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The Future of Work

These Are The College Degrees That Earn The Highest Salaries

Most STEM degrees pay graduates the highest wages, but there are other college majors that offer good return on the education investment.

These Are The College Degrees That Earn The Highest Salaries

[Photo: Flickr user COD Newsroom]

With student loans reaching an all-time high, it's no surprise that many are now questioning whether their education is worth the expense.

The average 2015 college graduate completed their education with $35,051 in student loan debt, according to a study by Edvisor, and a survey by Salary.com found that 35% of 15,000 respondents believe a degree isn't worth the price tag, with another 43% claiming it isn’t necessary to succeed in life.

While not all degrees are created equal, and you can always find a career in a field you didn’t major in, certain degrees are a better bet for students looking for the highest return on their education investment. In fact, a 2015 report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimated that the difference in lifetime wages between the highest- and lowest-paying college majors is about $3.4 million.

According to a new study by Glassdoor, an online employer review and careers resource, the top 10 college majors that help graduates earn the most during the first five years of employment are:

  1. Computer Science

    Median base salary: $70,000
    Popular entry-level jobs: Software engineer, Systems engineer, Web developer


  2. Electrical Engineering

    Median base salary: $68,438
    Popular entry-level jobs: Electrical engineer, Systems engineer, Software developer


  3. Mechanical Engineering

    Median base salary: $68,000
    Popular entry-level jobs: Mechanical engineer, Design engineer, Project engineer


  4. Chemical Engineering

    Median base salary: $65,000
    Popular entry-level jobs: Chemical engineer, Process engineer, Project engineer


  5. Industrial Engineering

    Median base salary: $64,381
    Popular entry-level jobs: Industrial engineer, Quality engineer, Production planner


  6. Information Technology

    Median base salary: $64,008
    Popular entry-level jobs: Programmer analyst, Technical support, Systems engineer


  7. Civil Engineering

    Median base salary: $61,500
    Popular entry-level jobs: Civil engineer, Structural engineer, Field engineer


  8. Statistics

    Median base salary: $60,000
    Popular entry-level jobs: Data analyst, Statistician, Data scientist


  9. Nursing

    Median base salary: $58,928
    Popular entry-level jobs: Registered nurse, Licensed vocational nurse, Case manager


  10. Management Information Systems

    Median base salary: $58,000
    Popular entry-level jobs: Network administrator, Help desk analyst, Business analyst


While some of the highest-paying tech employers have expressed an interest in hiring non-STEM graduates, science, technology, engineering, and math degrees still dominate the top 10 and much of the remaining top 50.

But earning a STEM degree, which accounts for 20% of all college degrees, doesn’t necessarily guarantee a high salary. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, petroleum engineers earn as much as $243,000 by mid-career, while environmental engineers earn just over $100,000, and those in mechanical-related technologies and architecture don’t crack six figures. "The top 25% of education majors earn more than the bottom 25% of engineering majors," suggests the report, titled "The Economic Value of College Majors."

Furthermore, chasing a degree for the sake of its future earning potential might have an adverse affect on one's career, according to Vince Broady, the CEO of content marketing platform Thismoment and religion studies major at Brown University. "If you don’t personally care about what you are doing, you are not going to be competitive at it," he told Fast Company. "You have to have some faith that your education will not be wasted on you. This is about you and your specific situation; you need to make sure that what you learn serves you."

At the bottom of the list of 50 were these degree tracks that led to the lowest-paying jobs:

  • Health Care Administration

    Median base salary: $42,000
    Popular entry-level jobs: Medical assistant, File clerk, Office manager


  • Social Work

    Median base salary: $41,656
    Popular entry-level jobs: Social worker, Mental health counselor, Camp counselor


  • Biology

    Median base salary: $41,250
    Popular entry-level jobs: Lab assistant, Paramedic, Tutor


For those who want to improve the likelihood of getting those student loans paid off sooner, however, Glassdoor’s data would suggest that STEM is the safest bet.

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