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Highest Paying College Majors: Get on the right track

By Brendan Conway updated on Friday, May 09, 2014

Let's face it: if you're going to college, it's more likely than not because you're hoping it'll help you out in your future career. Yes, you're also likely going for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and you're also likely going to learn and grow as a person. But when you graduate, degree in hand, you're going to want to know that all that money you spent on the diploma is going to help you make more money down the road.

Well, we're here to help. There are some subjects you can study and major in during your college education which would leave you that much more likely to get out of college with a good, well-paying job.

If you want to see some other resources on this subject from recent reports, check out this report from Forbes, this report from NPR, this report from Payscale.com, this report from Business Insider, and this slightly off-topic but still interesting report from the Atlantic.


Petroleum Engineering

The world runs on oil, whether we like it or not. People who know the ins and outs of how to transport oil in safe, cost-effective ways, or who know how to find and obtain oil with care and precision, will be valued across the world for as long as our dependence on oil remains. As a result, petroleum engineering is one of the highest paying paths you could pursue after you leave college.

Petroleum engineering involves designing ways to extract oil and natural gas from the deposits within the earth through new technologies and devices. As such, majoring in petroleum engineering is a great idea if you're most interested in getting a high salary once you graduate.

That said, petroleum engineering isn't without its own flaws as a career path. You might be asked to work on somewhat dangerous oil rigs; you don't have a terribly high likelihood of increasing your earnings that much over what you would be initially earning; and the oil market as a whole is pretty volatile, and as a result, your job security isn't that great.

See schools offering petroleum engineering.


Chemical Engineering

Not chemistry, here; chemical engineering. There is a difference, a big one. Chemistry has to do with the discovery of new chemicals and products, while chemical engineering is more focused on the production of methods and techniques to manufacture and employ those chemicals. Chemical engineers can work with manufacturing processes for rubber, plastic, cement, gasoline, paper, and more.

Beyond just creating processes for manufacturing, chemical engineers may also often be involved in waste treatment processes, water treatment processes, and other similar processes.

Chemical engineering is one of the broadest branches of engineering in the world today, thanks to the tremendous numbers of different industries that involves some component of chemical engineering. There's always need for more manufacturing processes or treatment processes, so chemical engineers can rest assured of a fair amount of job security. What's more, chemical engineers will be important for not only creating the processes, but for maintaining them.

So, chemical engineering. Plenty of work. Good pay. Get to play with chemicals. Sounds good, yeah?

See schools offering chemical engineering.


Electrical Engineering

Bzzzt! Electricity makes the world go round. Wanna play with it? Turns out there's good money in it, too.

Electrical engineers work with electrical equipment, including lighting, wiring, communications systems, electric utility systems, and more. An electrical engineer might find him or herself working on anything from a house's wiring to an airplane's cockpit.

Jobs in electrical engineering are fairly niche, meaning that if you've got the skills to work as an electrical engineer, then you'll probably be able to find a position. Heck, there's probably even more jobs and work for an electrical engineering major thanks to the increased emphasis on alternative energy sources.

Get on the ground floor of the electrical world! Make oodles of money! Don't get yourself electrocuted! Enjoy vowel-less onomatopoeias!

See schools offering electrical engineering.


Aerospace Engineering

When a discipline starts with dual vowels, you know it's going to be good.

Aerospace engineering is what you'd major in if you wanted to work on different types of craft, including aircraft and spacecraft. Aerospace engineers can work in a couple of different specialties, including aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering.

Aeronautical engineering is more focused on aircraft, while astronautical engineering is focused on spacecraft. Aerospace engineering is a good choice if you're interested in things that go "whoosh," or making copious amounts of money.

See schools offering aerospace engineering.


Computer Engineering

What doesn't have a computer in it, these days? Imagine that fraction of the things we interact with daily, and then shrink it even smaller. That's going to be the minute portion of the world that won't have computers in the future.

Computer engineering is a great major if you're hoping to get a maker's eye view of the world of computers. Or if you're looking for a lucrative career with plenty of opportunities and potential for growth. As a computer engineer, you can expect to work with the hardware side of computers, designing the bits 'n' bobbins that make the digital world possible.

Heck, major in computer engineering, and you just might design the new iPad. Imagine then what your salary would be!

See schools offering computer engineering.


Applied Mathematics

There's theoretical mathematics -- that's the realm of pure math, numbers floating in imaginary spaces, non-euclidean geometry, all kinds of words and terminology that I can't possibly fathom -- and there's applied mathematics, which is the realm of, well, using math to do stuff.

Applied mathematicians can find positions in business, engineering, government, and the sciences; their skills allow them to solve problems in any of those disparate areas. Applied mathematicians are pretty much trained to use their mad maths to solve practical problems, and they're darn good at it.

Majoring in applied mathematics can set you up to be able to work in a wide array of disparate subjects, and to rake in the cash for doing so.

See schools offering applied mathematics.


Computer Science

So, remember up above, when I talked about computer engineering? Here's the flipside. Computer science is the major that people interested in making software for computers, instead of hardware, should pursue. Same principles apply, though.

Computers are only going to become more prominent in the future, not less, and positions for computer sciences are only going to become more numerous. Majoring in computer science is the right path for you if you're a software fiend who's interested in financial stability and success.

See schools offering computer science.


Nuclear Engineering

The glories of the atomic age! You, too, can be one of the few, the proud, the powerful who wield the energies of the atom! Sort of! Nuclear engineering is obviously focused on nuclear power, though not just in terms of nuclear power plants.

Nuclear engineers can also work on vessels which might need some kind of nuclear power source, like nuclear submarines. Nuclear engineers can also work on the use of nuclear power or radiation in medicine.

The skills necessary to be a good nuclear engineer are highly specialized and specific, of course, which means that if you major in nuclear engineering, then you can rest assured of your good prospects and your high salary.

See schools offering nuclear engineering.


Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering

Boats? You like boats? Want to make a lot of money working with boats? As it turns out, you can!

Naval architecture and marine engineering are two associated majors that can lead you to a high-paying career. It's important to note that naval architects and marine engineers work in very similar, associated fields, but they're not quite the same. Naval architects help design and construct boats, ships, and other marine forms of transport.

Marine engineers, on the other hand, might work on the individual systems of those boats and ships, such as the propulsion systems, or the steering systems. Of course, the sheer similarities between the two disciplines mean that naval architects will be working in close concert with marine engineers, and vice versa.

Regardless, either major is a good choice for you if you're interested in ships and in making money.

See schools offering naval architecture and marine engineering.


Mechanical Engineering

Gizmos! Gadgets! Gewgaws! Thingamajigs! Major in mechanical engineering, and you'll get to work on all of them. Also, you'll get one of the best salaries possible out of all the majors available in college, but that's less important than the fact that you get to play with things like turbines and escalators and generators and more!

Mechanical engineers are basically the experts who design, develop, and test machines of all kinds. They create the processes for making the machines, too. Some other machines mechanical engineers might work with include air-condition equipment, industrial machinery, and robots. Ah, robots. 

See schools offering mechanical engineering.

About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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