Special Report

The Highest and Lowest Paying College Majors in America

Detailed Findings

The highest paying college majors are concentrated in similar fields. Almost all of the 25 highest paying majors are in science and engineering. There are 11 majors with “engineering” and five with “science” in the title, in addition biology, zoology, and pharmacology.

Similarly, many of the lowest paying majors prepare students for careers in education. Of the 25 lowest paying fields of study, 13 have “education” in the title. Several of the other lower paid fields focus on child counseling and psychology.

There may be many different reasons for these discrepancies in pay. For instance, scientific and engineering careers are concentrated in the private sector, while many educators and counselors are government employees. These educational jobs may also be subject to historical and gender bias.

In most fields, higher levels of education are generally associated with higher pay, but this is not always the case. For instance, in six of the 10 lowest paid college majors, more than half of bachelor’s degree holders also go on to earn a master’s degree.

It should be noted that not everyone works in a field associated with their college major.


To determine the college majors with the highest and lowest average annual income, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on employment status per undergraduate major from the Public Use Microdata Sample summary files of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey. Additional data about career fields came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data on field of study and employment status are self reported by the survey’s respondents. While respondents were able to list the field of study for any bachelor’s degree they have received and may have listed multiple majors, only the first major listed was considered in this analysis. Majors noted as a miscellaneous subset of a more common field of study were excluded from our analysis.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s unemployment rate is distinct from, and can vary considerably from, the more commonly cited unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.