says:

    No real surprises here. I gotta say that teachers are way underpaid given all they have to deal with.

  12. Tom says:

    I got my degree in Chem E a few years back and it certainly has helped with those first few steps and there is definitely a gap even between me and my Civil and Mechanical brothers and sisters in education. Of course, the real golden goose is the Engineering degree with an MBA. Best ROI out there. Still working on that! 🙂

  13. fairydust says:

    LOL! All through my college days while I was getting a liberal arts degree in journalism, my father would mail me every week some article or another (NYT, Chronicle of Higher Ed, WSJ, etc) detailing how engineering is where to go for the bucks after graduation. Nowhere in those articles did journalism ever show up in the top. Did I pay any attention? Heck no.

    I’m now in accounting and doing much better 🙂

  14. eric says:

    I would have definitely guessed engineering although seeing econ is pretty cool. I guess I can feel a little bit better about myself. 😛

  15. thunderthighs says:

    I do know quite a few un- and underemployed recent engineering grads. Some are doing work a high school intern could manage. “Water path analysis” = spraying water at a window to see if it leaks, and calling for the aid of a supervisor if indeed it does.

  16. I have a few friends who are elementary school teachers and they’re doing better than that. I guess it depends a lot on location. Plus, they get lots of holidays off and killer benefits.

  17. Joe says:

    Chemical Engineers have the lowest life expectancy among all engineering groups. Back in 1990’s, it is around 60 yrs old.

    Unlike other engineering majors, the job availability is very restricted by locations. If you want to live in a big city, you may not be able to find a chemical engineering job. You might need to use your engineering skills to establish a brand new trade.

    • Jessica says:

      Aerospace engineering is very similar. There’s a lot of places I’d much rather prefer living to Wichita, KS but none of them have aerospace companies. Although I’m 5 years out of college and making $140k at year as an aerospace engineer, if I could do it all over again I would have picked something I could do anywhere… like pharmacist, nurse, accounting etc.

      One thing of interest is they probably don’t factor in how much more you can make in a job that requires overtime. Become an aerospace engineer (particular structures/stress) and you’ll get to work overtime practically your whole career if you want to and more likely even if you don’t want to. I’ve never worked an hour of OT for free (paid at straight time) and about half of my career I’ve gotten time and a half for it. I will definitely admit that it pays extremely well to have an aerospace engineering degree.

  18. Brian says:

    It would be interesting too see how those numbers break-down in different states and cities. My guess is that some of the more expensive areas like California, New York, and Boston may be inflating the pay scale in other parts of the country. So that recent graduate in Ohio or Utah might be very disappointed with the job offers they receive.

  19. Lindsay says:

    Well that sucks for the liberal arts people. I guess, then, it’s not really worth making a substantial student loan unless you’re an engineer.

  20. dubaidude says:

    I am a Mechanical Engineer,with three years experience working in Abu Dhabi UAE

    I commute daily from Dubai to Abu Dhabi (1hr per trip)have to be on site at 7am,usually leave 7 or 8pm , I don’t get over time as all companies here don’t pay overtime but pay a bonus,which is less than having overtime. I work more thank 60hrs a week,working for 6 days.

    I can’t afford an apartment because rent is very expensive,I have to rent a room in a villa compound. I spend the day under the burning sun,humid weather.

    Construction is the stupidst profession out there,just don’t do it! It’s not worth it

    and yes,the pay sucks big time!!!!!After 15 years of misrey you start getting paid to afford a life meant for a white collar,otherwise,15 years of total hard work and being underpaid


  21. collegebust says:

    Get real. I am a current college student working my ass off. I go two/three days straight with less than 3 hours of sleep. I work a minimum wage job from 4am-9am, then go straight to class. I am also a Chemistry major, taking on 18 credit hours, which means 4 classes A DAY, + 3 hour labs twice a week AFTER working all morning. I can do the work, I know my math and chemistry pretty damn well. Just tell that to my professors telling us it will be almost impossible to get an A in the course because they wanna be a hard-ass. Great… I can barely pay tuition because a 3.0 GPA as a Chemistry major can’t get me even a damn $200 scholarship for a single book. My colleagues, however, majoring in Elementary Education, Human Resources, Marketing, and Communications, all get full rides. They don’t pay ****. Sure you have a 4.0 GPA, but frankly it can’t be because you study, let alone do homework, because every time I bump into you you are dressed all nice with your hair curled, pearls on, and nails done, and wearing big sunglasses because your “hungover” from the party last night, (since you don’t have classes on Fridays, so you go out on Thursday’s). Oh, and complain about how you had to spend your hard earned $50 on a book after everything else was covered by your easy degree’s scholarship. WAKE UP PRINCESS. Those nails and hair look good now, but when your scrambling for money in a couple years, and cry about how your $40k salary can’t pay for a new beamer, remember the girl you gave a dirty look to, yeah, me, and don’t go blogging on websites like this about how you don’t make enough money after college. Yes, I’m the disgusting girl wearing jeans from the “juniors” dept. at sears, that aren’t even mine, they are my 7 year old sister’s, 2 year old, size 1 jeans that I now proudly wear with fancy holes and food stains that won’t come off from my morning job. Sure I have my own jeans, but they don’t fit. I am losing weight and not because I’m on a princess diet and workout plan like the other liberal art b****** that head straight to the gym to “husband search”, in new workout clothes, (that they probably bought with school money), everyday after class because God forbid they ever get an damn homework, but because I can never eat. I don’t have breaks in between classes, yet can afford to even buy a box of crackers to snack on from the grocery store because I have good ol’ university collections warning me if I don’t pay $900 by the end of the semester, they are dis-enrolling me from classes. Not like I can work anymore than I already do, if I’m not working, let alone squeezing a shower in every 3 days, or going to the pre-med club meeting to get a free slice of pizza, I’m memorizing complex structures for my Organic Chem class, working out practice problems for Engineering Physics, or wrapping up a good ol’ 3 hour Analytical Chemistry lab report. Yeah that’s right miss $40k salary. I don’t get the luxury of showering everyday right now. If I wear make up at all it’s what’s left from the first day I snuck 5 min. in to cover my acne from stressing out, the black bags under my eyes from not sleeping, and putting in some ol’ clear eyes in my bloodshot eyes so the customer’s ordering their fancy latte’s at 6 am don’t think I’m a “stoner”, and yell at me about how worthless and slow I am and how their kids are in college while I rot at this job, (I don’t even bother telling them I’m a 19 year old junior college student majoring in Chemistry anymore). Maybe today they’ll actually give me a tip, instead of a life pointer. So in conclusion to my “wonderful college years” story, I am that girl you get grossed out at, that smells like caffeine and God knows what else, wearing old, dirty jeans, a baggy shirt with drink and food stains that I wish were mine, with greasy, messy hair in a pony tail under an old baseball cap, with smeared 2 day old make up, and eyes like I just finished smoking some pot, when in reality I am worrying about how many espresso shots I can sneak in before my boss see’s, and drink so I don’t give myself a heart attack, since my already vulnerable body running on free pizza from yesterday probably won’t get to eat until around 9pm, also didn’t get sleep, and has to push itself to go to work, class, lab, and at 9 pm, the library until they kick me out at about 1 am, and keep these damn jeans on that keep slipping off. Hopefully I can get into a Medical School after I graduate, get a whole lot of loans because I already know I’m not getting any financial aid, work in a public care center for 3 years and get it paid off, and finally get that $100k salary that you will one day say is “unfair” and “should be cut” so teachers and social workers can get paid more, because “they deserve it”. Well if you don’t think $40k will pay for the spa, nails, car payment, and fancy meals your ass has been running on since you and your college frat boyfriend have been together, and now married and realizing life isn’t a thirsty Thursday everyday, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. You know the starting pay, so why the hell did you still major in it, barely go to class, get a 4.0 gpa, and use a shit*** of scholarship money and aid half on school, and half on you? To bitch about it now? “Oh hi waitress, call me Doctor. You look familiar. I think we use to go to school together. Yeah, I was that disgusting thing you use to make fun of for running into the Chemistry building because I was late for class. I graduated. I went to Medical school because my hard work finally paid off. And after giving my 3 years of service to the underprivileged community, those loans are allllll gone baby. That three figure salary at the end of the year is all mine, and frankly, I have a lot of eating to do to catch up on my anorexia poor girl college days, some facials to get rid of my college day acne scars and broken blood vessels and pores from not sleeping and caffeine overload. And I’m going to enjoy it, maybe leave you a nice tip if I feel bad for you now”. Yeah… how bad are you wishing you were in my dirty coffee shoes right now, busting your ass day and night to one day earn that $100k lifestyle? I don’t care about that lifestyle, hell, give me a lunch and dinner break, a good 6 hours to be able to sleep every night, and a normal clock in time around 8 am and I’ll bust my ass harder that I am now to thank you. But that’s what a median salary for a Physician starts at, and hell I’ll be damned if I learned one thing in college, and it was to take what you ******* get. So next time your Starbucks drinking, liberal God given mind, comes up with this grand ol’ new idea about this book you wanna write about how those majors don’t pay enough and deserve more, choose your major using a reality check. If you want to be a teacher, you really, truly want to do it, you wouldn’t be complaining about salary and benefits, or you would do the “smart thing” and get a Masters to teach at a university, and be side by side with my Organic Chemistry professor making $60k a yr and taking it out on us with high grading curves, and the “cool” and easy business management professor that is making $90k a year, and shut up. Frankly, the world clearly doesn’t need to raise the elementary teacher’s salary if anything, they need to cut “mr. cool guy, I teach a lecture hall full of drunk frat guys and princess majoring in the most majored in degree next to education, business, and am going to cancel class again Friday, whoopdie doooo”, and give my damn Organic Chemistry professor a raise for teaching us, going over time, and making the test at 8am Friday morning instead of regular class time at 10am, “the most critical, carbon based, chemical properties that humans not only deal with and need to have in order to live on earth, but make, IN YOUR BODY” and must know and nail in our brains in order to be successful in Med. School and as your Doctor, so maybe this time, he can cut us an extra credit problem, or just ONE night without a 3 hour homework assignment. This nation is a joke… What happened to “working” for the American dream, not demanding it and bitching about it. If you aren’t making a lot of money that’s your own damn fault. If your a high school dropout, or English major making $100k a year doing God knows what, you are one smart ass individual, 1 out of 1,000, or more. Oh, and when you hear those commercials or radio announcement about the shortage of young woman in math and science majors, and how they want to give you all this money, that’s complete bullshit too. If that was true, my 3.0 major in Chemistry and minor in Physics light headed self, would be taking 12 credit hours and not working, instead of 18 full credit hours so I can graduate early and not have to pay another bloody, sweaty dollar towards princess’s scholarship money. The truth of the matter is, in order to be successful in the future, you got to work your ass off for it in college. Or if you don’t, you wanna meet your soul mate, party, look pretty, and have a good time, choose the liberal arts or marketing princess route, and have fun waiting tables in the summer when the company head, once nerd, closes up to enjoy a vacation on the Mediterranean coast of Ibiza, along with his buddy the “horrible, inconsiderate” doctor that moved your appt. a couple days to go too. check please.

  22. whoopwhoop says:

    To the girl above me, you need some better time management skills. You’re never going to finish at the rate you’re going.

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