Three engineers

The highest and lowest paying university degrees

Elizabeth Bromstein|

It doesn’t take a graduate degree to figure out that what you choose to study in university can profoundly affect your earning potential.

And wouldn’t it be nice to know which degrees have the highest and lowest median earnings? Well, thankfully Anthony Carnevale, Director and Research Professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, went and found out for you, and put the information into an exhaustive report.

Think you can guess which majors are the most and least lucrative? Maybe you can. Here’s a hint: seven of the top ten most lucrative have the word “engineering” in them, and none of the least lucrative do.

Topping the list of the lowest is counselling and psychology, followed by early childhood education, then theology and religious vocations. I guess those are the sort of things you go into for love rather than money.

And the difference is big. “At the extreme,” write the study authors, “the highest earning major earns 314 percent more at the median than the lowest earning major at the median.” Holy cats.

The report is crazy informative and also has the goods on the degrees with the highest and lowest median earnings for women, men, and also broken down by ethnicity. They’re not all the same but the highest consistently include lots of engineering and the lowest lots of education and arts.

It gets more in depth than that, like the “Lowest Average Earnings Boost from Obtaining a Graduate Degree” and “Top 10 Majors With High Full Time Employment” (six out of ten are engineering).

I wish I could back and study engineering.

Then there are the The university degrees with the highest (and lowest) unemployment rates.

So, without further ado, I present the Top 10 Degrees with the Highest and Lowest Earnings:

Top 10 Highest:

    1. Petroleum Engineering: $120,000

    2. Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration: $105,000

    3. Mathematics and Computer Science: $98,000

    4. Aerospace Engineering: $87,000

    5. Chemical Engineering: $86,000

    6. Electrical Engineering: $85,000

    7. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering: $82,000

    8. Mechanical Engineering: $80,000

    9. Metallurgical Engineering: $80,000

    10. Mining and Mineral Engineering: $80,000

Top 10 Lowest:

    1. Counseling Psychology: $29,000

    2. Early Childhood Education: $36,000

    3. Theology and Religious Vocations: $38,000

    4. Human Services and Community Organization: $38,000

    5. Social Work: $39,000

    6. Drama and Theater Arts: $40,000

    7. Studio Arts: $40,000

    8. Communication Disorders Sciences and Service: $40,000

    9. Visual and Performing Arts: $40,000

    10. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs: $40,000

Just for context, the average cost of an undergraduate degree in Canada is $84,000. This includes the cost of tuition, books, and living expenses. Will this sort of report affect your decision of what to study? Do you wish you had studied something else? Tell us about it.

See also: 10 degrees that earn high starting salaries (and 10 that won’t get you hired at all)

Source: What’s it Worth? The economic value of college majors [PDF]

Category: Job Search Strategies, Latest News & Advice, Student
  • Jill Patricia Lyons

    I earned a doctorate in psychology in 1991… it was biopsychology (behavior genetics and comparative psychology ie animal research)… I am not unhappy with what I studied… I am unhappy with the treatment I have received after graduation by the workplace and society at large…

    • Kamilla Vaski

      Yes. Articles like the above are a symptom of a society in deep decline. Google Chris Hedges for some more insight on the dumbing down and de-intellectualization of the culture, in recent books, articles and talks. But you don’t need his word for it, you have experienced it yourself.

    • mymoney

      We don’t want to be fingered as nuts , Of course we’ll be sweet

    • Dave Dollman

      I think you need to understand what entitlement is and what reality has to do with it.

      • Jill Patricia Lyons

        What does that mean???

        • Dave Dollman

          sorry for the slow reply the “link” was lost. it is as you have said. you seem to expect to receive treatment from “society” when there is no reason to expect anything. A degree of any sort can not entitle you to any satisfaction, if your notion of what is to be expected is preconceived.

          • Jill Patricia Lyons

            I get it… uneducated people are appropriately entitled to fair treatment but educated people are inappropriately entitled… and yes I should be free to live without being harassed by animal rights activists

          • Dave Dollman

            yes! that is it exactly. you should be treated different based on your education (?)
            Freedom to express yourself should be curtailed, if somone who is smarter cannot explain it to them in a way they can understand. I mean why bother they are uneducated right.
            Wow maybe your fashion designer job could work together with your degree (leather jackets jk)
            ps the point is there is No ENTITLEMENTS in life

          • Jill Patricia Lyons

            well that made no sense whatsoever… let’s prevent educated people from speaking because uneducated people don’t understand it


          • Jill Patricia Lyons

            Educated or not I am as entitled as you are… and besides, “NO ENTITLEMENTS in life” is obviously not true, lawyers are entitled to practice law, doctors are entitled to practice medicine,physiotherapists are entitled to practice physiotherapy, plumbers are entitled to practice plumbing, electricians are entitled to practice electronics, employers are entitled to give online assessments to applicants but applicants are not entitled to see results, personnel agencies are entitled to advertise jobs and not name the companies, the list goes on…

            You are just trying to tell me that I am not entitled to anything that most other people are entitled to… nice going!… how to offend someone… completely ignore their hard work and achievements

          • Dave Dollman

            I know i’m not entitled to anything! even if i work hard i may not even get $$ for my work if it is not what someone else wants. apparently its not just me who is Ignoring hard work and achievements.
            this definition is what you do not get to have:
            “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges)”

            Lawyers do not win cases all the time and Dr’s can be despised by their patients when they don’t get the results they are looking for.
            same for you. you can do your work but it may not give you anything you “feel” you want and it all applies to everyone.

          • Jill Patricia Lyons

            Well then I guess you wouldn’t mind giving up your job seeing how you are not entitled to it… a lawyer is entitled to practice law once the degree is obtained and the bar exam is passed… a doctor is entitled to practice medicine once the requirements are fulfilled… my degree says that I have been “… granted admission to that degree with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining”… their degrees probably say something similar… what part of that means I only “feel” I deserve something?

          • Jill Patricia Lyons

            Well then I guess you wouldn’t mind giving up your job seeing how you are not entitled to it… a lawyer may not win every case but is entitled to practice law once the degree is obtained and the bar exam is passed… a doctor may be despised but is entitled to practice medicine once the requirements are fulfilled… my degree says that I have been “… granted admission to that degree with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining”… their degrees probably say something similar… what part of that means I only “feel” I deserve something?

          • Jill Patricia Lyons

            so you are entitled if someone else wants it… and… that is the point… the workforce is not acknowledging education

      • Jill Patricia Lyons

        do you mean I am feeling inappropriately entitled to something?… or do you mean the workplace is not acknowledging my “admission to that degree with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining” as it states on the signed and sealed document.

    • JME1

      You’re the norm Jill. When a major portion of social status is based
      off money and you earn more money the higher you climb the corporate
      latter, you will for sure see bad behavior between competing
      individuals. Ultimately their main motivation is to keep you down or
      rather elevate themselves above you. Your best bet is to do your best
      and develop your situational awareness as much as possible. Work smarter not harder.

      ~idealists are always left disappointed.

  • DrCaligari

    I think you’re failing to understand the point of a university degree, Elizabeth. A university is not a trade school, it’s a finishing school.

    • Jill Patricia Lyons

      Professionals like lawyers, accountants, doctors, nurses etc attend university… I doubt whether they would consider it a finishing school… profession versus trade it is kind of like the difference between craft and fine art

  • Rocky Manrique

    Elizabeth Bromstein, you need do some research on the Kinesiology Degree. A vast majority of Physiotherapy/Chiropractic clinic will offer about $15/hour to Kin graduates. That’s about a $30K salary. Sad.

  • mymoney

    The employers are getting a super deal , the students should rethink their choices

  • hotdice

    I strongly believe the value of a country is demonstrated by the value it places on the work of its citizens. These stats show a bankrupt society

    • Maco

      They best comment yet……..

  • Andrew Christian Miller

    Nevertheless, all of these professions are vital to civilization and the human race and should not be ranked in order to tell people what to study. People should study the things they are passionate about and have a talent for, not just what results in a higher paycheque.

    • Jim Giordano

      But that’s the problem, a lot of the students aren’t passionate about something in particular, so if they could be steered to professions in demand so much the better for them and society.

  • Peter Wang

    People in Finance, Investment banking and real estate make more for sure, why arent they here? I am a Mechanical Engineer and my friends in Finance, Accounting make way more than 100K, so this survey is not accurate.

  • Peter Wang

    This survey is not entirely accurate, I am a Mechanical engineer and yes salary wise 80k is the median BUT many of my friends in Finance, Accounting and Real estate make much more than I. I am talking about 150k a year at least. This survey did not show the entire picture.

  • Basavaraj

    If college degree would have been so important then Bill gates never been rich. It’s all about interest. Do what you love. Love what you do. Be happy!

  • Nicole Reid

    As an English Major with a second degree in Creative Writing, I’m very surprised not to see either of those degrees on here in any form. I certainly don’t use my degree; it’s just been a “requirement” in terms of the necessity of having a post-secondary
    education. However, I make little more than any of the top ten lowest above.

    I’m saddened to see that Early Childhood Education (ECE) degrees earn such an appallingly low salary. As a parent with a 17-month old toddler in daycare, I know how tough it is to look after one young kid everyday, never mind twelve or more. But I have to have my child in daycare because I have massive student loan debt – yes, CAD$50,000+ just for an English degree. My debt makes it necessary for me to work and also to struggle to pay off my loans while I also pay CAD$1,300/month for daycare to horribly underpaid people (almost always women) who are raising my son for me 9 hours a day, 5 days a week.

    Development in early childhood is so incredibly vital to the healthy development of children, some of whom will likely go on to pursue some of the top degrees listed above. Why we continue to underfund and undervalue ECE for our children is baffling. We can’t expect anyone to grow up and contribute to society as healthy, well-rounded individuals if we don’t give them the foundation they so badly need to do so. And paying paltry wages to the people who tirelessly do this for us is nothing less than a travesty.

    Also, Jill, whining about whether or not society gives you the recognition you think you deserve for getting a doctorate degree is a sure way to get most people to stop listening to what you have to say. Keep your incredible privilege in check and recognize that being able to afford that very high level of education makes you very fortunate to have achieved what you have in life. So many millions of people are never so lucky. Sure, pursuing a doctorate takes a lot of very hard work, and you’re certainly due the credit for that. But complaining that neither people nor society give you the level of recognition you think you’re owed is pretty ignorant.

    • Jill Patricia Lyons

      What do you mean whining?… all I said was I was unhappy… I am not allowed to be unhappy?… and what do you mean by “privilege”??? … I couldn’t afford it either but I did it… you have no idea what I sacrificed to do it… or what hardships I had to overcome… many of those who didn’t do what I did had homes, cars, families and conveniences by the time they were thirty that I still don’t have to this day… stop putting words in my mouth and thoughts in my head… your interpretation is not my reality

  • jbhadra


    I’m a teacher and in my 6th year I am making 78000 dollars.

    I work for a public school board and I must say, the pay is good. Next year I will be making 82000.

    As for real estate agents, some are successful and many are not – as a result I understand why they are not included on this list.

  • Val Strawczynski

    I’d rather eat broken glass than get a higher education based on how much money I could make. There’s nothing wrong with trade schools, but those who get degrees in trades ought to be honest with themselves about what they’re doing.

    • Jim Giordano

      There’s lots of trades people who are happier, prouder and more financially secure than the posters here.

  • Oliver Rimes

    It’s obviously beyond the scope of this post, but if people study and
    enter professions that they are passionate about there is a strong
    likelihood that they will excel at them. Thus, someone who is
    passionate, energetic, entrepreneurial and hardworking in a lower paying
    profession could reach or exceed the salary of a mediocre and
    demotivated person in a higher paying profession.

    • Bava

      I don’t think your observation and statement are not beyond the scope of this topic Oliver. It sounds like you have some solid experience in life and that is precisely what most people need these days of so man university degrees and so many promises being made that are just rediculous. Bill Gates got rich because he was able to find a way to get experts of their fields do the bleeding edge work for him once he figured out that he didn’t have the brain power to do it himself. Getting people to do for him what he couldn’t do became his passion. He realised that was where he was going to achieve his goals and persued that career. Like Jobs – he was a visionary with passion. The people you are speaking of all can have passion in their endevors just like I did when I was a budding engineer. The times for me were great and I made a fair wage and retired. I didn’t get rich but, I wasn’t trying to get rich. I just wanted to be happy, comfortable, safe and assured my efforts were never in vain. I have achieved that. I had my beer and wine parties, bicyle racing and stuff like many peoples do and on a occasion enjoy travelling the world. Well, everyone would do like you said with passion — the end results may not be mogul wealth but, you can have a mogul life of happy and success with so many other things in life.

  • Andrew Hunter

    I am currently enrolled in my last year of an undergraduate English / Historical Studies program. Originally, I wanted to teach high school, but since then I have considered the sheer volume of people looking to become teachers, and the large number of people who graduate teacher’s college. I thought the competition was too thick and that my passions could be spent elsewhere, in a more free-flowing environment.

    I am now looking into my Masters of historical studies not because I think I can get a better, higher paying job through it, but simply because history is so important to me and the program is a huge compliment to my passions (photojournalism, photography, writing of fiction, and social activism). If that means I get a smaller paycheck, so be it. Life for me is far too short to base its direction off of lists compiled on a website and a potential paycheck.

    I think it’s ridiculous how biased a society will be towards a certain set of professions, and I also think it is sick how the liberal arts seem to be on the chopping block. We’re existing in a society that is highly capitalistic, highly focused on present gains, and very much interested in preserving rampant consumerism.

    While it is true that this is obviously the way in which our society is evolving, it seems that every day we are living our lives in suspended animation, letting the internet take over the present, and allowing ourselves to forget some of the most important “archaic” notions such as reading a physical book, using a physical map, and searching for the answer for something without the use of omniscent Google.

  • Ashley B

    I am like every other teacher in Ontario, unemployed, and working low paying jobs in hope something will pan out. I went in to teaching not for the money, hell I would start a job in two weeks for 39,000 a year, I went in it because I loved teaching and seeing students succeed

  • Russ

    Be very good in whatever you do and the success will ultimately come to you..
    But all things equal, if you are an average professional in say humanities and social studies (the field of knowledge where bla…bla…bla.. is valued, and where 2+2 is not always equal to 4), then you should not expect to earn more than professionals from the hard-core sciences (engineering, math, physics etc, where 2+2 is ALWAYS 4) because every second can do well in humanities, but you need brain (and not not only a long tongue) to do well in hard-core sciences…

  • Khrishna

    I am totally amazed to see responses to this article. Everyone NEEDS to understand that having a Degree/Phd …. my apologies to those who have those … does NOT necessarily mean you are “Educated” ! Educated in your field Yes, however reading the replies something is missing! Interpretation of the English Language !!! I am blessed to have a Msc but this going back and forth about entitlements Grow up people !!! Society does not owe us ANYTHING!! You owe the society you live in!! Anyway peace and love to all!!!

  • Charlie

    Part of the amount paid to different job fields depends on the allotted budget the government has set for that field, and the amount of annual revenue generated by the field. Since psychology generates little revenue and incurs many costs (although it is an important field in my opinion), it is deemed as “less important”.

    Part of making income and a successful career (and the ability to pay off loans in a time-acceptable manner) is to choose to study in the right field that will pay back on your investment. As times change, the amount of power of a specific degree changes. The power depends on the demand and usefulness of a degree. Philosophy degrees used to be highly regarded hundreds of years ago. Now they seem generally useless. Computer science is on the rise and I foresee it to become even higher demand as the world becomes integrated with the internet. Any fields in oil is also high-paying (as oil is a top revenue in Canada). Generally this method is not agreeable because, who wants to study something they don’t like? (why I avoided mathematics and computer science – difficult and a “dry” field in my opinion.)

    Canada puts high importance in scientific fields relating to engineering and advancement of scientific progress, while fields relating to the people and arts suffer. Although arts is a passionate field and important, it is not passion that generates revenue or economic progress. Global competition and income are main factors. If the society and outlook of Canada were to change, this situation may change too.

    I am currently studying towards a Biochemistry degree, something I enjoy, and also not listed in a lower pay bracket.. Although I do have a small sense of dread upon graduation of the competition and need for this degree in the Canadian job market. There is a highly rising number of Biochemistry degree holders.

  • Sweinberg

    I’m in the same situation, and that makes sense. I expect my earnings to go up. 5 years is not long into our careers…

  • the_tbj_fan

    Clarity, as in bachelors degrees or Masters or PhD.

    I find it hard to believe someone with a PhD in psychology is only making $20,000 a year. But if a person only had a bachelors’ degree on the other hand…. that’s not a surprising.

  • the_tbj_fan

    The $80,000 could be the industry median or average. It is something that the author needs to clarify.

  • Bava

    …You are correct Dee. This article is 100 percent incomplete and probably done by a disgruntled journalist that had to do the article in order to get paid. To answer your question about engineers all getting paid big bucks…most don’t. I went many years plugging away and finally had to understand that where a engineer is as important as having a useable degree in the first place. I know engineers who make $40k per year just doing drafting because that’s the best they can do. They don’t have the cognition to come up with new patentable ideas for themselves or any business. Your statement of decisions based on financial interests is completely correct. I was a $90k/yr engineer. I am retired now — but, I did my best and even at that I still wound up working for CEO’s that had absolutely no engineering at all — but, that’s life. You work where you can make the most of your life and stay happy. I am happy. Not satisfied that I got old and lost my power of cognition to put man on Mars but, all in all I have accomplished all that I did set out to do and that is more than most people can say. There is all kinds of stuff I’d like to still do that is within my brainpower — and am working on some of those projects now. One day I hope I can make one pay off in terms of either personal satisfaction, great product for mankind to have or a great monetary return. The main thing in life is to stay busy, stay happy, stay honest and die a clean minded person having followed the rules (except for math rules where you need to think out of the box). If you make it rich it’ll be by smart decisions about making money…not making things. Lots of people can make things (or not) but, not many people have the ability to make money out of everything they touch or at least one gimic they’ve stumbled onto. Me…I make things and went along with retirement plans. I was not interested in living a life of making myself wealthy and I worked for the right companies that paid well. Not to forget that engineers put lots of extra hours and efforts into their lives doing things. That’s where engineers lose. We usually fail to spend more time with our families even though the time spent is usually quality time…most family members don’t understand quantity vs. quality.

  • Bava

    I like your name. Girodano is a great name. I came from Bautista a long time ago. Is that guy on your shoulder studying to be an Engineer?

  • Jim Giordano

    SHE is working on a combined doctorate in Astrophysics and Sacred Theology, in Heaven. 2009-05-13 : 2013-01-18 miss you Little-Love.

  • Jill Patricia Lyons

    Here is a snippet of my story…

    Since graduating in 1991 all of my grant applications and business plan submissions in order to be the “independent researcher” I was trained to be have been rejected… and all of the jobs I have been offered, other than the +80 hr/week teaching jobs which I was not trained to do and which landed me in the hospital, have been minimum wage and/or under the table…

  • Jill Patricia Lyons

    Believe that someone with a PhD is making less than $20,000 because it is true

  • Jill Patricia Lyons

    Well you know what they say… once your opponent starts attacking you personally you know you’ve won the argument… my self esteem is irrelevant to the point… the point being the whole “entitlement” argument is a crock of manure

  • Khrishna

    No need to reply to this post.whether U have 1st degree, Phd or a Masters WE ALL HAD TO STUDY TO GET THAT!!!