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Which College Degrees Get the Highest Salaries?



Which College Degrees Get the Highest Salaries?

Which College Degrees Get the Highest Salaries?

If you’re a college graduate, you likely went to school to pursue an important passion of yours.

But as we all know, what we major in has consequences that extend far beyond the foundation of knowledge we build in our early years. Any program we choose to enroll in also sets up a track to meet future friends, career opportunities, and connections.

Even further, the college degree you choose will partially dictate your future earning potential – especially in the first decade after school. If jobs in your field are in high demand, it can even set you up for long-term financial success, enabling you to pay off costly student loans and build up savings potential.

Data Backgrounder

Today’s chart comes to us from Reddit user /r/SportsAnalyticsGuy, and it’s based on PayScale’s year-long survey of 1.2 million users that graduated only with a bachelor degree in the United States. You can access the full set of data here.

The data covers two different salary categories:

Starting median salary: The median of what people were earning after they graduated with their degree.

Mid-career Percentiles: Salary data from 10 years after graduation, sorted by percentile (10th, 25th, Median, 75th, and 90th)

In other words, the starting median salary represents what people started making after they graduated, and the rest of the chart depicts the range that people were making 10 years after they got their degree. Lower earners (10th percentile) are the lower bound, and higher earners (90th) are the upper bound.

College Degrees, by Salary

What college majors win out?

Here’s all 50 majors from the data set, sorted by mid-career median salary (10 years in):

RankUndergraduate MajorStarting MedianMid-Career Median% Change
#1Chemical Engineering$63,200$107,00069.3%
#2Computer Engineering$61,400$105,00071.0%
#3Electrical Engineering$60,900$103,00069.1%
#4Aerospace Engineering$57,700$101,00075.0%
#7Computer Science$55,900$95,50070.8%
#8Industrial Engineering$57,700$94,70064.1%
#9Mechanical Engineering$57,900$93,60061.7%
#11Physician Assistant$74,300$91,70023.4%
#12Civil Engineering$53,900$90,50067.9%
#15Management Information Systems (MIS)$49,200$82,30067.3%
#17International Relations$40,900$80,90097.8%
#21Political Science$40,800$78,20091.7%
#24Information Technology (IT)$49,100$74,80052.3%
#25Business Management$43,000$72,10067.7%
#33Art History$35,800$64,90081.3%
#38Health Care Administration$38,800$60,60056.2%
#40Graphic Design$35,700$59,80067.5%
#42Hospitality & Tourism$37,800$57,50052.1%
#44Criminal Justice$35,000$56,30060.9%
#47Interior Design$36,100$53,20047.4%

Based on this data, there are a few interesting things to point out.

The top earning specialization out of college is for Physician Assistants, with a median starting salary of $74,300. The downside of this degree is that earning potential levels out quickly, only showing a 23.4% increase in earning power 10 years in.

In contrast, the biggest increases in earning power go to Math, Philosophy, Economics, Marketing, Physics, Political Science, and International Relations majors. All these degrees see a 90% or higher increase from median starting salary to median mid-career salary.

In absolute terms, the majors that saw the highest median mid-career salaries were all along the engineering spectrum: chemical engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, and aerospace engineering all came in above $100,000. They also generally had very high starting salaries.

As a final note, it’s important to recognize that this data does not necessarily correlate to today’s degrees or job market. The data set is based on people that graduated at least a decade ago – and therefore, it does not necessarily represent what grads may experience as they are starting their careers today.

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Ranked: America’s Best Universities

Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.



Ranked: America’s Best Universities

The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.

“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:

  • Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
  • Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
  • Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
  • Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
  • Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.

The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.

From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.

Which are the Best Universities in America?

At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.

Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.

RankSchool NameStateTuition
1Princeton UniversityNew Jersey$59,710
Institute of
3Harvard UniversityMassachusetts$59,076
3Stanford UniversityCalifornia$62,484
5Yale UniversityConnecticut$64,700
6University of
7California Institute
of Technology
7Duke UniversityNorth Carolina$66,172
9Brown UniversityRhode Island$68,230
9Johns Hopkins
9Northwestern UniversityIllinois$65,997
12Columbia UniversityNew York$65,524
12Cornell UniversityNew York$66,014
12University of ChicagoIllinois$65,619
15University of
California, Berkeley
California$48,465 (out-state)
$15,891 (in-state)
15University of
California, LA
California$46,326 (out-state)
$13,752 (in-state)
17Rice UniversityTexas$58,128
18Dartmouth CollegeNew Hampshire$65,511
18Vanderbilt UniversityTennessee$63,946
20University of Notre DameIndiana$62,693
21University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor
Michigan$57,273 (out-state)
$17,786 (in-state)
22Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC$65,082
22University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina$39,338 (out-state)
$8,998 (in-state)
24Carnegie Mellon UniversityPennsylvania$63,829
24Emory UniversityGeorgia$60,774
24University of VirginiaVirginia$58,950 (out-state)
$22,323 (in-state)
University, St. Louis
28University of
California, Davis
California$46,043 (out-state)
$15,266 (in-state)
28University of
California, San Diego
California$48,630 (out-state)
$16,056 (in-state)
28University of FloridaFlorida$28,658 (out-state)
$6,381 (in-state)
28University of
Southern California
32University of
Texas, Austin
Texas$41,070 (out-state)
$11,698 (in-state)
33Georgia Institute
of Technology
Georgia$32,876 (out-state)
$11,764 (in-state)
33University of
California, Irvine
California$47,759 (out-state)
$15,185 (in-state)
35New York UniversityNew York$60,438
35University of
California, Santa
California$45,658 (out-state)
$14,881 (in-state)
35University of Illinois
Illinois$36,068 (out-state)
$17,572 (in-state)
35University of
Wisconsin, Madison
Wisconsin$40,603 (out-state)
$11,205 (in-state)
39Boston CollegeMassachusetts$67,680
40Rutgers University,
New Brunswick
New Jersey$36,001 (out-state)
$17,239 (in-state)
40Tufts UniversityMassachusetts$67,844
40University of WashingtonWashington$41,997 (out-state)
$12,643 (in-state)
43Boston UniversityMassachusetts$65,168
43The Ohio State UniversityOhio$36,722 (out-state)
$12,485 (in-state)
43Purdue University,
Main Campus
Indiana$28,794 (out-state)
$9,992 (in-state)
46University of
Maryland, College
Maryland$40,306 (out-state)
$11,505 (in-state)
47Lehigh UniversityPennsylvania$62,180
47Texas A&M UniversityTexas$40,607 (out-state)
$12,413 (in-state)
47University of GeorgiaGeorgia$30,220 (out-state)
$11,180 (in-state)
47University of RochesterNew York$64,384
47Virginia TechVirginia$36,090 (out-state)
$15,478 (in-state)
47Wake Forest UniversityNorth Carolina$64,758
53Case Western
Reserve University
53Florida State UniversityFlorida$21,683 (out-state)
$6,517 (in-state)
53Northeastern UniversityMassachusetts$63,141
53University of
Minnesota, Twin
Minnesota$36,402 (out-state)
$16,488 (in-state)
53William & MaryVirginia$48,841 (out-state)
$25,041 (in-state)

MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.

Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.

For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.

As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.

However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.

Best University versus Best “Fit”

Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.

Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.

In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.

Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.

However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.

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