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Your Take: Best Paying College Major Lists

Posted By Jim On 08/31/2012 @ 7:15 am In Your Take | 15 Comments

I started my college experience back in the summer of 1998 in a degree in which every graduate had a fantastic job with an incredible company – computer science. Computer science graduates were getting snapped up by tech startups left and right, the tech boom was in full swing, and back in 1998, the companies were mostly legitimate. While in school, I packed my semesters full of classes and was set to graduate a semester early, December of 2001, when the dot com bubble burst is spectacular fashion in the spring of that year. Jobs were no longer plentiful and I would extend my college experience to include a Master’s degree before graduating into a much healthier job market a year later.

The lesson from all that? Four years is a long time. The best paying college major in 1998, when you start college, may not be the best (or even close to the best) when you graduate in 2002. Fortunately for me, computer science was a degree that would always be in the top ten for many years later and I enjoyed it.

When I see lists like this one [3], that list the top 15 college majors by median pay (taken from the latest College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs [4]), I force myself to remember that four years is a lot of time. The list itself is less valuable than the trends.

What’s the trend? Engineering is always king. Look at any list and you’ll see the top of the list peppered with a variety of engineering disciplines – computer, chemical, electrical, mechanical, aerospace, industrial, and civil. What else will you see on those lists? Math. Economics and financial management, #13 and #14 on that list, are proxies for mathematics (not the hardcore theoretical stuff that a mathematics degree demands, but it requires a healthy dose of math).

Finally, you’ll always see pre-med because medicine is an expensive field to be involved in. After ten years of education, internships, and residencies, you get the pleasure of earning six figures that is chewed up by insurance and loan payments. You get paid six figures because the expenses are tremendous. Good for them because we can manage fewer engineers (the pipeline there is four years), it’s tougher to get more doctors (if the pipeline is ten years of grueling punishment).

What do you think about these lists?

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[3] lists like this one: http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2012/08/22/college-major-paydays/?hpt=hp_c2

[4] College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/r/amazon.php?asin=1593570740

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