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10 degrees that earn high starting salaries (and 10 that won't get you hired at all)

Peter Harris|

With tuition prices on the rise (sorry Quebec students) and student debt increasing, many students are looking for degrees that guarantee a return on the investment. TD economics estimates that the average cost of an undergraduate degree in Canada is $84,000. This includes the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses.

Because of the stubbornly high unemployment rate for young workers since the start of the recession three years ago, many people are graduating into jobs that don’t actually require their degrees, and don’t pay them enough to cover their loan payments.

With all that in mind, we decided to look at the degrees that lead to high paying jobs. A recent report by revealed that the average starting salaries for Canadian university graduates is $43,119 for men and $35,926 for women. (And that difference is a whole other discussion topic.)

So, based on figures from Statistics Canada, Robert Half, industry association websites as well as Workopolis’ own data, here are ten career choices that pay much higher starting salaries than those averages:

  1. Dentist: +- $90,000
  2. Petroleum Engineer: +- $86,220
  3. Data security analyst: +- $83,250
  4. Web site developer and user experience designer: +- $80,000
  5. Mobile applications developers: +- $72,500
  6. Financial Controller: +- $70,000
  7. Lawyer: +- $60,000
  8. Accountant: +- $58,750
  9. Nurse: +- $55,000
  10. Business Administration/Management +- $45,000

And if you are just beginning your studies now and you would like to pick your degree based on the probability of landing a job at the end of it, there are some programs to avoid. Based on US statistics that I think will generally apply here as well (I’m still looking for the equivalent Canadian data), here are ten fields that hiring managers just aren’t looking for on resumes right now.

  1. Architecture
  2. Latin
  3. Music therapy
  4. Theology
  5. English Literature
  6. Social Sciences
  7. American Studies / Canadian Studies (I mentioned that this list was based on US data. However, we can assume that Canadian Studies would be equally frowned upon, because the rationale is that as the workplace becomes more diverse, employers are looking for people educated with a broader cultural perspective than just studying their local national culture.)
  8. Puppetry (Apparently this is an actual degree that some people choose to study. I think it could be an equivalent stand in for most theatre and performing arts degrees.)
  9. Poetry
  10. Art History

Infographic: 10 degrees that hiring managers don’t want to see

Despite the high unemployment rate for new grads right now, and the student debt loads they struggle to carry, getting a university degree is still worth it. Why? Career options for people with only a high school are much worse. People with degrees earn significantly more over the course of their careers than people without them.

Plus isn’t it just better just to know more? To start out your life with a solid foundation of knowledge, critical thinking, and communications skills? Most degrees of any kind provide these, and that is always a worthwhile investment.

See also: Youth unemployment, how to build a competitive edge in competitive times.

Peter Harris

Peter Harris on Twitter

Category: Latest News & Advice, Student
  • Century85

    Ah yes, architecture on a list of “nobody’s going to hire you” degrees along with Art History and Puppetry. Granted you acknowledge these are American statistics, but it’s worth noting that including this list in the Canadian context is misleading. For one thing, unlike in the States, there are few schools offering BArch degrees now that a Master in Architecture is a requirement for professional registration (and, often, employment at firms), and MArch programs admit qualified students from all undergraduate disciplines. Furthermore, the States suffers from an over-saturation of architecture students in a recovering economy whereas only a handful of schools offer MArch degrees in Canada’s robust building climate.

    As an architect at a busy Canadian office, I can reassure any architecture students or prospective students reading this that your odds of being hired gainfully out of school are better now than they’ve been in a long time.

  • Rosie

    Teaching is not on the list of high paying degrees. Although entry level salary is under $40K after about 10 years you can be making a six figure income (in Ontario). Not to mention what principals earn.

  • Tobias Douglas

    To say that a hiring manager does not want to see a certain major, is therefore out to get those who hold them, is a bit too much dichotomous thinking, don’t you think? Great article but with only one dimension.

  • Pasquale isaac

    Entry level stationary engineer here. No college or university education, I do a week on and a week off in a remote camp where an abundance of food is provided and a state of the art gym

    I cleared over 6 digits last year for CNRL an oil co. in canada.

    What does Uni + College get you? A load of debt and a bunch of loser nerds who make no money while all of us “idiots” are owning half a million dollar houses before 30.

    I’m glad I followed my balls and listen to my balls and thank my balls every night. I work hard and have strong work ethic, when I go to work I’m serious and I work and don’t fuck around. How many lawyers/whatever professions socialize here and there and next thing you know it you’ve wasted a half hour. I talk on lunch and only on lunch, the rest of ya goodie too shoes intelligent bunch are just a bunch of gutless people who think they have a good life. Yeah ok, enjoy the shit end of the stick while only the best of the best make 6 digits.

    Here in AB they are begging for young men to come work hard I don’t get why people think they are too good for a trade such as a stationary engineer. I make more than most if not all starting lawyers back in Ontario or probably anywhere for that matter and probably will make quite a bit more for tens of years until they are creme les creme and by then I’ll have pensioned out and work on contract clearing 200,000 after taxes, snowboarding every winter in Banff and travelling 3 times a year out of the country because I can.

    Yeah thanks, but no thanks Colleges and Universities.

    • Fawwaz Hosein

      you have no education, you idiot

    • Derek.143

      You make good money, good for you. However, contrary to what everyone from northern Alberta on these forums thinks, not all of us went to University just so we could get as rich as possible. If money is all you are concerned about, then yes, there are many other ways than university that you can make a quick buck.

      I went to University so that I could make a living doing something that interests me and that pays the bills, and I had a hell of a fun 4 years in the process. I now work 8 hours a day doing something that interests me, with people that I enjoy, in the city where I want to live, and I get paid well to do it. I would hardly call that “the shit end of the stick”.