Degrees That Earn You the Most Money

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff
Engineer

Given the rising costs of attending college, you might want to choose a degree program that will start paying for your education upon graduation while giving you plenty of money left over to enjoy a high standard of living. The most valuable degree programs, both for the short-term and for long-term wage growth, tend to be those that fall into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. Business careers also tend to pay well.

Petroleum Engineering

Petroleum engineering is ranked number one on PayScale's list of highest paying Bachelor degrees according to their potential salaries. Bloomberg agrees, stating petroleum engineers "swim in cash." Petroleum engineers work to extract, produce, and supply oil and natural gas to satisfy energy requirements. Not only is the field lucrative, but the demand for petroleum engineers is expected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow ten percent from 2014 to 2024, which is a faster-than-average rate compared to other jobs.

Earning Potential

The BLS reports in May 2015, the median wage for petroleum engineers was $129,990 per year. According to PayScale's College Salary Report, the early career annual salary for petroleum engineers is $96,700, and by mid-career, that figure rises to $172,000 per year. According to Monster.com, petroleum engineers typically earn $6,290,000 over the course of a 45-year career. Top Petroleum Engineering Schools breaks down salaries according to specific jobs within the petroleum engineering field, and all of them are significantly remunerative.

  • Technicians can earn around $150,000 per year.
  • Individual professionals in the field make around $200,000 annually.
  • Supervisors can earn over $200,000 per year.
  • Director and other middle management positions can earn nearly $300,000 per year.
  • Top Management and CEO positions can earn over $400,000 per year.

Earning the Degree

To become a petroleum engineer, you need to complete a petroleum engineering program and earn a Bachelor's degree. In high school, you'll need to take plenty of math and science courses, like trigonometry, calculus, physics, and chemistry. Students in petroleum engineering programs typically study subjects such as thermodynamics and geology. The program you choose must be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). You'll also need to pass two examinations given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) to become licensed as an engineer.

Actuarial Science

Actuarial science is another excellent prospect if you're looking for a degree program that will deliver excellent return on investment (ROI) after you graduate. The field ranks number three on PayScale's Highest Paying Bachelor's Degrees list. Actuaries primarily work for insurance companies, and they employ statistical methods to calculate risk assessment. The BLS reports actuary jobs will grow at a rate of 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, significantly faster than the average.

Earning Potential

According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for actuaries is $70,029, and the earnings which you may expect as a result of a thirty-year career is $4,130,308, delivering an 110 percent ROI if you attend a public university or college and 33 percent ROI if you attend a private institution. Actuaries who have passed the series of seven examinations required for certification as a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society or the Society of Actuaries can earn an annual salary that ranges from $177,000 to $534,000 after twenty-plus years of employment.

Earning the Degree

A career as an actuary requires a strong foundation in math, business, and statistics. In college, you'll want to earn your Bachelor's degree in actuarial science. Some actuaries also hold degrees in statistics or mathematics. Also, you'll take coursework in corporate finance and economics. To earn professional certification as an actuary, you must pass a series of examinations sponsored by the Casualty Actuarial Society or the Society of Actuaries. You become an Associate when you pass five exams and a Fellow when you pass seven exams.

Computer Engineering

Computer engineering ranks number two on Time Magazine Money's list of Bachelor's degrees with the highest starting salaries. The duties of computer hardware engineers span a wide range, combining electrical engineering skills with computer science skills. Computer engineers work to innovate and develop computer systems and their various components such as circuit boards, processors, and networks. The BLS reports the computer engineering field will grow at a rate of three percent over the years 2014 to 2024.

Earning Potential

According to PayScale's College Salary Report, the annual salary for a computer engineer early in her career is $71,200, and at the midpoint of her career, the figure rises to $116,000. The BLS lists the median annual salary for computer hardware engineers as $111,730. The BLS also reports salaries for the top-paying industries available for computer engineers. Information services is the most lucrative industry at an annual mean salary of $148,630. Magnetic and optical media comes in second at $130,590 per year.

Earning the Degree

To prepare for a degree program in computer engineering, just as in any other engineering field, you will need to take a lot of coursework in math and science. You will also want to learn skills in computer programming since employers tend to prefer job candidates who are familiar with several programming languages. Computer engineers need to earn a Bachelor's degree in their field from a college or university that's accredited by ABET.

Computer and Information Technology

IT programmer

Computer and information technology ranks number seven on Salary.com's list of eight college degrees that will earn your money back. It will prepare you for a wide variety of high-paying careers that involve the development of computer systems in an organization to reach goals and solve problems. Careers in information technology are in great demand in our Information Age. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects computer and information systems jobs to grow fifteen percent from 2014 to 2024, which is significantly faster than average.

Earning Potential

According to the BLS, there are a number of high dollar jobs available to graduates of computer and information technology programs. One possibility is to become a computer architect, whose annual median salary runs $100,240. Another possibility is a software developer, whose annual median salary runs $100,690. Salary.com reports excellent ROI potential for three jobs for which graduates of computer and information technology degree programs would be qualified.

  • Information technology managers enjoy median annual earnings of $107,578 and can expect to earn $6,344,946 over the course of a thirty-year career, translating into ROI of 169 percent for people who attend public colleges or universities and ROI of 51 percent for people who attend private institutions.
  • Business intelligence specialists earn a median annual salary of $109,604 and $6,464,440 over the course of a career that spans thirty years. If they attend public colleges or universities, their ROI is 172 percent, and if they attend private institutions, their ROI is 52 percent.
  • Web applications developers pull in median earnings of $80,584 a year which amounts to $4,752,841 over the span of a thirty-year career. Attendees of public colleges and universities will get ROI of 126 percent whereas attendees of private institutions will get ROI of 38 percent.

Earning the Degree

To get a job in the field of computer and information systems management, you'll need a Bachelor's degree in computer and information science, and you'll take coursework to lay the foundation for the direction of the specific career to which you aspire. For example, if you want to work as a software developer, you'll take courses in computer programming and software development. If you want to work as a computer and information systems manager, also known as an information technology manager, you'll need business courses as well as courses in computer programming and software development.

Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineering tops Time Magazine Money's list of Bachelor's degrees with the highest starting salaries, and the degree program ranks number four on Monster.com's list of nine degrees that put you on the fast track to $100K. Chemical engineers apply their skills to the research, development, and manufacture of numerous products, including food and drugs and even architecture. The BLS projects the field to grow at a two percent rate from 2014 to 2024.

Earning Potential

Time Magazine reports the average starting salary for a chemical engineer is $63,389 per year. Monster.com lists the figure at $70,600 for 75 percent of workers in the field and projects the same percentage will reach annual earnings of $100,000 within ten to twelve years. The amount of money you make as a chemical engineer depends on the industry in which you're employed. The highest-earning industry for chemical engineers is the manufacture of coal products and petroleum, which nets median annual earnings of $110,220. Next in line is the engineering services industry, with median annual earnings of $103,600.

Earning the Degree

To become a chemical engineer, you'll need to earn a Bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from a college or university program that's accredited by ABET. Your coursework will be composed of a solid foundation in math and science, with emphasis on chemistry, including physical, organic, and analytical chemistry. You will also need to take courses in physics. After graduation, you will want to become licensed as an engineer by passing two examinations which are given by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineers working

Forbes ranks biomedical engineering as number one on their 15 Most Valuable College Majors list. Biomedical engineers apply engineering concepts to the healthcare field to help diagnose and treat diseases and conditions. Since they design equipment used for the medical field, you could think of biomedical engineering as a combination between medicine and engineering. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects Biomedical Engineering to grow 23 percent between 2014 and 2024, which is a much faster pace than average.

Earning Potential

According to Forbes, the median annual salary for biomedical engineers who are starting their careers is $53,800. For biomedical engineers in the middle of their careers, the median annual salary is $97,800. The BLS reports the highest paying jobs in biomedical engineering can be found in research and development where salaries run $97,100 per year. Medical supplies and equipment manufacturing is also a lucrative industry, at $91,030 per year.

Earning the Degree

If you're interested in becoming a biomedical engineer, you'll need to earn a Bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering at a college or university whose program is accredited by ABET. You will study engineering principles as well as concepts related to biology and healthcare. You'll want to pursue opportunities for volunteer work or internship, which are available through the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). As with other careers in engineering, you'll need to pass two examinations to become licensed, which are administered through NCEES.

Economics

Economics is ranked number three on Monster.com's list of nine degrees that put you on the fast track to $100K. By studying economics, you will learn about the societal dynamics involved in the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, and you'll develop the skill to solve problems across a wide range of fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the career of financial analyst is projected to grow twelve percent from 2014 to 2024, a faster than average rate when compared to other professions.

Earning Potential

People who earn Bachelor degrees in economics have a number of jobs they can take after graduation, which all involve critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities. Economics graduates qualify for high-paying jobs in such diverse areas as business, education, industry, and government. Lifetime earning potential for economics degrees is three million dollars higher than that for engineering degrees.

  • Investment operation managers pull in median annual salaries of $142,921. Over the course of a thirty-year career, they earn $8,429,475, representing a whopping 225 percent ROI if they attended public universities or colleges and 68 percent ROI if they attended private institutions.
  • Corporate financial associates earn median annual salaries of $108,732 and $6,413,009 over a thirty-year career. ROI is 171 percent for graduates of public universities or colleges and 52 percent for graduates of private institutions.
  • Corporate economists enjoy median annual earnings of $115,671 and $6,822,271 after working for thirty years, translating into ROI of 182 percent for graduates of public universities or colleges and 55 percent for graduates of private institutions.

Earning the Degree

To prepare for entry into a college economics program, you'll need a solid foundation of college preparatory classes while in high school, including microeconomics, macroeconomics, and calculus. In college, while working on your Bachelor's degree, you'll take coursework in finance, economic theory, business economics, and mathematical economic analysis.

Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear engineering is ranked number three on Forbes' list of the ten Bachelor's degrees with the highest salary potential. Employment opportunities for nuclear engineers include utility companies, industry and defense-related research and development, and the Federal government. Though the career will continue to pay well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects available jobs will decline four percent from 2014 to 2024, so you'll need to make yourself competitive in this field.

Earning Potential

According to PayScale's College and Salary report, the median annual salary for a nuclear engineer early in his career is $68,500, and earnings rise to $116,000 by mid-career. The BLS lists $102,950 per year as the median salary for nuclear engineers, and the BLS also reports the highest-paying industries for nuclear engineers are research and development at $116,190, engineering services at $105,040, and electric power generation and distribution at $103,500.

Earning the Degree

If you're interested in nuclear engineering, you should take plenty of math and science courses in high school, including calculus, trigonometry, physics, and chemistry. In college, you'll want to choose a college nuclear engineering degree program that's accredited by ABET. Once you graduate, you'll need to pass two exams offered through NCEES to become licensed.

Marketing

Marketing meeting

A Bachelor's degree in marketing ranks number two on Salary.com's list of eight college degrees that will earn your money back. People with degrees in marketing pursue various kinds of careers, including those in promotions, advertising, and public relations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the job outlook for marketing and advertising managers is expected to grow nine percent from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than average compared to other professions.

Earning Potential

According to Salary.com, marketing managers earn a median annual salary of $86,591, which equals $5,107,134 over the course of a thirty-year career. Marketing managers who attended public institutions enjoy ROI of 136 percent while graduates of private institutions have ROI of 41 percent. Another high-paying career for marketing majors is Product and Brand Manager, for which the median annual salary is $92,216, or $5,438,896 in thirty years, which gives ROI of 145 percent for graduates of public institutions and ROI of 44 percent for graduates of private institutions.

Earning the Degree

If you're interested in a high-paying career in marketing, you'll need to earn a Bachelor's Degree in the field which will include coursework in communications methods, market research, and consumer behavior. You'll likely want to supplement your degree program with courses in management, finance, economics, business law, and computer science to enhance your employability. You don't need to be certified, but you can choose to pursue certification through the American Marketing Association or the Marketing Research Association, depending on your career path.

Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering is ranked number three on Time Magazine Money's list of 15 Bachelor's degrees with the highest starting salaries. It also makes the grade at number seven on PayScale's list of the highest-paying Bachelor's degrees by salary potential. Electrical engineers work to create, develop, and implement electrical equipment and systems for use across a wide variety of applications, including defense, consumer goods, communications, and energy needs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth for electrical engineering to change very little from the years 2014 to 2024.

Earning Potential

According to PayScale, electrical engineers earn a median salary of $68,000 early in their careers, which increases to $115,000 by the middle of their careers. Monster.com reports electrical engineers make $4,170,000 in a career that lasts 45 years. The BLS reports differences in salary depending on the industries in which electrical engineers work. The highest-paying industry for electrical engineers is scientific research and development, which carries a median salary of $112,970 per year. The second highest-paying industry for electrical engineers is the manufacture of semiconductors and electrical components, in which employees can earn $105,870 per year.

Earning the Degree

If you're interested in becoming an electrical engineer, you will benefit from taking coursework in high school that gives you a strong foundation in math and science, including physics, calculus, and trigonometry. You'll want to choose a college whose Bachelor's degree program in electrical engineering is accredited by ABET, and you will be taking courses in electrical circuit theory and digital systems design. You'll need to pursue a license as a professional engineer by taking two exams which are administered by NCEES.

Tickets to Financial Security

By choosing a degree program which leads to a high-paying career right out of college, you can hit the ground running and wind up paying off the costs of your education in short order. By the time you hit the midpoint of your career, these valuable degrees will have shown their worth by a significant return on investment, and by the end of your career, you'll be able to count on and thoroughly enjoy a comfortable and secure retirement.

Degrees That Earn You the Most Money