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:
- Computer Science
Median base salary: $70,000
Popular entry-level jobs: Software engineer, Systems engineer, Web developer
- Electrical Engineering
Median base salary: $68,438
Popular entry-level jobs: Electrical engineer, Systems engineer, Software developer
- Mechanical Engineering
Median base salary: $68,000
Popular entry-level jobs: Mechanical engineer, Design engineer, Project engineer
- Chemical Engineering
Median base salary: $65,000
Popular entry-level jobs: Chemical engineer, Process engineer, Project engineer
- Industrial Engineering
Median base salary: $64,381
Popular entry-level jobs: Industrial engineer, Quality engineer, Production planner
- Information Technology
Median base salary: $64,008
Popular entry-level jobs: Programmer analyst, Technical support, Systems engineer
- Civil Engineering
Median base salary: $61,500
Popular entry-level jobs: Civil engineer, Structural engineer, Field engineer
Median base salary: $60,000
Popular entry-level jobs: Data analyst, Statistician, Data scientist
Median base salary: $58,928
Popular entry-level jobs: Registered nurse, Licensed vocational nurse, Case manager
- 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
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.