Borrow / The Other Talk

Top 5 Most Valuable College Majors

Katie Doyle  |  November 29, 2018

It costs a lot to go to college -- 145 grand for four years at a public college or university on average, according to The College Board (including tuition and room and board, but not any extras).  

Note: This is a sponsored article, and it’s a part of a paid campaign, The Other Talk with Citizens Bank.

Put such a high price tag on anything else and you’d immediately start thinking about it as a value proposition. How many miles will I be able to put on this car? How long is this roof going to last?

We need to start thinking about college the same way — which means getting strategic about choosing a major.  Like it or not, your major can go a long way toward predicting your future income. Does that mean that you shouldn’t pursue your passion for Shakespeare or sociology if that’s what makes your heart pound faster? Not necessarily. But knowing what you’re in for salary wise before you decide how much you’re going to spend on four years in a classroom is a smart move, too.  

Some of the most valuable college majors will get you in the door with starting salaries north of $130,000! Our friends at The Cashlorette crunched the numbers on bachelor’s degrees and came up with the most lucrative college majors.  So, in my best Ryan Seacrest voice, here’s a look at the top five:

  1. Petroleum engineering
  2. Pharmacy pharmaceutical sciences/administration
  3. Geological/geophysical engineering
  4. Mining/mineral engineering
  5. Naval architecture/marine engineering

Wait, petroleum engineering? Is that really a thing?

It sure is. Petroleum engineers typically work in an office or near a drill site, and their role is developing methods for extracting oil and gas from below the Earth’s surface, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary for a petroleum engineer was $132,000 in 2017. Not too shabby.

OK, great. Tell me more about pharmaceutical sciences.

You got it. Based on the name, I’ll bet you can imagine that this class of jobs includes roles related to working with pharmacists. For that honor, those involved in pharmaceutical sciences can expect to have an average salary of $115,000.

Nice. Now, what is geophysical engineering?

Excellent question. Geophysical engineers use geological principles to analyze engineering problems. A typical job for this major would be evaluating construction sites from a geological standpoint, and a typical salary would be around $99,000.

Same idea with mineral engineering?

You know it. Mineral engineers figure out how to extract minerals from the Earth, and on average they bring home about $104,000 each year. They’re No. 4 on the list because they have a slightly larger unemployment rate than geophysical engineers — 2.7 percent vs. 1 percent — but still really low.

Talk to me about naval architecture

I thought you’d never ask. Naval architects and marine engineers are the people that design and build ships. They’re in charge of the creating the infrastructure for everything from submarines to aircraft carriers, and they make about $90,000.

Phew, so much engineering

You’re right, the commonality here is that these majors are all math- and science-focused. These majors have traditionally been male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean they should be. A number of colleges, like the Flatiron School in New York, are focused on changing that dynamic. Check out the Women Take Tech initiative for more details.

What if I don’t like any of these options?

The good news: Your college major doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all deciding factor on financial success. But if you know going into school that you’re looking at, say, a journalism-sized salary instead of one of the STEM-related salaries here, that’s an important consideration in the price tag of the college or university you choose.

To be honest, I, your faithful reporter, didn’t have a traditionally lucrative major either, and 15 years post-grad, I think it worked out just fine — financially and otherwise.  Getting a good job with a nice salary is important, but so is making smart money moves like being a saver and socking money away in your retirement account.


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