A college education opens the door to higher-paying jobs. College-educated workers 25 and older earned a median income of $56,344 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Workers with no more than a high school diploma earned far less — just under $32,000 per year. Yet not all bachelor’s degrees have the same earning potential, with some degree fields generally leading to much higher-income careers than others.
To determine the highest-paying college major (that is, the college major leading to highest-income career), 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on average annual earnings for 173 undergraduate majors from the Public Use Microdata Sample summary files of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.
The vast majority of the highest paying majors are in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. There are eight different engineering majors among the final 25 entries on the list used to pick the top major, as well as a number of medical specialties.
Most of the majors in the fields we examined require a high level of specialization, such as medicine or research. This means applicants often need advanced degrees (a master’s or even a doctorate) before they can begin working in the field, or in order to advance.
While deciding on a major is important to the future earnings of a student, the college itself is important as well. The quality of the education a college provides, alumni connections and many other factors can set students up for success — or leave them behind their peers. Students must vet their college choices before enrolling to ensure that they are not overpaying for entry to a lackluster college.
The college major that pays of the most is “health and medical preparatory programs.” These programs, sometimes known as a “pre-med” major, prepare college students to become medical professionals, like doctors, nurses, optometrists, dentists and more. These medical professions tend to pay well, as graduates with this major report average annual earnings of $107,638. That is more than any other major considered. This major has by far the highest doctorate degree attainment rate at 63.3%. No other degree has even 50%.
Health and medical preparatory programs majors also have very low unemployment, at just under 2% in 2019. The national unemployment rate for all occupations that year was 4.5%. The 2019 total workforce among people with these degrees was 146,806.