Three engineers

The highest and lowest paying university degrees

Written by Elizabeth Bromstein
Posted on October 2, 2013

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]