Student debt is a huge financial burden for millions of Americans, but some college majors are actually worth the cost.
Did you know that student loans are often considered a form of “good” debt? That’s because, in theory, taking out a student loan to finance your college education will increase your future potential income, making the debt a worthy investment towards your long-term net worth.
But that’s not always the case. While taking out student debt to finance a degree in electrical engineering could be yield some real financial dividends, taking out tens of thousands of dollars to get a degree in, say, theatre studies is probably not so worthwhile—especially when discharging student debt through bankruptcy is practically impossible.
Earlier this year, the recruiting site Glassdoor did some number crunching and came out with a study that highlighted the 50 highest paying college majors. Here are the top ten entries from that list, plus a little more information on what exactly these courses of study require and what kind of future career path you can expect.
10. Management Information Systems
Median Base Salary – $58,000
Something you’ll notice about most of the majors on this list is that they have to do with technology: building it, maintaining it, writing programs for it, etc.
So what better place to start than majoring in management of information systems, which will prepare you for a career in helping businesses make the most of their technology.
Unlike, say, a degree in computer programming, this major will keep you focused on the human side of tech. You’ll learn to study how people interact with databases and applications. Your job will be to bring the tech into alignment with what people actually need and want from it.
With this major, you’ll study both information systems and business principles, so that you can make sure your company’s tech, its employees, and its business needs are all rowing in the same direction.
Median Base Salary – $58,928
Ask anyone who works in a medical environment and they’ll tell you that doctors are very important, but no patient facility could function without nurses.
Not only is this job in high demand, but it’s one that’s only going to become more in demand as the Baby Boomer generation gets older and older over the next few decades.
Plus, it’s a job that isn’t bound by geography. A computer programmer might need to move to Silicon Valley or another big city in order to get a job, but nurses are in demand everywhere.
You only need an associates degree to become a Registered Nurse (RN), but a bachelor’s or graduate degree will help you move up into higher-paying roles. There will also be state certifications and additional training programs required.
Median Base Salary – $60,000
Businesses can’t function without data. More importantly, they can’t function without someone to tell them what that data actually means.
While a career in statistics is much more complicated than that, those are still the core functions of the role: You are adept at collecting quantitative data and interpreting what it means.
Another twist on this role is to work as an actuary, which means assessing potential risk and helping businesses minimize their exposure. If you’re not a fan of math, then a job in statistics isn’t for you.
It’s a job field with a bright future, as the expanded possibilities of technology mean more opportunities and applications for data gathering and analysis.
7. Civil Engineering
Median Base Salary – $61,500
Psst. Hey kid! You wanna design dams and roads and sewage systems? Well then have we got the college degree for you!
Yes, civil engineers are responsible for designing and supervising construction for all kinds of public infrastructure. Your degree will involve studying a lot of mathematics as well as physics, chemistry, and material science.
Like many of the careers listed here, you’ll probably end up becoming an expert in one aspect of civil engineering and making that your specialty.
And until computers advance to the point where we can all upload our brains to the cloud, people are going to need roads, bridges, and sewage systems to live—so you don’t have to worry about the field becoming obsolete.
6. Information Technology
Median Base Salary – $64,008
Sure, one of the things you can do with a degree in information technology is work in an I.T. support department. But there many more roles that you can fill beyond that!
You could also work in database administration or computer programming, become a network architect or focus on becoming a research scientist.
Luckily, whatever you decide to do, you will have skills that are in demand, although some of these job fields might require a graduate degree to get ahead.
And while taking out that extra debt might cause you some worry, at least you’ll be gaining skills that you can be confident will increase your future income.
Regardless, there’s a lot more to a career in information technology than simply asking people whether they’ve tried turning their computer off and then on again.
5. Industrial Engineering
Median Base Salary – $64,381
If you were to take a bird’s eye view of a factory or a hospital, you would see an incredibly complex system of workers and machines, one where a small break down in one area could throw the entire thing out of whack.
So how do companies prevent this from happening? They hire industrial engineers!
With an industrial engineering degree, it’s your job to map out and maintain these highly complex systems without which large companies wouldn’t be able to function.
As you might have guessed, this will involve a slightly dizzying array of skills, including people skills, which isn’t something that many of the other engineering fields on this list require.
Be prepared to study up on computer systems, economics, management theory, and operations, and mathematics for starters.
If you are able to acquire all the necessary skills to be an industrial engineer, you’ll be qualified to work in a wide array of industries.
4. Chemical Engineering
Median Base Salary – $65,000
We’re starting to think that getting a degree in engineering is a good idea. (Fun fact: We’re also regretting many of our life choices.)
And with chemical engineering, you won’t just be working in a lab mixing things together to see if they go boom. You’ll be applying discoveries made in the lab to real-world solutions.
In essence, you won’t just be working to figure out if something is probable, your job will be making it applicable.
Chemical engineers can work in many different industries, including food, agriculture, transportation, pharmaceuticals, etc. You could be helping develop a new kind of hot pocket or a new kind of car fuel.
Degrees in chemical engineering means studying a number of different scientific disciplines, so get ready to stretch your brain.
And with so many applications for chemical engineering, you should also be prepared to obtain a graduate degree in your specialty.
3. Mechanical Engineering
Median Base Salary – $68,000
This job is perfect if you harbor any steampunk fantasies of building yourself a large mech suit with which to wow your friends and terrify your enemies.
Mechanical engineers build, design, and optimize heavy machinery, the kind of stuff that might not hold our attention like a smartphone, but is actually far more critical to modern living.
You could end up working on cars, medical devices, power plants–there are far too many applications here to name.
For instance, you could work in Research and Development, dreaming up new ways to improve people’s lives, or you could end up managing a large facility filled with heavy machinery, as they’ll need someone with the proper expertise to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Wherever you end up, just make sure you’re careful who you tell about your steam-powered mech suit. People can be weird about that stuff sometimes.
2. Electrical Engineering
Median Base Salary – $68,438
Do you like to take computers apart to see how they work? Then electrical engineering might be the job for you—especially if you’re also good at putting those computers back together again.
Technology is an increasingly important part of modern-day life, and electrical engineers are the ones who build it. They generally focus on the hardware side of technology rather than the software side, but it would also be a good idea to learn about the coding side of things. (After all, software will be a critical component of any machine you build.)
Be aware that specialized graduate degrees are often a part of the electrical engineering career track—but the salaries will be high enough to be worth the investment. If you’re really lucky, you could end up building the machine that one day rises to conquer us all. Who knows, maybe your brainchild will even spare you!
(We’re just kidding. Our future mechanical overlords will know no mercy.)
1. Computer Science
Median Base Salary – $70,000
This isn’t that much of a surprise. The rise of Silicon Valley has placed computers front and center of everything we do. But without computer science experts, those machines wouldn’t be much more than incredibly expensive paperweights.
High demand for computer science experts means that salaries are competitive, and with coding programs for kids springing up across the country, this the job field of the future.
Granted, those boot camps being successful could lead to lower overall salaries in coming decades due to a larger skilled workforce–but even those lower salaries will be much, much higher than you’d get with an art history or theatre degree.
Some majors are worth the extra student debt.
Obviously, this study from Glassdoor isn’t the only authority on the subject of well-paying college majors. To find some other majors that translate to great pay, check out this study from compensation platform company Payscale. They not only include starting salaries, but they rank the majors by mid-career pay, or what the median salary is for majors after 10+ years in the field.
According to Payscale, you’ll find that Petroleum Engineering, Public Accounting, Aeronautics & Astronautics are also majors that translate to high earnings. And in general, sticking with majors in the STEM field will mean higher earning potential then majoring in the liberal arts.
We’re not here to tell you what you should choose to study, all we’re doing is providing some supporting data. With a looming student debt crisis threatening to severely hamper the national economy, it’s helpful to know which courses of study will make those student loans a worthy investment instead of a dangerous burden.
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