100 Highest Paying College Majors in 2023

September 16, 2023

highest paying college majors

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.

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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
28: Statistics. $82,231
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
38: Insurance. $75,471
39: Agricultural Engineering. $75,398
40: Engineering Technologies/Technicians, Other. $75,275
41: Economics. $74,636
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
61: Physics. $70,266
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
75: Mathematics. $65,063
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
84: Biotechnology. $61,908
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
89: Architecture. $60,426
90: Energy Systems Technologies/Technicians. $59,992
91: City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning. $59,953
92: Science Technologies/Technicians, Other. $59,681
93: Marketing. $59,305
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

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