Special Report

This Is the Lowest Paying College Major in America

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America has many outstanding colleges and universities, although there’s a long-running debate about what their focus should be. Some students want a broad-based education, often heavy on the liberal arts, while others want something more narrowly career-focused, or vocational. The debate has become more heated as the cost of education has risen steadily over the past four decades, and as students have had to take larger and larger loans as a result. (This is the most expensive colleges in every state.)

Whatever their philosophy or career goals, graduates will be entering a knowledge-based economy in which education is crucially important to advancement. They should make informed choices. 

To determine the highest and lowest paying college majors in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Census Bureau data on average annual earnings of individuals holding an undergraduate degree in 2019. The disparities in incomes between the highest and lowest paying majors are quite stark.

The highest-paying college majors on our list are health and medical preparatory programs, pharmacology, and computer engineering. The average annual earnings in these fields in 2019 were all significantly above $100,000. The list reflects the value of an education in STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – fields in particular. (These are America’s top public universities.)

The lowest-paying majors include elementary education, library science, and miscellaneous education, with average annual earnings no higher than $30,000. It’s a terrible irony that in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, where education is crucial to success, teachers are paid so poorly.

Click here to see the highest and lowest paying college majors in America
Click here to read our detailed methodology

Highest paying:

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25. Mining and mineral engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $87,606
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 4.3%
> Total workforce in 2019: 13,956

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24. Transportation sciences and technologies
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $87,686
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 156,104

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23. Zoology
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $87,985
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.9%
> Total workforce in 2019: 112,113

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22. Genetics
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $88,409
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 4.1%
> Total workforce in 2019: 24,263

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21. Architectural engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $88,629
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 0.9%
> Total workforce in 2019: 21,858

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20. Construction services
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $88,872
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 126,242

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19. Physiology
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $89,456
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.4%
> Total workforce in 2019: 134,398

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18. Materials science
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $89,616
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 33,907

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17. Applied mathematics
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $89,756
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 4.2%
> Total workforce in 2019: 44,094

16. Public policy
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $89,761
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.7%
> Total workforce in 2019: 41,923

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15. Mechanical engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $89,801
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.3%
> Total workforce in 2019: 942,913

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14. Actuarial science
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $90,399
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.5%
> Total workforce in 2019: 17,470

13. Mathematics and computer science
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $91,843
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.1%
> Total workforce in 2019: 18,076

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12. Chemical engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $93,118
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.9%
> Total workforce in 2019: 340,918

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11. Economics
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $94,493
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.1%
> Total workforce in 2019: 1,150,173

10. Aerospace engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $94,685
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 113,112

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9. Biomedical engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $94,798
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.6%
> Total workforce in 2019: 80,008

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8. Computer science
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $94,816
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.4%
> Total workforce in 2019: 1,409,826

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7. Electrical engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $95,540
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.3%
> Total workforce in 2019: 1,084,380

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6. Finance
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $98,610
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.8%
> Total workforce in 2019: 1,287,699

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5. Molecular biology
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $99,520
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.9%
> Total workforce in 2019: 94,075

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4. Biochemical sciences
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $103,991
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.7%
> Total workforce in 2019: 247,265

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3. Computer engineering
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $106,276
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.6%
> Total workforce in 2019: 369,297

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2. Pharmacology
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $106,536
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 13,510

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1. Health and medical preparatory programs
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $107,638
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.9%
> Total workforce in 2019: 93,428

Lowest paying:

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25. Visual and performing arts
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $43,064
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.3%
> Total workforce in 2019: 77,640

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24. Miscellaneous fine arts
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $42,045
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 5.9%
> Total workforce in 2019: 22,161

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23. Fine arts
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $41,678
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.6%
> Total workforce in 2019: 600,376

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22. Studio arts
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $41,649
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.7%
> Total workforce in 2019: 106,521

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21. Human services and community organization
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $41,439
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 125,804

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20. Theology and religious vocations
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $40,688
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.7%
> Total workforce in 2019: 348,312

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19. Physical and health education teaching
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $39,229
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.1%
> Total workforce in 2019: 277,464

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18. Educational psychology
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $38,909
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.2%
> Total workforce in 2019: 23,762

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17. Social work
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $38,718
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.4%
> Total workforce in 2019: 557,967

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16. Special needs education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $37,655
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.5%
> Total workforce in 2019: 261,029

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15. Mathematics teacher education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $37,110
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.1%
> Total workforce in 2019: 101,012

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14. Counseling psychology
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $36,690
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.5%
> Total workforce in 2019: 64,146

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13. Science and computer teacher education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $36,683
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.4%
> Total workforce in 2019: 81,888

Source: fizkes / Getty Images

12. Family and consumer sciences
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $36,335
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.7%
> Total workforce in 2019: 430,607

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11. Social science or history teacher education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $35,502
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.2%
> Total workforce in 2019: 143,978

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10. School student counseling
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $34,955
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 3.1%
> Total workforce in 2019: 17,908

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9. Art and music education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $33,541
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 274,707

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8. Early childhood education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $33,511
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.1%
> Total workforce in 2019: 230,628

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7. General education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $33,504
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.8%
> Total workforce in 2019: 1,710,780

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6. Language and drama education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $32,624
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 230,952

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5. Teacher education: multiple levels
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $32,416
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 112,630

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4. Secondary teacher education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $30,589
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 207,455

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3. Miscellaneous education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $30,168
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 2.0%
> Total workforce in 2019: 172,208

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2. Library science
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $28,969
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.5%
> Total workforce in 2019: 25,000

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1. Elementary education
> Avg. annual earnings in 2019: $28,376
> Unemployment rate in 2019: 1.4%
> Total workforce in 2019: 1,391,273

Methodology 

To determine the highest and lowest paying college majors in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on earnings from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample files. Undergraduate college majors were ranked based on the average reported incomes of individuals holding the degree in 2019. 

Data on unemployment rate and total workforce were calculated using data on employment status by field of degree from the ACS PUMA data. The Census Bureau considers the first degree listed by survey respondents in response to the prompt: “Please print below the specific major(s) of any BACHELOR’S DEGREES this person has received” to be their major undergraduate field of degree.

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