Career 
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Petroleum Engineering Tops List of Best Undergrad Degrees

PayScale.com periodically updates their list of Best Undergrad College Degrees by Salary and earlier this year the list was led by Aerospace Engineering – rocket scientists. It’s not surprising to see that much of the top ten is unchanged, it’s still filled with engineers of all varieties, from Chemical to Electrical to Nuclear, but this was the first time I’ve seen Petroleum Engineering on the list.

My lovely wife graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree several years ago and many of her friends went to work for large energy companies working with petroleum. I don’t know how Petroleum Engineering differs from Chemical Engineering, other than being a specialization, but it’s been a poorly kept secret in the Chemical Engineering world that the best salaries are in working with oil.

Does this mean you should rush out to get a petroleum engineering degree? PayScale.com looks at median starting pay as well as “mid-career” median pay, so it’s a little more balanced, but a lot can change in four years. Petroleum engineering may be hot now but unless you love it, it may not be what you expect in four years. Or ten. I went to school for computer science in 1998 because it was the hot thing, fast forward three years and you hit the point people remember as the dot com bust (March 2001). So here I was, graduating early into a busted market and everyone in lockdown mode. It’s since recovered but it still hasn’t reached the excesses I was hoping to enjoy back in the day!

That being said, I’m now of the mind that if you work hard and do what you enjoy, you will succeed. You may not uncork untold fortunes but at the very least you’ll enjoy the ride. If that happens to be Petroleum Engineering, then PayScale.com thinks you’ll be pulling in over $150k a year by mid-career.


 Education 
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Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary 2010

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).

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 Career 
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2010 Fortune’s 25 Top Paying Companies

Fat Stack of BenjaminsEvery year, Forbes puts out it’s full list of the Top 100 companies to work for and every year I look for the two employers I’ve ever had… only really expecting to see one of them (and fairness, there aren’t any major defense contractors on the list). This year, my last company, Booz Allen Hamilton, retained the 52nd spot on the list despite going through some huge organizational changes. I have nothing but good things to say about the organization and the people I had the pleasure of working with while I was there.

But, enough about why *I* look at the list, let’s see which companies stack up where it matters most – pay.

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 Career 
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Three Best Kept Secret Jobs of 2009

When I started college in 1998, the dot-com bubble was only an anxious froth. Computers were becoming increasingly popular and hardly a day went by when you didn’t hear about some hot new startup. They hadn’t really exploded yet, that wouldn’t be for another year, but everyone wanted to get into “computers.” The path to riches was paved not with cheese, as Feivel once thought, but with Internets and electronics.

Nowadays, computers are commonplace and while computer science and engineering still pepper the top job lists, there are a few jobs out there that you probably didn’t know paid as well as they do. Thanks to US News and World Reports, we now know eleven of them. I only looked at the more interesting ones.

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 Career 
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Fortune’s Top 25 Top-Paying Companies (2009)

Fat Stack of BenjaminsI always enjoy looking at these lists because they give a little glimpse into some of our nation’s most storied firms. I think these are more for entertainment purposes, much like the top paying undergraduate degrees, because the average total pay isn’t something you’ll get right out of the gate.

It’s fun to read are the various perks employees get because often times the companies that compensate the best tend to have great benefits as well. A popular company to talk about when you list slick benefits is always Google’s plethora of employee benefits.

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 Career 
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US News & World Report’s Best Colleges of 2009

While these types of lists are about as valuable as lists for the top paying jobs, they sure are fun to read, aren’t they? I put even less stock in these types of lists since they’re far more generic than top job lists and less quantifiable. It’s like when the coaches are polled to get the rankings of the NCAA Division I football teams… I can’t remember the last time a pre-season #1 ended up with the trophy that next January (I don’t follow much college football though, I did go to Robocup powerhouse Carnegie Mellon).

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 Career 
8
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25 Well-Paying Jobs You Won’t Want

Business Pundit had a great post last week on 25 Well-Paying Jobs that Most People Overlook (and Why) meant to “spotlight jobs with stigmas attached to them that pay more than the typical person would think.” The headline job was that of crab fishermen and a shout out to one of my favorite shows, The Deadliest Catch. If you’ve ever seen the show, just one episode, you’ll know that those men earn every penny of the tens of thousands they earn in a short period of time. They get the crap beat out of them by the ocean, by the boat, by their captain and their crew mates. I totally understand why Alaskan King Crab is as expensive as it is.

Which job surprised me the most? Probably a dog walker:

Dogs can be scary enough without putting several of them on leashes and hoping they’ll behave for a complete stranger as you walk them around town. However, the undesirability of the job is precisely what makes it high-paying. In a busy metro area, a reputable dog walker can rake it in to the tune of $50 per hour. As one article points out, “that’s more than the average salary of a mid-level manager.”

If things don’t work out, I could always walk dogs.


 Career 
8
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Best Paying Graduate Jobs: Lessons Learned

For the last three years, I’ve watched for and written about the list Yahoo releases every year for the best jobs for graduates. The 2008 best paying job for graduates was in the field of Chemical Engineering. Last year, the 2007 best paying job for graduates was Chemical Engineering. The year before that, the 2006 best paying job for graduates was Chemical Engineering. I think it’s safe to say, Chemical Engineering is here to stay. :)

The problem with looking at these types of lists is that if you were equally capable of doing any of the jobs on the list and if money were your primary driver, by the time you graduated, the list could change. When I started college in 1998, I was lucky. All the hot job lists had computer science, computer engineering, information systems and information technology all over the top spots. I wanted to study computer science and so the appearance high on the list for salaries merely cemented the decision. However, when I graduated in December 2001 (for all you math majors, I was done a semester early partly because of AP credits), computer science wasn’t really a hot job in too many places because of the dot-com bust.

Despite that, one thing is clear by looking at these lists year after year. Engineering is hot. While the non-engineering jobs on the list, the doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. are stable, high-pay (eventually), and high-demand, the competition for top engineering talent will always keep salaries for new graduates in those fields very high.

Chemical engineering may not always be the top paying graduate job (though it’s prospects do look good), but chances are #1 will have ‘engineering’ in there somewhere.


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