Contents

    Earning big with education: The 57 highest-paying majors in 2023

    Olga Knezevic
    Olga Knezevic

    Olga is an in-house editor and writer at Degreechoices.com. She has previous experience as a higher education instructional designer and a university librarian. Olga is passionate about well-crafted sentences, Wikipedia rabbit holes, and the Oxford comma.

    Earning big with education: The 57 highest-paying majors in 2023
    Contents

      Search Online Highest Paying Majors

      www.degreechoices.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

      The average starting salary across the 57 highest-paying majors is $81,301.

      Operations Research tops the list with a salary of $109,267.

      51% of the highest-paying majors are engineering disciplines.

      The most widely available high-paying major is Registered Nursing.

      Choosing a college major? It’s a huge decision that can shape your future. In fact, your major might even have a bigger impact on your financial future than the specific college you attend.

      Across the board, the average starting salary 4 years after graduation for all majors is $54,709. However, the 57 highest-paying majors we’ve compiled here exceed that average by 39%. That’s a substantial difference, especially when you’re first launching your career.

      About half of these high-earning majors fall under the umbrella of engineering. And while many of these majors are widely available across colleges, some are a bit more rare, offering a glimpse into unique niches with high earning potential.

      We understand that a college degree isn’t only about money. However, given the burden of student debt and the financial pressures many graduates face, earning potential is an important factor to consider.

      Let’s delve into the 57 majors that offer the highest starting salaries in 2023.

      Majors that pay $90K+

      These majors present remarkable early-career opportunities for students. The highest-paid major overall is Operations Research, a specialized field focused on using statistical analysis and mathematical modeling to improve complex decision making. Or perhaps the sea is calling you? Consider Naval Architecture, Marine Engineering, or Marine Transportation. Recent tech layoffs may have you worried, but Computer Engineering continues to offer impressive earnings, and Computer Science is the highest-paid non-engineering major.

      Major Median starting salary Number of programs
      1. Operations Research $109,267 4
      2. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering $107,037 6
      3. Marine Transportation $103,626 5
      4. Computer Science $99,158 281
      5. Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration $98,604 17
      6. Petroleum Engineering $97,850 19
      7. Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering $90,590 232
      8. Systems Engineering $90,211 12
      9. Computer Engineering $90,189 164

      Popular online programs

      www.degreechoices.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

      Majors that pay $80K+

      Majors in the $80K+ category are also focused in STEM fields. Engineering continues to dominate, including traditional fields like Chemical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, as well as narrower niches like Electromechanical Engineering and Metallurgical Engineering.

      Major Median starting salary Number of programs
      10. Mining and Mineral Engineering $87,167 8
      11. Chemical Engineering $86,902 147
      12. Mathematics and Statistics, Other $86,529 6
      13. Industrial Engineering $86,315 75
      14. Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering $85,836 57
      15. Construction Engineering $84,907 9
      16. Electromechanical Engineering $84,177 1
      17. Construction Engineering Technologies $83,595 29
      18. Nuclear Engineering $83,550 11
      19. Mechanical Engineering $82,261 277
      20. Computer and Information Sciences, General $82,099 283
      21. Engineering, Other $81,872 13
      22. Construction Management $81,845 43
      23. Mathematics and Computer Science $81,098 7
      24. Metallurgical Engineering $80,681 2
      25. Biomedical/Medical Engineering $80,320 11

      Majors that pay $70K+

      Don’t balk at these majors – earning $70K and up shortly after graduation is incredibly impressive. You can’t get away from engineering – but we do see more variety here, including Systems Science – the interdisciplinary study of complex systems of all kinds – as well as Registered Nursing, Building Management, Finance, and Fire Protection. Economics may be the closest you can get to a non-STEM major, though it was recently reclassified as STEM at some colleges owing to the fact that it’s becoming increasingly math-heavy.

      Major Median starting salary Number of programs
      27. Building/Construction Finishing, Management, and Inspection $79,871 3
      28. Systems Science and Theory $79,870 5
      29. Ocean Engineering $79,776 4
      30. Engineering, General $79,583 38
      31. Engineering Mechanics $79,283 3
      32. Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing $78,415 628
      33. Engineering Science $77,649 9
      34. Materials Engineering $77,514 35
      35. Civil Engineering $76,683 206
      36. Materials Sciences $76,239 2
      37. Electrical Engineering Technologies/Technicians $75,554 22
      38. Statistics $74,691 43
      39. Engineering-Related Fields $74,350 25
      40. Applied Mathematics $73,993 43
      41. Quality Control and Safety Technologies/Technicians $73,793 13
      42. Information Science/Studies $73,606 66
      43. Engineering Technologies/Technicians, Other $73,501 7
      44. Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Technologies $73,497 1
      45. Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering $73,215 4
      46. Insurance $73,001 17
      47. Manufacturing Engineering $72,630 13
      48. Management Information Systems and Services $72,479 98
      49. Agricultural Engineering $72,155 22
      50. Economics $72,055 356
      51. Electromechanical Instrumentation and Maintenance Technologies/Technicians $71,796 5
      52. Fire Protection $71,682 12
      53. Computer Engineering Technologies/Technicians $71,579 9
      54. Heavy/Industrial Equipment Maintenance Technologies $70,652 1
      55. Finance and Financial Management Services $70,622 362
      56. Mechanical Engineering Related Technologies/Technicians $70,413 39
      57. Management Sciences and Quantitative Methods $70,281 82

      Data sources:

      All the numbers in this article are based on 2 Department of Education sources – College Scorecard and IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System). The data was most recently updated in April 2023 and is based on weighted average salaries 4 years after students graduated.

      The highest-paying degrees aren’t always the most popular

      You may be surprised to learn that the highest-paying majors aren’t necessarily the most popular. According to “conferral numbers” (how many people actually earned a degree), these are the top 10 most popular majors:

      Major Conferrals Median starting salary Number of programs
      1. Business Administration, Management and Operations 114,704 $55,476 835
      2. Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing 107,366 $78,415 628
      3. Psychology, General 91,347 $42,996 791
      4. Biology, General 71,688 $47,372 726
      5. Communication and Media Studies 43,010 $48,109 513
      6. Health and Physical Education/Fitness 39,125 $45,738 456
      7. Finance and Financial Management Services 38,470 $70,622 362
      8. Accounting and Related Services 36,397 $60,150 530
      9. Teacher Education and Professional Development, Specific Levels and Methods 35,481 $41,094 547
      10. Marketing 34,492 $57,235 402

      As you can see, Nursing and Finance are the only top-10 majors in terms of popularity that also made our highest-paying majors list.

      Two of these most popular majors – Biology and Psychology – recently made our list of most useless degrees (a cheeky claim, but find out why).

      Limitations on the data

      While we encourage students to consider potential earnings when choosing a major, it’s important to keep these things in mind:

      • These are short-term earnings. We can’t know how your career path will develop. You may not have a great salary a few years after college if you majored in English, but if you end up as a communications manager at a leading company 10 years later – your earnings can compete with those of an engineering major any day.
      • These starting salaries don’t account for what people actually do after college. At this time, we can’t track if people got into the same field they majored in. However, these numbers do provide a good estimate of short-term earnings with different majors.

      The role of grad school

      You’ll notice that engineering fields are overrepresented in this list. This is partly because you can become a bonafide engineer with just a bachelor’s degree. Few majors except nursing offer a similar level of expertise and seniority straight out of college.

      Most other fields require years of experience or a high earning graduate degree to get there. If you plan on going to grad school, these salary numbers should be less influential in your choice of major.

      Other considerations

      Here are a few other important things to consider when exploring the highest-paying majors.

      What you bring to the table

      Being interested in and good at your chosen field will play a huge role in how well you do academically and professionally. Engineering is an extremely lucrative and popular major, but dropout rates are high. The prospect of high earnings may be compromised if you don’t graduate or secure a job in the field.

      Will you be able to find work?

      You should also consider job demand – the Bureau of Labor Statistics website is a great source for that.

      Impacted majors

      Most of the top-earning majors are extremely competitive. Often, these fields are not open for application until your sophomore or junior year in college, and acceptance rates can be low, with the most sought-after programs admitting as few as 10% of applicants.

      Your financial aid

      If you got a full-ride scholarship – congratulations! You can breathe a sigh of relief and focus less on starting salaries.

      Your college

      If your major typically has a lower starting salary, it’s particularly important to choose a high-value school to help you comfortably manage the cost of your education.

      www.degreechoices.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

      Did you enjoy this post?