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Articles / Applying to College / Highest/Lowest Paying College Majors

June 6, 2019

Highest/Lowest Paying College Majors

Highest/Lowest Paying College Majors
Zippia.com

If you're going to college with the goal of getting a high-paying job after graduation, the information below may be of value to you. If you'll be a first-year student this fall, have you considered potential majors yet? If you're already in college, do you know how much graduates in your current major earn?

These are important questions because choosing a major can affect your earnings for a lifetime, if you choose to stay in your field of study. Obviously, for you new college students, knowing your abilities, preferences and passions are key ingredients in selecting a major. If you're already in college, perhaps you feel “mismatched" in your current major and may be thinking about changing, which is a common event for collegians still seeking to understand themselves.


Understanding the hard data concerning majors and their relationship to incomes can be a big help for those who are undecided about or unhappy with their curricula options. Happily, these data are available and that's what I would like to cover today.

Zippia.com is a great source for research information. This past week, I received their latest findings, which have inspired my topic today. With Highest Paying College Majors for 2019, which also includes the reciprocal Lowest Paying College Majors for 2019, Zippia brings forth the very latest results from their “deep dive into the PUMS data from the American Community Survey to calculate the highest paying college majors."

“PUMS" is an acronym related to census data and stands for “Public Use Microdata Sample." Zippia explains the methodology:

Using the most recent PUMS data from the American Community Survey, we were able to drill down the data by average annual income and majors.

We only looked at workers between the ages of 29 and 31, who were employed the whole year and worked at least 35 hours/week.

This was done deliberately, to give graduates the time to find a more permanent job, after graduating college.

We then ranked all 174 majors from best to worst based on the average annual income. Of course, the more the annual income, the higher the major ranked.

So, let's get to the results. Skipping straight to the summary, we see that:

- Petroleum Engineering is the top paying college major, with workers in this field earning almost twice the salary of graduates in the second-listed major.

- Four of the top 10 majors are engineering majors.

- Economics and Mathematics are the other high-earning-potential majors.

- Educational Psychology and Library Science are the lowest earning majors and -- here's a shocker -- both of these majors earn less than workers with high school diplomas. In general, Education majors make less than most technical majors.

Now for some specifics on income. The image above shows the list of the highest paying majors for 2019.

If you don't see your major on that list, you may be wondering if it might show up on this list:

Zippia's Lowest Paying College Majors for 2019:

- Educational psychology: $29,826

- Library science: $32,545

- Social psychology: $33,991

- Teacher education: Multiple levels: $36,354

- Early childhood education: $36,571

- United States history: $37,976

- Elementary education: $38,374

- Special needs education: $38,472

- Social work: $38,569

- Botany: $39,195

I didn't see my major -- music history and literature -- on the “lowest" list, but since it falls under the umbrella of liberal arts, I'm sure that it's lurking humbly somewhere below #10.

For more depth on the highest-paying list, visit Zippia to see the complete top 50.

For those of you who will land on campus for the first time this fall and who have not yet decided on a major, you may like to review some information on the process of choosing a major. The Princeton Review offers one way to do that with its Guide to Choosing College Majors, which begins sympathetically:

We know that choosing a college major can be overwhelming.

But have no fear! Your choice of major will not lock you into a specific career for the rest of your life. That said, you WILL spend a lot of time whatever subject you choose. Here's what you need to know about college majors before you commit. ...

For additional help check out this article on how to choose a college major.

Know Your Interests

Figuring out what you want to do with your life when you're 18 years old can certainly be difficult, but if you're aware of your abilities, preferences and passions, as I mentioned at the top of this article, then you're halfway home.

Choosing your college major is a major decision and can play an important part in how much you earn across the span of your working years. Choose carefully!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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