In this article, we will look at the 15 college degrees with the best starting salaries. We have also discussed the declining popularity of college education in the US. If you want to skip our detailed analysis, head straight to the 5 College Degrees With the Best Starting Salaries.

Cost of Attending College in the US

The cost of college is a major concern for many prospective students and their families. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average net price of attending a four-year college for first-time undergraduates varies widely depending on the type of institution. In the 2020-21 academic year, this average net price was $14,700 at public institutions, $28,400 at private nonprofit schools, and $24,600 at private, for-profit institutions.

Tuition and fees have been steadily increasing over the past decade across public and private nonprofit colleges and universities. The highest increase was observed in private nonprofit institutions, with annual tuition and fees rising by 14% between the 2010-11 and 2021-22 school years.

Despite financial aid opportunities, the total cost of attendance remains substantial. For students living on campus, the average total cost of attending a public four-year institution in 2021-22 was $26,000, while attending a private, for-profit school cost $32,900, and a private nonprofit college cost $55,800 annually.

Student loans are becoming increasingly common, with 38% of first-time, full-time college students awarded loans in the 2020-21 academic year. However, the average loan amount awarded has decreased slightly over the past decade, and education debt is now the fastest-growing form of debt in the United States, totaling approximately $1.76 trillion.

The Decreasing Popularity of College Degrees

In November 2023, recent college graduates faced a stark reality that despite impressive resumes, including internships and athletic achievements, they struggled to secure employment. The unemployment rate for recent graduates stood at 4.4 percent, higher than the overall unemployment rate and nearly double that of all workers with a college degree.

The pandemic exacerbated the situation, creating a mismatch between available jobs and graduates’ preferences. Industries experiencing worker shortages, such as hospitality and childcare, were not appealing to recent grads. Conversely, sectors like tech and finance, where graduates desired employment, faced layoffs and hiring freezes. This disconnect left many feeling disillusioned about their economic prospects post-graduation.

The challenges extended beyond securing employment; underemployment rates rose, with many graduates taking jobs that did not require a degree. Economic discontent among young Americans grew, potentially impacting political landscapes. Despite the ongoing recruitment efforts by companies, actual hiring slowed down, particularly in sought-after industries.

Owing to the declining importance of college degrees, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has signed an executive order, eliminating the necessity of a college degree for 75% of state government positions. This decision aims to increase employment opportunities and foster a more inclusive job market in the state. With Minnesota being one of the largest employers, the decision comes at a time when hiring is at a five-year high, necessitating the recruitment of additional employees as per the fiscal year 2024 and 2025 budget. The executive order addresses persistent barriers to job access, acknowledging that many positions require degrees even when not essential for success. To combat this, the order focuses on skills and work experience over formal education and seeks to improve job search clarity and employee development programs.

Do Students with College Degrees Earn More?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2022, individuals with a bachelor’s degree earned a median weekly wage of $1,432, whereas those with only a high school diploma earned $853 per week. This signifies a substantial 68% difference in earnings.

It is also worth noting that Business Administration is often considered to be one of the easiest degrees that make the most money. Before getting into out entire list, let’s look at the importance of a degree in Economics and Mechnical/Electrical Engineering from a business perspective. The analyses will help us with the understanding as to why degrees such as these come high salaries, even in the start., Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN)’s incorporation of over 150 PhD economists into its workforce revolutionized its decision-making processes. These economists play a pivotal role in the Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN)’s operations, influencing choices with data-driven insights. For instance, economists shape pricing strategies and leverage advanced algorithms to determine optimal price points. Additionally, their contribution to inventory management has led to impressive improvements which reduced fulfillment costs by 5% in a year for, Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN). Economists also played a key role in Amazon’s Prime offering, determining which benefits most attract customers. Such data-backed decisions have largely contributed to, Inc (NASDAQ:AMZN)’s unparalleled growth, with revenue reaching $386 billion in 2020 — a stark increase from $61 billion in 2012, largely attributed to their economist-guided strategies.

On the other hand, General Electric Co (NYSE:GE) Renewable Energy has enlisted Eastgate Engineering, based in Billingham, Teesside, for the mechanical and electrical pre-assembly work of towers and nacelles at the Dogger Bank Offshore Wind Farm. This major project is set to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm upon completion in 2026 and will involve approximately 90 local jobs, including skilled positions for Mechanical and Electrical Technicians, Supervisors, and Project Managers.

The work was executed at Able Seaton Port, commenced in January 2023 and spans all three phases of the Dogger Bank Wind Farm. To put the scale into perspective, the Dogger Bank Wind Farm is located over 130 km off the north-east coast of England and will generate a 18TWh of renewable electricity annually, equivalent to powering about six million UK homes or meeting around 5% of the country’s electricity demand. The is commited to creating over 2,000 UK-based roles during construction and operation, including 470 jobs by General Electric Co (NYSE:GE) Renewable Energy alone.

Moreover, the completion of the $155 million Supercritical Transformational Electric Power (STEP) Demo pilot plant is a pertinent milestone in the fied of mechanical engineering in the US. Developed by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), GTI Energy, and General Electric Co (NYSE:GE), the 10-megawatt supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) test facility is set to revolutionize power generation. Unlike conventional plants, STEP employs high-temperature sCO2, boosting efficiency by up to 10% due to its favorable thermodynamic properties. The innovative technology allows for smaller, desk-sized turbines that could power 10,000 homes.

To list the college degrees with the best starting salaries, we identified degrees that came with high median salaries in the US. We opted to utilize median salaries rather than starting salaries for several reasons. While starting salaries provide a snapshot of initial earnings, they may not accurately represent the overall earning potential of a degree. Starting salaries can be influenced by various factors such as individual negotiation skills, geographic location, and the specific industry or company hiring practices. In contrast, median salaries offer a more comprehensive view by capturing the middle value in a dataset, thereby accounting for both high and low outliers.

The list is presented in ascending order.

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Civil engineering graduates are often paid well from the start because of several reasons. Firstly, their field is crucial for infrastructure development, including buildings, roads, bridges, and utilities, leading to high demand for their expertise. Secondly, civil engineering requires specialized knowledge and skills, leading to a limited pool of qualified professionals. Additionally, the job involves significant responsibilities and liabilities, warranting higher compensation. Civil engineering graduates have one of the highest starting salary jobs out of college.

Finance is a high-paying field due to its integral role in managing capital and risk. Professionals in finance possess specialized skills in analyzing markets, making investment decisions, and managing financial assets. Their expertise directly impacts the profitability and stability of businesses, institutions, and individuals. Hence, finance is one of the highest-paying majors in the world.

Mechanical engineering is lucrative due to its broad applicability across industries. Professionals in this field design, develop, and maintain mechanical systems and processes, from manufacturing to transportation to energy production. Their expertise is essential in optimizing efficiency, reducing costs, and enhancing performance in various sectors. The demand for mechanical engineers stems from the constant need for innovation, technological advancement, and infrastructure development.

Industrial engineering is a highly crucial field as it optimizes complex systems, enhancing efficiency, productivity, and quality while minimizing costs. Professionals in this field possess expertise in process improvement, supply chain management, and operational analysis, vital for industries ranging from manufacturing to healthcare. Their ability to streamline processes and implement innovative solutions directly impacts an organization’s profitability and competitiveness in the market. Consequently, employers value their skills highly, leading to lucrative starting salaries.

They possess expertise in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data, crucial for making informed decisions in fields like business, finance, healthcare, and technology. With the rise of big data, there’s an increasing demand for professionals who can derive actionable insights from vast datasets. Statisticians also play a key role in research, policy-making, and risk assessment, where precision and accuracy are paramount. If one is passionate for numbers, it is one of the fun college majors that pay well.

Data science professionals extract valuable insights from large datasets, enabling data-driven decision-making. Their work involves collecting, cleaning, and analyzing data to uncover patterns, trends, and correlations that drive business strategies, optimize processes, and improve products/services. Their ability to develop predictive models and algorithms adds substantial value by forecasting future outcomes and identifying opportunities or risks. In today’s data-centric world, organizations recognize the pivotal role of data scientists in driving innovation, competitive advantage, and growth, hence the high demand and compensation. Owing to the growing demand of skills in big data, data science is one of the best college majors for the future.

To read more about data scientists salaries, see the highest paying countries for data scientists.

Electrical engineering is often considered the best degree for high salary. With a median salary of $104,610, the field offers promising job prospects, predicted to grow by 7% by 2030. Strong mathematics and computer skills are essential, as electrical engineers model physical phenomena and innovate across various industries. Pursuing a career in electrical engineering involves curiosity, analytical thinking, and hands-on experience, typically culminating in a bachelor’s degree.

Economics is one of the college degrees with the high starting salaries owing to its analytical rigor and applicability across various industries. Economics graduates possess skills in data analysis, critical thinking, and problem-solving, making them valuable assets in fields such as finance, consulting, and government. Additionally, the demand for economists is driven by the need for expertise in understanding market trends, forecasting, and policy analysis.

Actuaries possess specialized skills in risk assessment, statistical analysis, and financial modeling, which are in high demand across various industries such as insurance, finance, and consulting. Additionally, the actuarial profession requires rigorous certification processes, demonstrating a high level of competence and dedication. Actuaries play a critical role in managing financial risks for companies, making their expertise invaluable.

A degree in nuclear engineering offers diverse career prospects in energy, medicine, defense, and research. Graduates possess highly sought-after skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, and advanced mathematics, making them valuable in various industries. With a growing global demand for clean and efficient energy solutions, nuclear engineers play a crucial role in advancing sustainable power generation. Additionally, they contribute to innovative technologies such as nuclear medicine and radiation therapy, enhancing healthcare capabilities.

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