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Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary 2011

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Every year, as we flow through graduation season, I like to take a look at PayScale’s College Salary Report – which takes a look at a variety of statistics for different college majors. The chart just lists the top ten majors, with starting and mid-career median pay figures, though the larger table has a list of many degrees from Dietetics to Art to Criminal Justice to Agriculture. It covers a lot of different degrees, even though the top ten list seems to be filled with engineers.

As always, these lists are tricky because what might be the best when you enter school may not be the best when you graduate. Perfect example was when I started school in 1998 – computer science was sizzling hot as the dot com boomed like crazy. By 2001, it had famously burst. I was happy to graduate a semester early in December of 2001, only to be rewarded with one of the worst job markets, at the time, since the 80s. Congratulations… good luck finding a job pal (I chickened out and went to graduate school).

From 20062008, the top major was chemical engineering. That degree gave up the title to Aerospace Engineering the following year. This year, both were eclipsed by Petroleum Engineering. In fact, if you compare the following chart to last year – you’ll notice that the petrol majors zoomed ahead (look at the X scale).

Degrees Degrees
Methodology
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.

As you’ll see, chemical and aerospace engineers had similar salaries to last year – petrol engineers zoomed ahead to touch near $160,000 by mid-career (15 years of experience). Computer science (computer engineering) is still in the top ten!

What’s the lesson from this chart? Engineers get paid.

{ 25 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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25 Responses to “Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary 2011”

  1. Hunter says:

    It’s great to see the higher salaries going to science graduates. When I graduated from college in 1995, it was all about having a business degree. Thankfully the market is realising that producing too many CPA’s is not the best way to proceed.

  2. cubiclegeoff says:

    I think all high school guidance counselors should know this stuff and discuss it will the students going to college. They should at least know. I at least wish my guidance counselor said something (or was useful at all).

    • Strebkr says:

      I think schools need dedicated financial teachers. leaving this to a guidance counselor might not be a great idea. I think kids need a structured class from someone with a proven background.

  3. Adam says:

    The employment market continually shifts, and I agree that the trend can, and often will change while in college. Best to get a solid, well-rounded education before entering the job market, and graduate school in a more specific field after working a few years.

    • daenyll says:

      Finished a biomedical engineering degree in 2007, and ended up going back to grad school after a few months job search to no avail. I’d intended to return but had hoped to have had some work experience and more idea of specific focus I’d wanted out of my Master’s

      • Scott says:

        From what I found through my own experience, BioMed Engineering experience in undergrad doesn’t mean much as pretty much nowhere will hire you unless you have a masters or doctorate. Unfortunately, some undergrad degrees (and I’m not singling out BME/BioE here) get sold to incoming students who don’t realize they are fast-tracking themselves to a masters or doctorate degree later because of the way their particular industry works. It’s a scam college have been pulling off very well for decades.

  4. PK says:

    I just want to point out that Computer Engineering and Computer Science are different fields. I have degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering, but I did not get the also available Computer Science degree.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It would be interesting to see how the salaries pan out for grad degrees…since that’s where most of the insane salaries are.

    • govenar says:

      I agree… it seems kinda misleading to just look at the undergraduate degree; doctor, lawyer, etc aren’t represented here.

      • Scott says:

        Then you better subtract student debt payments from salary because higher ed almost always means more money paid up front and a steeper financial hill to climb. Just saying…

        • Blah says:

          Those student loans expense payments will help lower you AGI. It will help balance out the feeling of being overburden with debt in the long run.

  6. Strebkr says:

    I did an MBA program a few years back. There were a ton of science people in there looking to add a business degree. Those guys have been very successful in recent years.

  7. billsnider says:

    I have a BS and MS in engineering. Did not work for me. The job market was really bad in the 60′s and 70′s for these kinds of degrees.

    Went back to school and got a BS and MBA in marketing. Had a great career. My prior education did help.

    It is all about you and timing.

    Bill Snider

  8. MikeZ says:

    It would be interesting to chart standard deviations and top salaries as well. I’m a Computer Engineer (not Comp Sci) and certainly my salary falls in line if not a little higher than above, however I suspect the standard deviations of engineering degrees to be much lower than that of other fields.

    Engineering makes great money, but I doubt you see a lot of engineers as high level company execs.

    • Texas Wahoo says:

      I think no major is likely to have a ton of high level executives, but they will often have some sort of graduate degree, and thus would not be included in this study.

      • MikeZ says:

        I’d still guess that Sales/’Buisness’ majors fill a higher percentage of top ranks. Engineering is great but the common wisdom is engineers are more introverted, and it rightfully takes a dynamic extrovert to be a CEO. That guy is more likely to have some buisness degree. Of course for every CEO there are hundreds of door to door vacuum salesmen.

        I think the answer to “Whats the best major for financial stability” and “Whats the best major to become rich” have two totally different answers.

  9. UChicago says:

    I am a U.S. citizen and will graduate in June with B.A. in Physics with Honors and B.S. in Mathematics with Honors, and Honors from The College and will be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa next week. Start Ph.D. in Physics in top 10 program. It is insulting that business majors running corporations (including those that ran U.S. banks and Wall Street into the ground) stating that American students, including mathematics, physics, and engineering majors, are not as smart are foreign students. If that is true, why are U.S. business majors running the U.S. based corporations? The logical extension of those statements make it clear that they are too unintelligent to run the U.S. corporations. They are solely interested in cheap labor, including cheap hard sciences and engineering students. I look forward to working for a company run by a CEO from India or Brasil. Alternatively, I look forward to forming a startup and hiring U.S. citizens to work for it.

  10. skylog says:

    it is interesting that engineering is all over the top ten, yet, somehow, economics sneaks into the list.

  11. Derek says:

    UChicago – typos don’t help when you’re making an argument that you are smarter than perceived. The reason business majors run most businesses is because they are better suited for the top level business environments. Engineers, while just as smart (or smarter), simply aren’t as trained to make those types of decisions. They will always be worth more than an average employee, but will rarely be the men in charge. On a side note, go Economics!

    • Anonymous says:

      for one, typos on a website comment section may well be the consequence of simply not being fully engaged / not caring. secondly, take your own advice because you have a grammatical error in your comment. thirdly, your condescending comment is beyond the scope of this discussion.

  12. F22 says:

    62 year old engineer say for college
    1) Most important – what you major is – engineering is better than history (for money) – Medical School and Law are also way better.
    2) Second – Grades – better to start in with major company like DuPont or Westinghouse that a southern state employee position (for money)
    3) Where you went to school – MIT is better than a non accredited college

  13. Terrence says:

    Lol @ this blog! I laugh at people with college degrees. I would rather have a copyright and/or trademark emblazoned on my wall rather than a college degree. Ask yourself what’s more important a degree or copyrights/trademark to a product/service you can market to specific target audience? I opt for the copyrights/trademark over a degree!


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