The Highest Paying College Majors in America

With the spring semester kicking off on college campuses around the country, many students are beginning to question whether or not a change of major is in order, and if a high starting salary is the key goal, there is one major that pays out almost 40% more than the average.


The latest data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers is in, and in 2013, the starting salary for college graduates stood at $45,633, a gain of 2.6% over 2012 levels, representing an increase of more than $1,000. Yet there was a wide range of starting salaries depending on majors, from one where the average starting salary was $38,045 per year, to the leader with an average of $62,564 per year.  

There were seven majors tracked, and data was collected from more than 400,000 employers and government sources, and the highest paying careers may surprise you.

Source: 401(K) 2013.

7. Humanities & Social Sciences -- $38,045
A degree in Humanities & Social Sciences resulting in the lowest paying starting salaries in America, at just over $38,000. It also had the lowest starting range, with the minimum salary hitting $30,444. However in good news for Humanities & Social Science majors, they had the fastest growing salaries, as they were up 2.9% over 2012 levels.

6. Education -- $40,590
Following the Humanities & Social Sciences was Education, where the average wage actually dropped by 0.2% when compared to 2012 levels. The survey did note that Special Education Majors did see a higher starting salary, as they had an average of $46,000.

5. Mathematics & Sciences -- $42,956
Next on the list was Mathematics & Science majors, where the salary rose by 1.1% year over year. However the real winners were Mathematics majors, who had an average salary of $50,200, a gain of 1.8% over last year. While the salary growth wasn't as impressive, the highest paid major in this group was Construction Science/Management, which had an average starting salary of $45,300.

4. Communications -- $44,552
Surpassing Mathematics & Sciences was Communications, which saw average starting salaries rise by 1.9% year over year. However it had one of the widest ranges, with the highest earners -- almost topping $55,000 -- making nearly 60% more than the lowest earners at $34,000. Advertising majors had an average of $48,100, and journalism majors were below the average, hitting $41,900.

Source: Images of Money.

3. Business -- $55,144
Next were Business majors, who had the second highest percentage gain, with salaries up 2.3% over 2012 levels. Although they remained below the average, International Business majors had the biggest gains in average salary, growing from 3.8% to $46,900. The highest starting salaries of the group were Management Information Systems, with an average of $60,700.

2. Computer Science -- $59,084
Coming in second were Computer Science majors, with a starting salary nearing $60,000. However while that is impressive, it actually represented a loss of 0.2% compared to last year. There was also a wide range among starting salaries for Computer Science majors, as starting salaries range all the way from $46,000 to $69,710.

1. Engineering -- $62,564
And the college major with the highest average starting salary was Engineering, with an average starting pay almost $17,000 higher than the average across all majors. However Engineering majors did see a very slight loss ($91) in average starting salary versus 2012 levels. Mechanical Engineering majors had the highest percentage gain, as their salaries increased 2.5% to $64,500, but the true winner was petroleum engineering, where the average starting salary was an astounding $97,000.

All told, the increase in average starting pay for college graduates was a good thing, but there is no denying some degrees can end up paying a lot more than others.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 10:57 PM, JohnSmith wrote:

    It ASTOUNDS me that parents would pay for a liberal arts education for their kids in this pathetic economy. But they do. They simply send their retirement savings (or second mortgage) to the colleges and HOPE FOR THE BEST, while their kids, often, party like there's no tomorrow.

    SUGGESTION: If your kid wants to study Shakespearean Dance Steps, FINE, let him save up and pay for it. Otherwise make him PROVE to you that his major will get him a job.

  • Report this Comment On January 29, 2014, at 3:32 PM, Mathman6577 wrote:

    Engineering has been the top paying field since at least the mid-1970's when I started investigating potential majors. I "settled" on electrical engineering and my BSEE has done me well over the last 3 decades.

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Patrick Morris

After a few stints in banking and corporate finance, Patrick joined the Motley Fool as a writer covering the financial sector. He's scaled back his everyday writing a bit, but he's always happy to opine on the latest headline news surrounding Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett and all things personal finance.

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