The 10 Highest Paying College Majors (and 10 Lowest)

Engineering degrees took nine out of 10 spots on the list of the 10 highest paying college majors, five years after graduation.

Pink and white books with college graduation cap and lightbulbs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

No surprise, majoring in engineering and finance yields the biggest paydays five years after graduating college, while majoring in liberal arts or performing arts pays the least. But which specific majors result in the highest and lowest paydays? A recent New York Federal Reserve survey takes a look.

Regarding the broader jobs picture, over 272,000 jobs were added in May, according to the Kiplinger Jobs Outlook. That was a pickup from the 165,000 gain in April, but down from the 310,000 gain in the March report. The strongest growth was in health care, government, leisure and hospitality, and professional scientific and technical services. Temporary jobs dropped again in May, and have fallen in 24 out of the past 25 months.

Which career field fits you best?

If you are curious about analytical and technological concepts and enjoy math and science, then you might consider choosing a career in a STEM industry where you can earn some of the highest salaries after five years of graduating. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. 

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On the other hand, if you prefer to pursue a major in performing and liberal arts,  theology or treatment therapy, you will likely earn some of the lowest salaries. That's according to the same New York Federal Reserve analysis. 

Some jobs require little or no college education, while others require a four-year degree or more. Let's take a closer look at the ten highest and ten lowest-paying college majors to see what to expect upon graduation.

College majors that pay the most five years after graduation

Swipe to scroll horizontally
MajorMedian Wage Early CareerMedian Wage Mid Career
Chemical Engineering$79.000$133,000
Computer Engineering$80,000$125,000
Aerospace Engineering$74,000$120,000
Electrical Engineering$72,000$112,000
Mechanical Engineering$70,000$111,000
Computer Science$78,000$110,000
Industrial Engineering$71,000$100,000
General Engineering$68,000$100,000
Miscellaneous Engineering$68,000$100,000

College majors that pay the least five years after graduation

Swipe to scroll horizontally
MajorMedian Wage Early CareerMedian Wage Mid Career
Liberal arts$38,000$65,000
Performing arts$38,000$64,000
Theology and religion$38,000$56,000
Leisure and hospitality$39,700$67,000
General social sciences$40,000$70,000
Miscellaneous biological science$40,000$68,000
Fine arts$40,000$68,000
Treatment therapy$40,000$67,000
Nutrition sciences$40,000$65,000

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey-2022 data]

Annual wage and job growth

Annual wage growth bumped up to 4.1% in May, according to Kiplinger. That means that pay raises should end the year a bit higher than we previously expected at a 3.6% annual clip. Wages of nonsupervisory employees are growing a bit higher too, at 4.2%, and should end the year at about 3.7% growth. 

With a number of U.S. job seekers considering a career change in 2024, it makes sense to find out which jobs give you the best chance to make the highest wages and show the most or least potential for growth. No matter your passion, or if you plan to pursue a college degree or not, there is a job out there for you. Here's a look at the 25 fastest growing jobs in the U.S.

Main features of the three highest-paying jobs

The three highest-paying jobs right now all fall in the engineering sector. 

Chemical Engineering — Chemical engineers take the principles of chemistry, physics, and engineering and use them to design equipment and processes for manufacturing products. You need a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering or a related field to enter the field, but some employers prefer experience in an internship or a cooperative education program as well. The market from 2022 to 2032 is expected to grow by 8%, faster than many other fields. 

Computer Engineering — The computer industry remains strong into 2024, with a projected growth of 5% from 2022 to 2032. Computer engineering is a fast-growing field that offers people good wages and a secure future. If you enjoy solving complex technical problems using creative solutions, a career in computer engineering might be a good fit. To get started, you'll need a bachelor's degree, but many employers also want experience, professional certifications or a graduate degree for senior engineers.

Aerospace Engineering — According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aerospace engineers design, develop, and test aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. With government and a host of private sector companies investing in space programs, people going into this field can expect to see substantial job growth over the next decade. In fact, it’s estimated that there are now more than 10,000 firms and around 5,000 investors involved in the space industry.

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Kathryn Pomroy

For the past 18+ years, Kathryn has highlighted the humanity in personal finance by shaping stories that identify the opportunities and obstacles in managing a person's finances. All the same, she’ll jump on other equally important topics if needed. Kathryn graduated with a degree in Journalism and lives in Duluth, Minnesota. She joined Kiplinger in 2023 as a contributor.