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  • Writer's pictureDina

Highest and Lowest Paying Majors - What Should You Choose?

I remember when I was in high school, I told myself that my major doesn’t matter. As long as I’m happy studying what I’m studying, I’ll be fine. While this is a healthy mindset to have, don’t forget about the advantages of being financially literate and independent. Brush up on your knowledge of 401Ks and Roth IRAs, and you might reconsider your stance on salaries. After all, income levels are related to surveys of happiness; a 2018 study suggested an income of “$95,000 for life satisfaction and $60,000 to $75,000 for emotional well-being.”

With that in mind, let’s review the highest and lowest-paying majors as additional factors in your decision-making when it comes to majors!

Ten Highest Paying Majors (Starting Salary):

  • Petroleum Engineering ($94,500) – with this degree, you prepare for work in the oil and gas industry, researching, designing, and developing ways to extract fossil fuels. Mid-career earnings are around $200,000!

  • Electrical Engineering and Computer Science ($88,000) – technology continues to pervade all industries, especially coupled with the application of big data and AI. This is an expertise that will continue to be in demand. Mid-career earnings reach $120,000 for computer scientists. By the way, keep in mind that certain areas pay more because of cost-of-living; think Silicon Valley, which is closer to $200,000.

  • Pharmacy ($79,600) – this is the only health care-related one, and it’s not nurse, doctor, or even surgeon. Keep in mind that this is a list of starting salaries. If you want to make a quick impression on your bank account, pursue pharmacy! Mid-career earnings reach $130,000.

  • Operations Research ($77,900) – if you’re unfamiliar with the title, it’s probably because you might be more familiar with data analysis, especially the recent trend of applying big data and AI. Many fields, including law, are utilizing AI as a useful tool. A background in this field is very versatile. Mid-career earnings near $140,000.

  • Aeronautics and Astronautics ($73,100) – not many students remember that our skies are filled with planes and other things that can fly and glide and that this major exists! Mid-career earnings exceed $110,000. Plus, you can always introduce yourself as a rocket scientist.

  • Electrical Power Engineering ($72,400) – we’re talking about power generators, transmission, and utility companies. With the advent and increasing popularity of electric vehicles, positions yourself for a field that is sure to boom.

  • Actuarial Mathematics ($63,300) – how much do you need to pay for insurance? Ask an actuary, which will be you if you study this major. You will need to command exceptional analytical reasoning and math skills, and your input will be greatly rewarded, especially at large companies, where mid-career earnings top $100,000. This field is still expected to grow!

  • Applied Economics and Management ($58,900) – while the starting salary is a bit lower on this list, the mid-career earnings can top $140,000 on average. Don’t forget that economics is less math and more social science. Being able to understand markets and to predict accurately is the key here.

  • Political Economy ($57,600) – this is a combination of political science and economics, similar to international economics. A grasp on trade policy and legislation yields a mid-career earnings of over $120,000.

  • Business Analysis ($57,200) – you would be responsible for analyzing aspects of businesses, including strategies, IT solutions, management, and information systems. You will be required to utilize strong conflict-management and communication skills, an excellent major for someone with strong people skills. Mid-career earnings hover around $85,000.

Ten Lowest Paying Majors (Starting Salary):

Before I start the list, I just want to remind us that salaries are not the end-all-be-all. You need a balance of personal happiness and enjoyment in ANY career. That said, this is more of an educational approach to the ten lowest-paying majors. Just keep in mind where your major falls on this list and that this is just a list of starting salaries. Your mileage may vary!

  • Design and Applied Arts ($43,122)

  • Criminology ($42,988)

  • Hospitality Administration/Management ($42,931)

  • Criminal Justice ($42,729)

  • Human Development and Related Services ($42,400)

  • Psychology ($42,313)

  • Health and Physical Education/Fitness ($41,778)

  • Animal Science ($41,080)

  • Education ($39,543)

  • Social Work ($37,727)


Yes, there are no real surprises here. Degrees in STEM lead to high starting salaries and high career median salaries. If you’re not interested in STEM but are still interested in a high salary, consider Applied Economics and Management and Political Economy. As for the lower starting salaries, what you will notice is that these majors are great foundations for master’s degrees and beyond; if your major is on this list, perhaps consider the idea of pursuing graduate school, after which your starting and mid-career salaries will be considerably higher! Consider your entire academic plan when choosing your undergraduate major.

In the end, don’t choose a major based solely on salary; however, do take into full consideration your strengths and weaknesses to see what kind of career would fit you best. Don’t pick a major based on the classes you like or dislike. Majors in college are much more varied than the typical 7 classes to choose from in high school. Talk to others if it’s hard to see for yourself! After all, this is for your “life satisfaction” and “emotional well-being”!

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