The job market has been tight for a while now, while the costs of a college education continue to soar. Facing this reality, people who are planning to get a degree need to be more selective than ever about which path to choose. This applies equally to young people entering college for the first time and adults returning to school to improve their career prospects.
Featured Engineering Programs
- BS in Biomedical Engineering Technology: DeVry University
- Bachelor’s in Mechatronics: ECPI University
- MS in Electrical Engineering: DeVry University
In general, the degrees that are most valuable to employers right now are ones that prepare students with practical skills in technical fields. Whereas people graduating with degrees in the liberal arts often face dismal job prospects, those with engineering degrees are likely to find many job opportunities awaiting them. With this in mind, let’s look at the college majors that result in the highest paying salaries. This data comes from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
1. Petroleum Engineering
With starting salaries approaching six figures, this college major tops the list as the most lucrative. Mid-career salaries for petroleum engineers are $163,000, a comfortable living by most people’s standards. This is an exceptionally well paying salary for a job that only requires a four year degree.
Since petroleum is a fundamental to powering everything from automobiles to heating systems, there is no reason to believe that this career is going to become obsolete in the foreseeable future. People graduating with degrees in petroleum engineering can often find jobs with companies involved in oil production.
2. Chemical Engineering
Second on the list is another technical degree in the field of engineering. Chemical engineers can expect starting salaries of over $50,000 and to be earning six figures by mid-career. Anyone who finds chemistry interesting would probably enjoy chemical engineering, which is essentially the practical side of chemistry.
Chemical engineers may be involved in any number of tasks, from developing new technology and processes to overseeing safety procedures for corporations or government agencies. This is another technical degree that will most likely be quite valuable for some time.
3. Nuclear Engineering
Although nuclear energy is not as widely discussed as petroleum, it remains a field where a great deal of work and research is conducted. Nuclear engineers may conduct research to develop nuclear based technology for the public or private sector.
They may also be involved in supervising operations to ensure that safety measures are properly in place. Nuclear engineers may even develop technologies used in the medical profession. The median salary for a nuclear engineer is close to $100,000.
4. Electrical Engineering
Still another lucrative degree in engineering, this one also pays mid-to-high five figures to start and six figures for mid-career engineers. This field covers a broad range of jobs and industries, as electricity and electronics are fundamental to powering so many devices and processes.
Some of the specialties that electrical engineers may be involved in include electromagnetism, integrated circuits, digital computers and signal processing. They may work for companies that produce personal technology or systems used in the business world.
5. Computer Engineering
Computer engineering is a field that combines aspects of computer science and electrical engineering. This being the case, people pursuing this major will often take some similar courses as those majoring in electrical engineering or computer science.
In this case, however, the focus will be more in the direction of developing computer hardware or software. They may be involved in creating new designs for personal computers or microprocessors. For this reason, they are often employed by companies that build computers as well as those that depend heavily on computer technology for their products.
6. Aerospace Engineering
Continuing the pattern of engineering degrees dominating the top-ten position, aerospace engineering, which was previously known as aeronautical engineering, is another profitable major for technical-minded students. This field is mainly focused on research, design and testing of spacecrafts and aircrafts.
The field of aerospace engineering is roughly divided into two specialties. One is concerns with aircrafts, the other with spacecrafts that operate beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This is another field that is sure to expand in the future, as this type of technology is essential for so many industries, from transportation to the military.
7. Materials Science and Engineering
This is a lesser known but still important type of engineering that includes characteristics of chemistry and physics. Materials science and engineering studies the properties and benefits of materials, especially those commonly used in industry, such as metals, plastic, textiles, rubber, glass and composites.
Materials engineers may also be involved in forensic engineering, which deals with the technical causes of product liability. Since this is something that is crucial for corporations to protect themselves against lawsuits, materials engineers are in high demand.
8. Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineers deal with some of the most commonly used and profitable products and technologies in the world. This includes medical devices, heating and cooling systems, weapons, robotics, transport systems and much more. Jobs for mechanical engineers often involve designing and testing a variety of gadgets and devices.
Mechanical engineers essentially apply heat and mechanical power to a variety of tools and systems. This is a field that emerged during the industrial revolution more than two hundred years ago and continues to flourish today.
9. Industrial Engineering
Industrial engineering is one of the specialties of engineering that deals as much with people and organizations as it does with technology. This field is concerned with finding the most efficient and profitable systems and processes that can be best implemented by businesses and other organizations.
Industrial engineering connects several different disciplines, including management sciences, ergonomics, safety engineering and various social sciences. This is a degree that could prepare one for jobs in many different careers, including health care, finance or any organization looking to optimize its operations.
10. Software Engineering
This field involves applying the principles of engineering to software, which is something that evolves at an ever quickening pace. Software engineers seek ways to develop and improve software for all different purposes.
Although this major has the Number Ten ranking, the starting and mid-range salaries are comparable to the other types of engineering degrees on the list. Starting salaries are typically over $50,000 and mid-career software engineers can expect to earn around $90,000.
The Value of Pursuing High Demand Degrees
As you can tell from the above list, all of the top paying degrees are in technical fields involving engineering. These are not easy majors by any means, as they require rigorous study in subjects such as mathematics, the physical sciences and computer science. Someone completing a degree in one of these fields, however, will probably not have to worry about finding employment.
What makes these degrees especially lucrative is that they can be completed in four years or less in most cases. In many other fields, one needs a master’s degree or perhaps even a phD to expect to reach a high paying position. For people who are ambitious and enjoy technical subjects, these degrees represent a real opportunity to find a lucrative and rewarding career.