Marathon Oil Visionarium

Photo credit: Marathon Oil. 

The numbers couldn't be any clearer. Students who want to make a lot of money right out of college have one choice: Study engineering. The top three highest-paying majors for recent college graduates were all engineering-related, along with seven out of the top 10.

Here's the complete list of top 10 paying majors:

Major Average Starting Salary 
Petroleum Engineering  $97,000.00
Computer Engineering  $70,900.00
Chemical Engineering  $67,500.00
Computer Science  $64,700.00
Aerospace/Aeronautical/ Astronautical Engineering  $64,500.00
Mechanical Engineering  $64,500.00
Electrical/Electronics and Communications Engineering  $63,000.00
Engineering Technology  $61,500.00
Management Information Systems/Business  $60,700.00
Logistics/Materials Management  $59,800.00

Source: January 2014 Salary Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers.  

Why petroleum engineering tops the list
The oil and gas industry is in the middle of a shale-fueled renaissance. It is expected to create over 1 million new jobs by 2020. The industry also faces a big wave of retirements, as the average age of America's energy workforce is about 50 years old. That combination of growth and attrition creates a major opportunity for job seekers.

 Marathon Oil Sunset

Photo credit: Marathon Oil.

It's a particular opportunity for those majoring in petroleum engineering. Employment for this position is expected to grow 17% by 2020. That's why companies are paying recent graduates with petroleum engineering degrees $97,000 a year. The industry also expects to hire a large number of other engineers in the years ahead. To learn more about some of the opportunities, Marathon Oil  (NYSE:MRO) has several videos detailing what it's like to work for the company, including as a drilling engineer or a facilities engineer.

Another top-paying major fueled by the energy industry
Chemical engineering is another top-paying major thanks to our energy renaissance, even if the outlook for job growth isn't as fast as the growth expected for petroleum engineers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook calls for 4% growth over the next decade, which is slower than average. Still, given the high starting salary and opportunities from the energy boom, the job prospects for chemical engineers look solid.

Chemical companies such as Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) are taking advantage of America's cheap natural gas prices to expand petrochemical plant capacity -- creating new opportunities for chemical engineers. Dow Chemical is in the middle of a $4 billion building boom for plants that will convert natural gas into the building blocks of plastic. The energy boom means Dow Chemical and its peers will be on the lookout for chemical engineers, especially as shale gas continues to fuel growth.


Photo credit: Dow Chemical.

Final thoughts
It's pretty clear that majoring in engineering will pay off, especially in an energy-related program. With decades' worth of drilling left, and a more than 100-year supply of natural gas, these two energy-related majors should be in demand for years to come.

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Matt DiLallo and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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