Makin’ Big Bucks! College Majors That Produce the Highest-Paid Workers

September 17, 2013  |  


If you want to make the big bucks, a new Georgetown University study finds you should steer clear of counseling psychology, early childhood education, and theology majors. All three produce the lowest median incomes, with workers earning under $38,000. If you want a bigger paycheck, the sciences are the way to go, according to USA Today.

Eighty percent of all majors that are listed in the top 10 highest-paid college majors are, unsurprisingly, linked to engineering. Graduates with petroleum engineering degrees make four times more than those with a counseling psychology degree. “The median income for a full-time, full-year worker who majored in petroleum engineering was $120,000, putting it at the top of the most lucrative majors list,” says the article. “On the other hand, the median salary of a person of any age — not just a recent grad — with a degree in counseling psychology was $29,000.”

The five majors with the most significant impact on future income, according to the research (conducted by Anthony P. Carnevale, Jeff Strohl and Michelle Meltonan) are:

1. Petroleum Engineering: $120,000

2. Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration: $105,000

3. Mathematics and Computer Science: $98,000p

4. Aerospace Engineering: $87,000

5. Chemical Engineering: $86,000

If you want to make a salary that comes closer to six-figures, economist suggest you stray away from social sciences and the arts; the top five lowest-paid majors are:

1. Counseling Psychology: $29,000

2. Early Childhood Education: $36,000

3. Theology and Religious Vocations: $38,000

4. Human Services and Community Organization: $38,000

5. Social Work: $39,000

The economists, whose work can be found in “What It’s Worth: The Economic Value of College Majors,” say that income should never be a sole factor behind the selection of a college major. But they hope their analysis will help college students make the best financially-educated decisions.

Did you decide on your college major based on earning potential?

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  • Um

    Are you suggesting that the Georgetown researchers should ignore the statistics of the 531,337 persons in their research and base their report on your anecdote instead?

  • Dre

    My undergraduate degree is in Social Work, and I’m currently working on my MSW while wworking a full-time salary job with benefits putting my degree into practice. My degree is paying off. The research could possibly be biased.

    • MNAuthorKim

      Hello Dre! Thanks so much for your comment. Please understand that your own circumstance is an outlier—so it would be erroneous to generalize your salary to all social work degree-holders.

      Also note that this study didn’t analyze social workers perse, but people who have earned a degree in the field—many of them may or may not have continued to pursue a career in social work.