It’s no secret that choice of college major dictates earning potential. Highest-Paying College Majors.
According to a recent report from the HEA Group, graduates from some majors stand to earn an annual salary of $256,539 within the first four years of graduation, while others earn less than $10,000 per year. Research has also shown that there is no significant difference between majors that make the most early career and mid-career.
Equally unsurprising are the facts that many of the top-earning majors are in STEM subjects, and that the wage gap between STEM and non-STEM salaries typically increases over time.
Below, we provide a run-down of the top 10 highest-earning STEM majors. Along the way, we also explore what the future holds for women in these fields.
Engineers are involved in the design, development, analysis, testing, modification, and inspection of systems, structures, materials, products, and gadgets. The field is typically divided into four categories — chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering — but there are many additional subdivisions such as marine, agricultural, and nuclear engineering.
A recent study by the New York Federal Reserve revealed which majors result in graduates earning the most money within five years of joining the workforce. Of the top 10 majors, eight are subsets of engineering, including aerospace, chemical, and civil engineering. The study ranks Chemical engineers as earning the highest pay: they have a median wage of $75,000 early in their career and earn a median wage of $120,000 by mid-career.
The field of engineering employs the lowest proportion of women — 14% — of all STEM fields, but their representation is certainly on the rise. The proportion of female engineers varies broadly by specialization. For example, women account for 9% of mechanical engineers and 35% of environmental engineers.
2. Computer Science
Computer science students study the principles of engineering, mathematics, and science as they relate to computers, networks, hardware, and software. Graduates may pursue careers in web development, video game design, mobile app development, and UX design.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of computer scientists is $131,490. Some of the best-paid professionals in this field are software engineers, data scientists, and Java developers. Of course, compensation packages vary enormously based on location, experience, specialty, and employer.
Computer science is another male-dominated field in the United States, with women earning 18% of computer science bachelor’s degrees. Top colleges are actively recruiting women to pursue this major to manage the gender disparity and to help meet the high job demand.
The salaries of finance majors in the United States range from $19,509 to $515,794, with a median salary of $93,664. Hedge-fund managers, investment bankers, private equity managers, and financial analysts are among the top-paid professionals in this field.
Women are well represented in the financial industry, accounting for 46% of all employees. However, various research shows that the more senior the role, the bigger the employment gap between men and women. A 2021 McKinsey study, for example, found that women comprise 53% of the entry-level banking workforce but represent less than one-third of professionals at the senior vice president and C-suite levels.
4. Actuarial Science
Actuarial science majors study financial math, probability and statistics, and actuarial modeling, enabling them to determine the financial implications of uncertain future events.
The median annual salary for an actuary in the United States is $105,900. As well as being a well-paid profession, employment in this field is projected to grow by 21% from 2021 to 2031, which means qualified actuaries are likely to never find themselves out of a job. Having said that, professionals must complete several years of training and a series of exams to qualify, which is a barrier to entry.
In the United States, 48% of actuaries are female and 52% are male.
5. Naval Architecture
Naval architects leverage the principles of engineering, math, and science to inform the design and analysis of ships and boats. Their expertise enables them to create vessels — or retrofit existing ones — that are safe, efficient, and seaworthy.
The average annual salary for a naval architect in the United States is $93,370. Entry-level professionals earn around $56,550 per year.
This is another male-dominated field; 16% of naval architects are female and 84% are male.
6. Pharmaceutical Sciences
Pharmaceutical science majors study chemistry, biology, and other sciences as they relate to medical drugs. Graduates typically pursue careers in drug research, development, regulation, and marketing.
The average pharmaceutical scientist’s salary is $98,656, but salaries vary based on employer, qualifications, and technical skills.
In the United States, 37% of pharmaceutical scientists are women and 63% are men.
7. Business Analytics
Business analysts interrogate their organization’s data using descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive analytics. This enables them to make performance-enhancing, data-driven decisions for manufacturers and other businesses. Graduates may pursue a career in financial analytics statistics, data science, accounting, and business intelligence.
Over the past few years, the demand for professionals with a business analytics bachelor’s degree has grown rapidly. According to Payscale, the average salary for someone with a master’s degree in business analytics is $76,000.
According to Zippia, 54.6% of all business analysts or quality analysts are women, while 45.4% are men.
Economics majors study economic theories and systems, as well as math, to understand how societies distribute resources to produce goods and services. Economists, financial advisors, data analysts, and statisticians are some of the popular roles among economics graduates.
According to the American Economic Association, the median annual salary for economics professionals is around $105,630.
The representation of women in economics has not improved significantly in the past couple of decades. In 2001, women received 33% of economics degrees. Fast forward 19 years to 2020 and women account for 34% of all economics degrees. In fact, the share of women receiving economics PhDs has declined.
A math major includes the study of algebra, statistics, geometry, calculus, logic, and topology. Students acquire a range of highly in-demand skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, quantitative reasoning, and analytics. As a result, graduates can pursue a range of well-paid and in-demand roles in industries including finance, engineering, actuarial science, and economics.
According to BLS, the median annual salary for professionals working in math-related roles is $98,680 per year.
Pew Research Center indicates that female representation in the mathematical field increased by one percentage point from 2016 to 2019, reaching 47%. A survey conducted by the American Mathematical Society found that in doctoral math departments, women account for 19% of full-time faculty.
Medical doctors — i.e. physicians and surgeons — diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses, administer vaccines, perform routine health checkups, and prescribe medicines.
The average doctor’s salary in the United States is $294,000 per year. Which means it is the highest-earning occupation on this list. Neurosurgery, ophthalmology, and orthopedics are the highest-earning specialties.
Medicine is also one of the more diverse STEM majors. In 2021, 37% of active physicians and 47% of residents and fellows were women.
The Future of Women in STEM
The number of women pursuing STEM careers has been steadily on the rise for some time. Indeed, between 1970 and 2019 the proportion of women working in these fields has increased from 8% to 27%. In 2022, women outnumbered men at the Research Science Institute (RSI) — the most prestigious STEM program for high school students in the United States — for the first time, representing 55% of students accepted.
Continued parity is helped by the governments, universities, employers, and not-for-profit organizations that are investing in programs designed to redress the gender imbalance in STEM.
It is especially important for girls and women to study STEM subjects as early as possible since BLS data suggests there is a strong correlation between workers’ earnings and workers’ educational attainment.
The Association for Women in Science, for example, seeks to equalize pay and eliminate discrimination in STEM environments, recognize the achievements of female scientists, and empower women and girls to pursue and obtain leadership roles and achieve better work-life balance.
Girls Who Code, founded by Reshma Saujani in 2012, is an international non-profit that seeks to address the gender gap in entry-level tech jobs. In the past decade, Girls Who Code has worked with 500 million girls and young women with around half of those served coming from historically underrepresented groups, including those from low-income backgrounds and Black or Latinx women.
The National Girls Collaborative Project unites organizations committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM. The organization provides educational and professional resources for educators of all levels, be it private tutors, higher education faculties, nonprofits, or tech leaders.
Programs like these are as good for businesses as they are for the women and girls they support. In attracting, recruiting, retaining, and upskilling talented women from a range of backgrounds, STEM employers can address skills gaps, diversify their workforce, improve their brand reputation, drive innovation, and increase profits.
Getting more women into well-paying STEM careers could also help to reduce the gender pay gap — though it is worth noting that pay equity has not yet been reached in these fields. According to the Pew Research Center, the median annual earnings for women in STEM jobs is 74% of men’s earnings. For Black and Hispanic women, earnings are about 14% less than White women.
An increased commitment from STEM employers to make the workforce an inclusive, equitable, and prosperous place to be will ensure that women are in a good position to negotiate generous compensation packages for roles that accommodate their career ambitions and personal working preferences.
Source: Highest-Paying College Majors