Securing a high-paying job after graduating college may not be at the top of everyone's list of "must-haves," but for many, it is at least an important consideration. Not surprisingly, the type of degree chosen -- specifically associates, bachelors, or graduate -- plays a big role in determining not only the career options available to you, but also the pay scale.
The differences between say, an associate's degree in electrical engineering and advanced education in nurse anesthesia are like night and day. Of course, not everyone has the time, money, or inclination to spend six or seven years, and sometimes more, hitting the books at a university. The good news is, though an MBA is likely to earn more than a person with an Associate of Arts degree over their careers, both offer exciting wage opportunities.
2-years is plenty, thank you
If it's an associate degree you're set on, either out of high school or for those who choose to go back to school to upgrade their skill set, the top paying career is in computer engineering (CE), according to highly regarded pay and college data provider PayScale. It should be noted the pay rankings don't always coincide with the actual wages some professionals have posted on PayScale.
For example, though CE tops the Associate Degree list and includes a real world average pay of $63,000, electrical engineering is ranked fifth for pay, but those actually in the latter career say the mean wage is $64,600. Also included in the highest paying associate degrees are economics, followed by management information systems, and construction management, ranked second, third, and fourth respectively.
Calling all math and engineering fans
When it comes to bachelor's degrees, math and engineering gurus rule the roost, at least in terms of average pay. The top paying education is waiting for those with a petroleum engineering degree in-hand, followed by systems engineers, who earn an average of $90,000 annually.
Interestingly, the next four on the list of the best paying bachelor's degrees all offer at or near the same average earnings. These include actuarial mathematics for the truly analytical folks, as well as chemical engineering, computer science and engineering, and nuclear engineering.
While the pay for engineering and math aficionados will vary depending on factors including years of experience and geographic location, many of the engineers listed above average about $90,000. That's not to say a recent graduate will necessarily earn a top income right out of the gate, but over time a bachelor's degree will generally be more lucrative than an associate-level education.
The envelope, please
Students with a passion for nursing will find an advanced degree in nurse anesthesia top of the heap pay-wise, with an average of $140,000 for those with a few years of experience. For nursing anesthesia, advanced degree holders with a decade or more under their belt salaries can see their pay soar to an average of $227,000. Of course, such compensation will likely be needed to help pay down all those school loans!
An MBA strategy degree is next up for those willing to put in the additional time and includes roles such as management and business consultant, as well as product and marketing managers. Virtually all of the various positions available to those with an advanced strategy degree can expect to earn a six-figure salary fairly early in their careers.
A Ph.D. in chemical engineering, a masters in general and strategic management, and organic chemistry round out the top five paying advanced degrees. Given time and some experience, those boasting either a masters or Ph.D. will likely be well compensated for the extra work put in to earn an advanced degree.