100 Highest Paying College Majors in 2023
September 16, 2023
In my first few weeks of college, every other person I met said that they wanted to major in molecular biology. Having spent the better part of high school biology doodling in my notebook, this made very little sense to me. But this phenomenon—let’s call it MoBio FOMO—reflected the economic outlook of the early 2010s. You see, the overwhelming majority of my class began high school on the back of the 2008 Recession. According to the International Labour Organization, there were 27 million more unemployed people in 2009 than the year before. Global unemployment remained 6.2% in 2010. For students in high school at the time, the gravitational pull of STEM majors, promising stable, well-paying jobs, was strong (continue for the 100 best paying college majors in 2023).
In 2023, college applicants have to factor in an economy that has not quite righted itself after the pandemic. Not only is office attendance low, but a third of US office leases will also expire in 2026. Rents in big cities like New York are the most they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, AI developments are poised to change the workplace in unpredictable ways. Against this landscape, it’s understandable for prospective college students to want to learn what the best paying majors are. However, while rankings like this can be useful, they don’t always share the entire story. Below you can read about the highest paying college majors. Next, you will find important factors to consider before choosing a major.
100 Best Paying College Majors 2023
According to The HEA Group, these are the ten majors with the highest average pay four years after graduation.
1) Operations Research: $112,097
Operations Research graduates use math to drive management decisions and strategy. Given the practical specialization that students gain in this field, it’s no wonder this is the top paying major. The skills you acquire in Operations Research help you make processes work as smoothly as possible. As a result, this major provides extremely valuable training for a fluctuating economy.
2) Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering: $109,121
The world’s oceans anchor the global economy. Although the major’s title suggests a military focus, actual applications are broader. You can learn about shipbuilding, marine machinery, self-driving ships, hydropower, sustainability, and more. Lastly, there are only five bachelor’s programs in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in the country, making graduates more desirable.
3) Computer Science: $104,799
Of the highest paying college majors, Computer Science is the most popular. Affording a blend of the technical and creative, this major equips you to work across industries. Plus, studying Computer Science gives you the tools to shape thoughtful tech policy, the need for which will probably increase with the growth of AI. Even though Big Tech has suffered from layoffs in the past year, there are many remunerative ways to apply a Computer Science degree.
Highest Paying College Majors (Continued)
4) Marine Transportation: $103,626
Like Number 2 on this list, Marine Transportation exploits the scale of the shipping industry. This degree will help you work on a ship as an officer as well as in maritime management. It’s usually offered together with the US Coast Guard Licensing Exam, and graduates conventionally leave with a Third Mate’s License.
5) Computer Engineering: $99,063
Computer Engineering majors learn the ins and outs of computer construction. This major is like product design, specially focused on computers. You have the chance to come up with new computer systems, while gaining experience in research, advancing existing technologies, and testing. Maybe you’ll even graduate with a patent or two!
6) Veterinary Medicine: $97,533
Veterinary Medicine might be the most rewarding best paying college major. Veterinary Medicine students develop the skills to take care of animal health. Since animals can’t express their symptoms out loud, this major requires building aptitude in intuition and empathy. You can also work in research or explore the interface between humans and other animals, such as by studying zoonotic diseases like Covid-19.
Highest Paying College Majors (Continued)
7) Petroleum Engineering: $96,957
A lot of the highest paying college majors represent the economic structures that contemporary lifestyles rely on. Petroleum Engineering is no exception. Majors learn how to tap into oil and gas deposits. In the US, Texas is the biggest hub for the industry, although careers often take employees overseas—or to oil rigs at sea. However, potential majors should note that electric vehicle sales are increasing exponentially, absorbing some of the fuel market share.
8) Systems Engineering: $95,224
Similar to Operations Research, Systems Engineering empowers you to design the processes that Operations Researchers might be analyzing. You learn to synchronize the different stakeholders—people, machines, data, energy, and supplies—that make up a system. Because this major involves training in assessing variables through abstract and technical skills both, it’s fairly future-proof.
9) Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration: $94,136
Majoring in Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Administration will give you a comprehensive grounding for a future in healthcare. With this degree, you might research new medical treatments or methods to improve existing ones. Either way, you’ll be at the forefront of innovation. Further, many majors proceed to graduate school, where they frequently study pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, or clinical medicine. Careers span industry and academia.
Highest Paying College Majors (Continued)
10) Electrical, Electronics, and Communications Engineering: $91,693
Was your favorite part of science class building circuit boards? If so, then a major in Electrical, Electronics, and Communications Engineering might be the right fit. Think classroom circuits, but turbo-charged. You will acquire fluency in electromagnetism, materials science, and more. With this knowledge base, you can enter an array of industries, from renewable energy and telecommunications to healthcare.
|11: Construction Engineering.||$89,932|
|12: Mining and Mineral Engineering.||$89,493|
|13: Systems Science and Theory.||$88,475|
|14: Industrial Engineering.||$88,124|
|15: Chemical Engineering.||$87,813|
|16: Engineering, Other.||$86,981|
|17: Mathematics and Statistics, Other.||$86,683|
|18: Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.||$86,571|
|19: Nuclear Engineering.||$85,838|
|20: Biomedical/Medical Engineering.||$85,033|
|21: Construction Engineering Technologies.||$84,907|
|22: Engineering Science.||$84,866|
|23: Computer and Information Sciences, General.||$84,387|
|24: Construction Management.||$83,153|
|25: Engineering, General.||$83,003|
|26: Mechanical Engineering.||$82,853|
|27: Architectural Engineering.||$82,642|
|29: Materials Engineering||$81,956|
|30: Applied Mathematics.||$81,826|
|31: Building/Construction Finishing, Management, and Inspection.||$81,468|
|32: Manufacturing Engineering.||$78,222|
|33: Civil Engineering.||$77,406|
|34: Engineering-Related Fields.||$77,154|
|35: Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing.||$76,510|
|36: Information Science/Studies.||$76,424|
|37: Engineering Physics.||$75,565|
|39: Agricultural Engineering.||$75,398|
|40: Engineering Technologies/Technicians, Other.||$75,275|
|42: Quality Control and Safety Technologies/Technicians.||$74,617|
|43: Fire Protection.||$74,559|
|44: Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Technologies.||$74,131|
|45: Real Estate.||$73,955|
|46: Finance and Financial Management Services.||$73,711|
|47: Computer Engineering Technologies/Technicians.||$73,442|
|48: Management Information Systems and Services.||$73,151|
|49: Mechanical Engineering Related Technologies/Technicians.||$72,976|
|50: Computer Programming.||$72,820|
|51: Geological/Geophysical Engineering.||$72,573|
|52: Engineering Technology, General.||$72,489|
|53: Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services, Other.||$71,616|
|54: Electromechanical Instrumentation and Maintenance Technologies/Technicians.||$71,311|
|55: Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering.||$71,171|
|56: Business/Managerial Economics.||$70,976|
|57: Civil Engineering Technologies/Technicians.||$70,830|
|58: Medical Illustration and Informatics.||$70,704|
|59: Science, Technology and Society.||$70,643|
|60: Management Sciences and Quantitative Methods.||$70,632|
|62: High School/Secondary Diploma Programs.||$69,904|
|63: Computer Systems Analysis.||$69,134|
|64: Electrical Engineering Technologies/Technicians.||$69,072|
|65: Industrial Production Technologies/Technicians.||$68,130|
|66: Air Transportation.||$68,072|
|67: Architectural Engineering Technologies/Technicians.||$67,801|
|68: Cognitive Science.||$67,801|
|69: Public Policy Analysis.||$67,016|
|70: Clinical/Medical Laboratory Science/Research and Allied Professions.||$66,576|
|71: Agricultural Mechanization.||$66,398|
|72: Computer/Information Technology Administration and Management.||$66,218|
|73: Intelligence, Command Control and Information Operations.||$65,848|
|74: International Business.||$65,225|
|76: Accounting and Related Services.||$64,298|
|77: General Sales, Merchandising and Related Marketing Operations.||$63,811|
|78: Biological/Biosystems Engineering.||$63,711|
|79: Drafting/Design Engineering Technologies/Technicians.||$63,614|
|80: Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications.||$63,139|
|81: Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, and Treatment Professions.||$62,390|
|82: Architectural Sciences and Technology.||$62,221|
|83: Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting and Related Protective Services, Other.||$61,909|
|85: Business/Commerce, General.||$61,058|
|86: Agricultural Business and Management.||$60,773|
|87: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services, Other.||$60,587|
|88: Landscape Architecture.||$60,439|
|90: Energy Systems Technologies/Technicians.||$59,992|
|91: City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning.||$59,953|
|92: Science Technologies/Technicians, Other.||$59,681|
|94: Food Science and Technology.||$59,232|
|95: Urban Studies/Affairs.||$58,922|
|96: Homeland Security.||$58,904|
|97: Business Administration, Management and Operations.||$58,088|
|98: Human Biology.||$57,920|
|99: Textile Sciences and Engineering.||$57,894|
|100: International Relations and National Security Studies.||$57,813|
Important Factors to Consider
Most Jobs Don’t Care That Much About Majors
Your major doesn’t have to correlate with the industry you end up in. The vast majority of people after college will treat your major as little more than a curiosity. When applying for jobs, internships, extracurriculars, and networking usually matter more. However, this isn’t always the case in highly specialized, technical fields. Still, employers care more about skills than academic background. Today, there are plenty of ways to upskill and prepare for career pivots, from coding bootcamps to LinkedIn Learning and MOOCs. Even a simple informational interview can go a long way. Going to college is very different than searching for a job. Plus, you know, there’s always grad school.
There’s More to Finances Than Highest Paying College Majors
Your post-graduate salary is not going to be the only determinant of your finances. When looking at potential colleges, it’s important to take tuition, financial aid, return on investment, socioeconomic mobility, and alumni networks into account. For example, state schools often have much lower price tags than private institutions. All the same, some private colleges with wealthy endowments can compete through generous aid packages. When it comes to student debt, government policies around debt forgiveness have been changing. Still, calculate how much you might owe after college and see if you qualify for grants or interest-free loans.
Further, what are your financial goals for after college? Graduate school, especially medical or business school, can be very expensive. What’s more, analysis by the Pew Research Center shows that average household income for first-generation college students is lower than other students. This “parent premium” might have an impact on your financial strategy. In fact, children of college-educated parents are more likely to receive inheritances, leading to generational wealth creation. Regardless of major, some students come with existing financial privileges.
Highest Paying College Majors (Continued)
Geography also affects finances. Where do you think you might want to live after college? If you don’t know, look at where industries that you are interested in are most concentrated. What is the cost of living there? Cities often have data on the minimum livable wage a single person needs per year, which tends to be higher than minimum wage. While you might be earning solidly, you should also consider how much of your paycheck will go into daily expenditures.
Finally, even the most highly paying careers have pay gaps. According to the Pew Research Center, earnings in STEM fields are lower for women than men, and lowest for Black and Latino women. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that Black and Latino people with the highest possible degrees make almost one million dollars less over their lifetimes than white and Asian people. Their study stated, “Race/ethnicity and gender are wild cards that matter more than education or occupation in determining earnings.” Unfortunately, even at the highest income strata, inequity is deep-seated. And while resisting it over the course of a career paves the way for future generations, it can take a personal and financial toll.
Markets Change—And You Can Change Them
This leads me to my next point. Just because an industry, or the entire economy, looks one way today, it doesn’t mean it will look the same when you graduate. Building the ability to learn can be more future-proof than what you learn. As a consequence, why not study what you love? Pundits make a living off discussing the future of work, but they often know as much as you do. Try not to forget that colleges really do want to educate students who will change the world. Even if market conditions might not currently be ideal, you now have four years to think about how you can change them after graduation.
Even if there are many well-trodden paths out there, they don’t need to be yours. Carving your own route can be more difficult, especially for minorities. But living with a marginalized identity can make you more resourceful and creative, and it’s entirely within your rights to monetize these abilities. In sum, with the right support system, it’s possible. Don’t let fears about the economy or anything else hold your dreams back.
We Need Artists!
Even though arts and culture form the core of human experience, professions in these industries are chronically underpaid. Because of this, there are far fewer humanities majors than there should be. The cultural field is overrun with people with wealth to fall back on, limiting the diversity of voices present. There are many ways to be an artist, so even if you want to be an Operations Researcher until a painting career is sustainable, go for it. Humanities fields don’t always lead to less income. The top 20% of history majors make more money than the typical business major. Additionally, the good thing about US colleges is that you have options: you can take classes outside your major, double major, and minor. Therefore, if you have a passion, pursue it.
Hearteningly, statistics show that having a BA matters more than what the BA is. According to analysis by the College Board, median earnings of BA graduates 25 and above was 65% higher than those of high school graduates. Further degrees led to higher earnings. However, Georgetown found that career choice can matter more than getting a degree when it comes to future income. But in general, BAs make more money and are more economically resilient in the face of uncertainty. Additionally, the income gap between BA graduates and high school graduates widened during the pandemic.
Going to college, regardless of major, permits flexibility, providing a certain insurance against risk. The College Board’s study revealed that receiving a BA correlates to having health insurance, exercising, voting, and volunteering.
Highest Paying College Majors – Final Thoughts
In conclusion, the journey towards a college degree comes with a price tag. So it’s important to make an informed financial decision, especially when the job market can be unpredictable. That decision can take the highest paying college majors into account. But it doesn’t have to. Not only are other factors crucial, but you are also really and truly not condemned to a life of penury if you don’t pick a highest paying college major. Remember that every ranking leaves plenty unsaid—and that it’s always possible to buck the trend.
Highest Paying College Majors – Additional Resources
Additionally, you may wish check out the following related blogs:
- Firstly, Hardest college majors,
- Additionally, Easiest college majors
- Lastly, Graduate earnings by college