Special Report

The Highest and Lowest Paying College Majors in America

Source: FatCamera / Getty Images

5. Health and medical preparatory programs
> Avg. annual earnings: $95,060
> Unemployment rate: 2.3%
> Total workforce: 97,977

Health and medical preparatory programs get students ready to enter into advanced degree programs so they can become doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, or many other types of health related professionals. This degree program has one of the highest rates of graduates who go on to earn their doctorate degree, at 59%. For comparison, the average across all degrees is 6.6%. These medical professionals are often in high demand and well compensated, earning an average of more than $95,000 per year.

Source: D-Keine / Getty Images

4. Molecular biology
> Avg. annual earnings: $95,332
> Unemployment rate: 2.2%
> Total workforce: 75,600

Molecular biologists study how chemicals work and interact with living organisms. This field of research affects many crucial aspects of life, including medicine, agriculture, forensic science, and more. Working in the field typically requires a great deal of knowledge and expertise. More than 64% of molecular biology majors who hold a bachelor’s degree also earn a master’s degree, and 44.7% earn their doctorate as well. Molecular biology is closely linked with the next highest paying college major, biochemical sciences.

Source: alvarez / Getty Images

3. Biochemical sciences
> Avg. annual earnings: $98,333
> Unemployment rate: 2.7%
> Total workforce: 210,098

Much like the previous entry to this list, biochemical science majors are well educated and well paid. More than 44% of biochemical science majors who graduate also earn a doctorate degree. This high level of specialization largely explains higher salaries. With $98,333 in average annual earnings, biochemical science majors earn more money on average than all but two other majors.

Source: hqrloveq / Getty Images

2. Actuarial science
> Avg. annual earnings: $99,421
> Unemployment rate: 2.3%
> Total workforce: 17,624

Actuarial science bachelor’s degree holders are some of the highest paid college graduates, and most require no further schooling beyond their bachelor’s degree. Actuaries analyze risk to help clients minimize costs and risk exposure. Actuarial science graduates earn nearly $100,000 per year on average. Yet unlike many other high-paying jobs, less than a quarter of bachelor’s degree holders go on to earn a master’s degree, as compared to 41.5% of all bachelor’s degree holders. Actuarial sciences majors have a relatively low unemployment rate at 2.3%.

Source: nielubieklonu / Getty Images

1. Petroleum engineering
> Avg. annual earnings: $118,721
> Unemployment rate: 7.9%
> Total workforce: 26,461

At $118,721 per year, petroleum engineering majors have by far the highest average earnings of any college graduates, despite also having one of the highest unemployment rates, at 7.9%. Petroleum engineers design methods to extract oil and natural gas from new or existing wells. The field’s future job prospects are largely pegged to the price of oil, but oil extraction is generally very lucrative, and petroleum engineers are expected to be in high demand for years to come. The BLS projects petroleum engineer employment will grow by 15% from 2016 to 2026, more than twice the rate of projected job growth overall.

Sponsored: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor

Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.