With the average cost of a college tuition quickly escalating, the economic implications of one’s educational track are becoming more important than ever. Even if the financial return on your investment isn’t the only factor in your choice of programs, it certainly should be part of the equation.
So how do students know which degrees will deliver the best paycheck once they graduate? Using 2017-2018 data from Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI), we compiled a list of the bachelor degrees that offer the highest starting salaries. (For more, see College Degrees of the 1% and Financial Careers Without a College Degree.)
Engineering degrees are right at the top of the list when it comes to initial compensation. Among the most lucrative majors are aerospace engineering ($62,345 starting salary), computer engineering ($61,326), mechanical engineering ($61,083) and materials engineering ($61,100). It’s a great career path for those with an aptitude for math, a penchant for problem-solving and strong computer software skills.
As businesses and other organizations become more dependent on technology to deliver efficiencies, they need qualified candidates who can help maintain and improve their computer systems. Those with degrees in management information systems ($59,970 starting salary), computer programming ($58,771) and information security systems ($58,363) are among the most well rewarded. Software design majors do even better when it comes to earnings, with an average salary of $62,541 upon graduation.
Business is another category with strong earnings potential right off the bat, especially if you choose the right major. At the top of the pay scale are those with degrees in e-commerce/entrepreneurship ($53,949 starting salary) and risk management ($53,919). Supply chain management is another potentially lucrative career, with an average starting salary of $51,185, as is construction management, with a beginning salary of $50,949.
Many jobs in economics require a master’s degree or higher. Nevertheless, even graduates with a bachelor’s can sometimes find employment as budget analysts, financial analysts and market researchers, among other roles. At $51,154, the starting pay for those with a four-year degree certainly isn’t bad.
Mathematics and Statistics
People with strong math skills are needed in any number of capacities: to help build complex computer programs, find investment opportunities on Wall Street or even help make breakthroughs in biotechnology. Graduates are rewarded for that skill set with a solid starting salary. Math majors earn $50,830 a year on average, according to CERI data, and those with a degree in statistics make $51,892.
Multimedia and Graphic Design
So much for the starving-artist stereotype. Companies today need employees with creative skills to help build their brand and tell their story in an effective way. Graphic designers tend to focus on visual imagery, producing marketing materials, packaging designs and magazine layouts. Multimedia programs, on the other hand, cover a wide range of skills, including television, journalism, computer animation and video production. The average base salary for someone with one of these undergraduate degrees is $50,781.
The growing demand for healthcare professionals spells good news for people working toward a four-year degree in nursing. They’ll make an average of $48,783 annually as they begin their career. And employment in this field is expected to grow at a faster-than-average pace over the next decade, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. Typical coursework includes biology, pharmacology, pathophysiology and nursing theory. Students also gain hands-on experience in the field through clinical courses.
In today’s economy a STEM-based education (science, technology, engineering, and math) usually translates into strong job prospects, and those with a physics degree are no exception. Companies hire them for a wide range of roles, from creating models using CAD software to building prototypes to troubleshooting manufacturing equipment, according to the American Physics Society. Students with a bachelor’s degree in physics will find themselves making $48,952 on average in their first real-world job.
Once you’ve earned a degree in biochemistry, the opportunities are wide-ranging. Some go on to work in university laboratories or at pharmaceutical companies and food-processing companies. Others find employment in education, healthcare or grant writing. Employers are willing to pay a relatively generous salary to get people with this background, and an average starting wage of $47,682 reflects that.
Law and Legal Studies
Working as an attorney requires going to law school and passing the bar exam. However, that isn’t the only path for someone who’s interested in the law. With a bachelor’s degree you can sometimes find work as a paralegal, police officer or even a human resources assistant. CERI found that the starting income for someone with a four-year degree in law or legal studies is a respectable $47,323.
The Bottom Line
Many individuals plan to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree after graduation. But with the right bachelor’s degree, you can bring home a quite nice paycheck – and start repaying your education loans while you decide whether an advanced degree makes sense for you and which one would be best. For a really impressive starting salary, backgrounds in engineering or computer science are among the most promising options. (For a look at the other end of the spectrum, see The Worst-Paying College Majors in America.)