25 Best College Majors for a Lucrative Career

One way to increase your chances of earning a good living is to pick a college major that prepares you to work in a field that pays well. Here are some of the best options and how you might expect to fare.

Photo of a graduation cap with cash in it
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College is often considered the surest path to a lucrative career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor’s degrees are required for 169 occupations in this country. People with higher levels of education generally earn higher salaries. Specifically, people with bachelor’s degrees had a median weekly paycheck of $1,305 (more than $67,000 a year) in 2020, compared to $781 (or $40,600) for workers with a high school diploma.

But not all college degrees are created equal. And with student loan payments looming for many, we thought it would be good to know which college majors pay best.

To determine which majors typically come with the best hiring prospects and salary, we consulted with compensation research firm Payscale, which ran data for us from its salary survey of more than 150,000 workers with bachelor’s degrees. We looked for courses of study that tend to lead to fat paychecks—both right out of school and further along their career path. Plus, we factored in the percentage of workers who feel their jobs have a positive impact on the world, as having a sense of purpose can be just as important as having a good payday. The survey also asked how satisfied workers were in their chosen fields, how much stress they experienced and whether they feel they make the world a better place.

This year, PayScale looked at a nearly 159,000 salary profiles submitted over the past year and culled a total of 50 college majors. Across those majors in this survey, the early career pay was $60,000 with mid career pay coming to $92,100. In this population, 67% said they were extremely or fairly satisfied with their job, while 59% said their jobs were extremely or fairly stressful. Asked if their jobs made the world a better place, 54% said yes, or "very much so."

Our list presents the best shots at success and satisfaction in the workplace, complete with generous incomes and an abundance of job opportunities. Check out the best college majors for a lucrative career. (Spoiler alert: STEM majors—that is, fields in science, technology, engineering and math—dominate.)

See if something on our list appeals to you.

Our Methodology

For each of the college majors, Payscale provided median annual salaries for entry-level workers (with five years or less of work experience) and mid-career employees (with at least 10 years of experience). Payscale also provided “high job meaning” scores, which indicate the percentage of workers with each college major who say their work makes the world a better place. Information about the number of positions in each field, projected growth and further salary numbers were provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Indeed.com.

Stacy Rapacon
Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Rapacon joined Kiplinger in October 2007 as a reporter with Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and became an online editor for Kiplinger.com in June 2010. She previously served as editor of the "Starting Out" column, focusing on personal finance advice for people in their twenties and thirties.

Before joining Kiplinger, Rapacon worked as a senior research associate at b2b publishing house Judy Diamond Associates. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the George Washington University.