Best College Degrees for the Money: Which Careers Pay the Most?

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When it comes to the best degrees for your money, engineering offers the highest median income per degree. Because college is so expensive, it’s important to pay attention to the degree’s return on investment (ROI) to ensure that you can get a well-paying job after you graduate.

However, you shouldn’t choose a major solely because it’s linked to the best-paying jobs. Doing so could lead you to being miserable in college. Or worse, miserable when you start working. You have to weigh the degree’s ROI with your interest and passion for the subject to ensure you have a fulfilling career.

15 best degrees for your money

To find the median income for people holding each degree, Student Loan Hero researchers sampled Census Bureau data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS). Researchers only included people older than 18 with a degree who were employed at the time of the 2018 survey.

1: Engineering ($96,200)
2: Military technologies ($88,100)
3 (tie): Computer and information sciences ($86,300)
3 (tie): Transportation sciences and technologies ($86,300)
5: Construction services ($83,100)
6: Engineering technologies ($81,000)
7: Physical sciences ($77,000)
8: Mathematics and statistics ($76,000)
9 (tie): Architecture ($71,000)
9 (tie): Biology and life sciences ($71,000)
11: Social sciences ($70,500)
12: Business ($69,500)
13: Medical and health sciences and services ($65,900)
14: History ($65,600)
15: Nuclear, industrial radiology and biological technologies ($62,800)

1: Engineering ($96,200)

Less than 6% of college degrees conferred in 2016 — the last available data — were in engineering, but it’s a degree that leads to the highest-paying careers. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reported in 2018 that 34 of the top 100-performing CEOs in the world had engineering degrees.

There are different specializations within engineering, including chemical engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. Depending on which discipline you choose, you have a wide range of career options, from working for the government to private organizations.

2: Military technologies ($88,100)

If you’re preparing for a career in the military and want to become an officer, obtaining a degree in military technologies can give you an edge. Within this degree program, you’ll study leadership skills, military strategy, weaponry and ethics. After graduation, you can enter into the armed forces, homeland security, or join a private defense and security company.

If you need to take out student loans to pay for your military technologies degree, there are a number of loan repayment assistance and forgiveness options for military servicemembers and veterans.

3 (tie): Computer and information sciences ($86,300)

By majoring in computer and information sciences, you’ll learn how to design and analyze programs, systems and programming languages. From software engineering to web development, you can work on the cutting edge of technology, using artificial intelligence and data science to address today’s problems.

With a bachelor’s degree in computer and information sciences, you can qualify for good-paying jobs throughout your career.

3 (tie): Transportation sciences and technologies ($86,300)

For students who pursue a degree in transportation sciences and technologies, they may have an interest in both engineering and solving transportation and environmental issues. Students may specialize in particular areas, such as air transportation, urban transportation, or logistics.

Degree holders can go on to careers in logistics, city planning for government agencies, or manage supply chains for major companies.

5: Construction services ($83,100)

If the idea of being stuck in an office all day bores you, you may want to consider a degree in construction services. With a degree in this field, you could become a construction manager, planning and supervising construction projects on-site. As companies continue to grow, building construction — and demand for construction managers — will continue to grow as well, so this can be a lucrative career option.

6: Engineering technologies ($81,000)

While engineering and engineering technologies degrees are similar, there are distinct differences. Engineering technology degrees focus on hands-on learning and implementation, with more lab work. Instead of focusing on theory, engineering technology graduates are technologists, and primarily spend their time working in the field doing construction, product design, or testing.

7: Physical sciences ($77,000)

Physical sciences is a degree that focuses on studying processes of the nonliving world, such as chemistry and physics.

If you major in chemistry, you could work for a biochemistry company or in forensic science. If you have a bachelor’s in physics, you could work as a research technician or lab assistant. However, many physical science majors go on to get a master’s or doctoral degree to open up more career opportunities.

While you may need to take out significant student loan debt to pay for school, physical science has the highest earnings to debt ratio, offsetting its cost.

8: Mathematics and statistics ($76,000)

If you enjoy math, obtaining a degree in mathematics and statistics can make you a candidate for some of the best-paying jobs. Mathematicians and statisticians work for the government, private companies and research firms to analyze data and come up with formulas to solve problems.

While some entry-level positions are available if you have a bachelor’s degree, you’ll likely need a master’s degree to advance in your career.

The demand for professionals in this field is extremely high. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook is expected to grow by 30% by 2028, much faster than the national average.

9 (tie): Architecture ($71,000)

With a degree in architecture, you can get a job as an architect and plan and design houses, office buildings and other structures. When it comes to the best degrees for your money, architecture is a solid investment, as you can earn a high salary without needing an advanced degree; most entry-level positions require just a bachelor’s degree to get started.

The job outlook for architects is quite good, with the industry expected to grow faster than the national average.

9 (tie): Biology and life sciences ($71,000)

If you decide to major in biology and life sciences, you could plan to teach high school or college-level students. Or, you could enter into a career doing biological research, forensic science, pharmaceutical development, or medicine.

To succeed in this field, you’ll likely need to go on to get your master’s and doctorate degrees. Demand for skilled professionals is expected to grow, as new treatments for diseases and physical conditions are needed.

11: Social sciences ($70,500)

A social sciences degree covers a broad range of majors, including anthropology, comparative human development, race and ethnic studies, economics, psychology and sociology.

With a bachelor’s degree in these areas, you have many different career options, from teaching to journalism.

For example, you could become a sociologist, which studies society and social behaviors. While you’ll likely need a master’s degree to secure a job, positions tend to be well-paying. And, the job outlook is expected to grow faster than other occupations, improving your chances for job security.

12: Business ($69,500)

If you’re getting ready to go to school, you may be asking yourself, “What should I go to college for?” Common advice is to pursue a business degree; it’s by far the most popular major. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 372,000 degrees — nearly 20% of the total degrees issued in 2016, the last available data — were business degrees.

It’s easy to understand why. A business degree gives you a solid foundation to enter into a wide range of careers, from starting your own business to working as a consultant. If you choose to go on to pursue a masters of business administration, you could qualify for the highest-paying careers and boost your salary over the $100,000 mark. According to the survey by the Wall Street Journal, the median salary for consultants who returned to top consulting firms after receiving their MBA nearly doubled.

13: Medical and health sciences and services ($65,900)

Medical and health sciences and services is a huge degree field encompassing a wide range of career paths. It includes fields like administrative health services, nursing, pharmacy and community and public health.

Typically, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to get started. However, most positions in these fields will require advanced degrees. But if you’re looking for jobs that make good money and that offer security, this can be an excellent field, as demand for trained medical personnel continues to grow.

14: History ($65,600)

If you’re thinking of majoring in history, you’re in good company. Many famous people majored in history, including former Vice President Joe Biden, comedian Conan O’Brien, and Martha Stewart.

With a bachelor’s degree in history, there are a number of careers that pay well you can choose from. While some history majors go on to become professional historians, you may opt to become a professor or teacher, enter into politics or law, or work for a museum.

15: Nuclear, industrial radiology and biological technologies ($62,800)

Nuclear, industrial radiology and biological technologies is an increasingly popular major as it can lead to a relatively secure career in healthcare. With a degree in this area, there are two main career paths:

  • Radiologic and MRI technologist: Technologists create diagnostic images of patients, usually working in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.
  • Nuclear medicine technologist: As a nuclear medicine technologist, you’ll prepare radioactive medications — such as those used to treat cancer — and administer them to patients

These are two examples of jobs that pay well without requiring a bachelor’s degree or advanced credential, giving you an excellent return-on-investment. Both positions typically require an associate’s degree for entry-level positions. The job outlook for nuclear, industrial radiology and biological technologies is high, with it expected to grow faster than the national average.

Elyssa Kirkham contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 6 lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
1.99% – 5.64%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.89% – 5.90%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.25% – 6.28%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.89% – 6.77%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.39% – 6.01%Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Elfi

1.99% – 5.61%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.79% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.64% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of July 31, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 7/31/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.

As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

  1. Checking your rate with Laurel Road only requires a soft credit pull, which will not affect your credit score. To proceed with an application, a hard credit pull will be required, which may affect your credit score.
  2. Savings vary based on rate and term of your existing and refinanced loan(s). Refinancing to a longer term may lower your monthly payments, but may also increase the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Refinancing to a shorter term may increase your monthly payments, but may lower the total interest paid over the life of the loan. Review your loan documentation for total cost of your refinanced loan.
  3. After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship. During any period of forbearance interest will continue to accrue. At the end of the forbearance period, any unpaid accrued interest will be capitalized and be added to the remaining principle amount of the loan.
  4. Automatic Payment (“AutoPay”) Discount: if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically from a bank account, the interest rate will decrease by 0.25% and will increase back if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically from the borrower’s bank account. The 0.25% AutoPay discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the discount is applied to the principal to help pay the loan down faster.

Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.

Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.

Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of September 9, 2020. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
 


3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.28% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.28% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.18% plus 2.32% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. 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. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. 

4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of September 10, 2020.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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. ‍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 0.16% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.