When I was an undergraduate, I decided to double major in French literature and English, with an emphasis in creative writing. I didn’t consider whether these were the best college majors for the future, for job security or for making money. Instead, I chose them because I was most interested in these majors.
There were certainly college majors with more lucrative real-world applications than the ones I pursued. While I wouldn’t change a thing about my education, ultimately, it took me a while to receive a financial return on my educational investment. Although you might be hesitant to choose a major or acquire a degree based on the highest-paying occupations, it’s worth knowing what different careers pay and what level of education you’ll need to qualify for them.
Plus, if you took out student loans to pay for school, you might want to explore occupations that could help you quickly pay off the money spent on your degree in the first place.
Here are some of the highest-paying majors for those with an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a doctoral degree.
A sample of the highest-paying occupations/majors (by level of education)
If you have a two-year associate degree, the highest-paying occupations could earn you between $71,000 and $124,000 per year, depending on the job.
One of the highest-earning majors for associate degree students is air traffic control. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), air traffic controllers made a median annual wage of $124,540 in 2017. Because people in this position typically learn on the job, prior experience is not required. The BLS predicted that an average of 2,400 air traffic controller jobs would open annually between 2016 and 2026.
Radiation therapists, nuclear medicine technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers also earn high wages after receiving two-year degrees. Median annual wages range from about $71,000 to $80,000 for these jobs, and you may not have to take on a large amount of student debt; most of the training is gained on the job.
Dental hygiene is another field you can enter with a two- or three-year associate’s degree. It’s a strong option for students who want to quickly get started in the workforce, as there could be an average of 17,500 dental hygienist openings per year from 2016 to 2026, according to BLS. The median annual salary for dental hygienists was over $74,000 a year in 2017.
For those who take the four-year college route and receive a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree, there are several high-paying occupations that await you after graduation. Among them are CEO, pilot, engineer, financial manager and marketing manager.
All these occupations generated median salaries of more than $125,000 per year in 2017 and are projected to have thousands of job openings in the coming years, according to the BLS.
The barrier to entry for these fields is a bachelor’s degree and some previous work-related experience, with the exception of CEOs, who may need to own and operate their own businesses first.
For all these occupations, graduates can pursue fairly diverse majors. For example, financial managers could study accounting, finance, economics or business administration in college and then pursue a high-paying career as a financial manager, which earned a median annual salary of $125,080 in 2017.
Engineering is one of the highest-paying college majors out there. There are many different types of engineering to fit your particular talents and interests. The three top-paying engineering fields are petroleum, chemical and electrical engineering.
In 2018, petroleum engineers commanded a high median pay of nearly $137,170 a year, according to the BLS. However, work at drilling sites can be grueling.
Chemical engineers apply their understanding of chemistry, physics, biology and math to solve problems, and they are well compensated for their abilities. The BLS listed their median salary at more than $104,910 per year in 2018.
Electrical engineers enjoyed a yearly median salary of more than $99,070 in 2018, according to the BLS. Their job duties can include design and development of electrical equipment.
If you’re interested in pursuing a postgraduate degree that will provide a high return on investment, consider courses of study for these occupations: economist, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist.
The median annual pay ranged from $102,490 for an economist to upwards of $165,000 for a nurse anesthetist in 2017. According to the BLS, none of these master-degree-level careers typically require experience or on-the-job training. Once you’ve graduated with your master’s degree, you can pursue a job, start earning money and pay off your student loans. Plus, working in certain occupations could qualify you for student loan forgiveness programs.
Graduating with a doctorate or professional degree is a prestigious academic achievement, and it yields a high salary to match. According to the BLS, the dental and medical fields offer the highest-paying jobs in this category.
Family doctors and general practitioners, psychiatrists, orthodontists and anesthesiologists made anywhere from about $208,000 to $265,000 per year. While that salary looks high on paper, it’s important to note that medical and dental students often graduate with several thousands of dollars in student loans. It’s smart to consider the return on investment on your potential doctoral degree before taking on the student debt it may require.
The best college major for you
Choosing a college major is a decision that can affect the rest of your life. It’s important to make a choice that fits with your interests and talents, as well as your future job and salary prospects.
What you decide to study in college could be the field you work in for the foreseeable future — and if you have student loans to pay off, choosing one of the highest paying majors could make it easier to get rid of the debt.
Sage Singleton Evans contributed to this report.
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|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.80% – 9.36%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
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|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
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College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
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3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
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UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
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Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
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Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
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Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
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Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.