The most lucrative college degrees are typically those that provide their graduates with a set of specialized skills. Usually, these skills are in math, engineering, and/or chemistry. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the top ten degrees (ranked by the average salary of their graduates) are Petroleum Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Mining Engineering, Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Systems Engineering and Engineering Technology.
The common factor that all of these degrees have in common is Engineering. Even during the Great Recession, graduates from most engineering programs have had several job offers before they graduate. The fields of Petroleum Engineering and Mining Engineering are especially desperate for workers who understand their industry. As the worldwide demand for energy has increased, these industries have been growing exponentially, and they are in need of people who can invent and utilize new technologies to get to resources.
Of course, many of the jobs that these graduates go to are in some remote areas. Many of the jobs for petroleum and mining engineers are in rather remote areas of the United States and the world. Industrial and mechanical engineers are needed by virtually every manufacturer, and many of the jobs in these fields offer new graduates a premium if they are willing to travel. These bonuses are figured into the calculation of average salary, and in some cases it does inflate the average salary.
The average starting salary of a petroleum engineering graduate is about $83,000, whereas the average starting salary of an Engineering Technology graduate is $54,000. While these salaries are well above the national average of $45,000 a year for an individual salary, they do represent the specialized skills needed for these industries.
Also on the list are fields that deal with computers and information technology. While more creative fields such as web site and graphic design did not make the list, graduating with a degree in Computer Science or Engineering opens up a lot more job opportunities. Graduates who are familiar with software design and coding are in high demand by a variety of businesses. Large firms such as Google and Apple are willing to pay well for graduates with these skill sets.
Of course, making the most money isn’t the best measure of success, and students trying to decide what field to study should take a variety of factors into account. It should also be noted that the list changes every year, but it has historically heavily included engineering and math majors.