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Build Your Career Get the Job

Which College Degrees Have the Best Earning Potential?

Which College Degrees Have the Best Earning Potential?
Credit: Zimmytws/Shutterstock

If your career goal is to make as much money as possible, you should consider focusing your studies on science and engineering.

A new study from PayScale revealed that professionals holding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees have some of the best earning potential, both at the start and middle of their careers. This holds true for those holding associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees.

"This year's report highlights that degrees focusing on engineering and science provide the greatest opportunity for increased and high median mid-career salaries," Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers examined data from more than 1.4 million college graduates who completed PayScale's employee survey. For each major, the study's authors determined earning potential both at the start and middle stages of a person's career. [See Related Story: The Best Jobs You Can Get With Your College Major]

For those holding associate's degrees this year, the 10 highest-paying jobs by salary potential, and the median salaries for those with less than five years of experience and for those with more than 10 years of experience, are in the following fields:

  • Computer engineering: $41,000/$77,300
  • Economics: $36,500/$76,500
  • Management information systems: $43,600/$76,400
  • Construction management: $44,500/$73,400
  • Electrical engineering: $42,200/$70,800
  • Electronics and communications engineering: $43,100/$70,700
  • Engineering: $37,800/$70,500
  • Dental hygiene: $62,100/$69,100
  • Computer programming: $42,900/$68,800
  • Occupational health and safety: $52,700/$68,700

For those holding bachelor's degrees this year, the jobs with the highest early and midcareer earning potential are in the following fields:

  • Petroleum engineering: $96,700/$172,000
  • Systems engineering: $66,400/$121,000
  • Actuarial science: $60,800/$119,000
  • Chemical engineering: $69,800/$119,000
  • Computer science and engineering: $71,200/$116,000
  • Nuclear engineering: $68,500/$116,000
  • Electronics and communications engineering: $68,000/$115,000
  • Electrical and computer engineering: $68,100/$114,000
  • Aeronautical engineering: $63,000/$113,000
  • Computer engineering: $69,600/$113,000

For people with master's degrees, the jobs with the highest early and midcareer earning potential are in these fields:

  • Nurse anesthesia: $140,000/$156,000
  • Computer science and engineering: $95,900/$134,000
  • Operations research: $80,800/$130,000
  • Electrical and electronics engineering: $79,500/$129,000
  • Taxation: $61,100/$129,000
  • Electrical engineering: $79,900/$127,000
  • Technology management: $65,900/$127,000
  • Chemical engineering: $73,100/$125,000
  • Computer engineering: $86,700/$125,000
  • Computer science: $84,800/$125,000

In addition to examining specific degrees, the researchers also analyzed earning potential by school. The top five undergraduate colleges and universities that offer the highest earning potential for people both in the early and middle stages of their careers are SUNY Maritime College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvey Mudd College, Princeton University and Stanford University.

The complete list of salary potential for all degrees and colleges can be found on the PayScale website

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.