Historically, it’s been said that college graduates earn larger incomes than high school graduates, but how much more?
If you plan to embark on one of the highest paying careers out of college, listed below, you could potentially earn six figures soon after completing your bachelor’s degree. Unsurprisingly, the majority of careers on this list fall under the STEM category. In terms of financial security, engineering majors boast perhaps the brightest future of all, but individuals aspiring toward scientific endeavors and technology careers also appear well-represented. Common attributes of these high-earning professionals include leadership and management skills, advanced mathematical, technical, or engineering knowledge, and high-level researching abilities. While many of the 25 highest paying careers for college graduates allow for entry-level work fresh off of an undergraduate program, some may require graduate or postgraduate education to get your foot in the industry door.
Top Paying Careers by Median Salary
- Petroleum Engineering – $139,300
- Chemical Engineering – $93,150
- Nuclear Engineering – $92,500
- Actuarial Mathematics – $90,200
- Electronics Engineering – $88,650
1. Petroleum Engineering
Average Salary: $102,300 to $176,300
Petroleum engineers work to design methods and equipment for the extraction of oil and gas located in reservoirs below the Earth’s surface. These skilled professionals first work alongside specialists and scientists to understand the reservoir formations, before beginning research and development of drilling equipments, plans, and other operations. Petroleum engineers may specialize in different areas, including completions, working on building wells; drilling, determining the safest and most efficient drilling procedures; production, monitoring the production of built wells; and reservoir, determining how much gas or oil can be extracted from a deposit. Work may require frequent travel to drilling sites.
2. Actuarial Mathematics
Average Salary: $60,800 to $119,600
Actuaries use a mixture of skills in statistics, mathematics, and financial theory to analyze and assess elements of risk and uncertainty present in hypothetical financial decisions. Most commonly employed by business clients like life and health insurance agencies, actuaries work collaboratively with other accountants and analysis to help determine company policies and premiums. Other common employment areas include working for individual wealthy clients and top business executives, with goals set to maximize profit returns and minimize loss. All actuaries must exhibit high-level abilities in data analysis, information compilation, proposal development, and teamwork.
3. Nuclear Engineering
Average Salary: $67,000 to $118,000
When individuals think of the highest paying careers out of college, nuclear engineering often comes first to mind. This specialized occupation involves extensive research and development to create the processes, instruments, and systems used in harnessing nuclear energy and benefiting from nuclear radiation. Nuclear engineers may work in the medical field, designing imaging devices or radiation treatments for cancer, or in industrial fields, handling the development of nuclear power plant technology, safety measures and protocol, or waste control or disposal systems. Most of these professionals work in an office environment, whether at a power plant, a government building, or a consulting firm.
4. Chemical Engineering
Average Salary: $69,600 to $116,700
By possessing valuable skills in high demand, chemical engineers can find employment in a large variety of industries. They utilize chemistry, biology, physics, and math to examine problems and devise solutions for the production of everything from medicine, to food, to clothing, to fuel. Chemical engineers spend a significant amount of time conducting research in order to develop and improve manufacturing processes in a safe and efficient manner. In addition to design and development, chemical engineers test their methods and may even directly oversee facility operations. These professionals work in offices, laboratories, and on-site at industrial locations like plants and refineries.
5. Electronics and Communications Engineering
Average Salary: $64,100 to $113,200
The versatile skills of electronics and communication engineers allow them to work in a staggering variety of technology industries. These professionals may specialize in automobile and aircraft controls, mobile devices, medical instruments, radio and satellite communication, or GPS devices. Wherever their specialty lies, all electronics and/or communications engineers focus on the design and development of new and improved user technology. This work involves analyzing customer needs, designing individual components, evaluating whole systems, developing maintenance procedures, and performing tests and inspections to ensure top technical performance. Work typically takes place in an office, with occasional travel to on-site locations depending on specific industry requirements.
6. Computer Science Engineer
Average Salary: $66,700 to $112,600
Computer science engineering may refer to either computer hardware engineers or software engineers. Each of these occupations pay well but require different specialized training and education. Hardware engineers primarily focus on the design and development of physical components and equipment that make up a computer system, while software engineers work on the applications that control the functions and output of these components. Both forms of engineering involve evaluating user needs, performing tests and analyzing results, creating modifications and updates as necessary. Hardware and software engineers commonly collaborate with one another and with other computer programmers.
7. Aerospace Engineer
Average Salary:$64,700 to $107,900
Aerospace engineering encompasses a wide range of technology, including commercial aircraft, military aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. Due to the highly-specialized nature of each industry, aerospace engineers often focus their career on either aeronautical (spacecraft) or astronautical (aircraft and propulsion systems) endeavors. Common job duties include coordinating the design, manufacture, and testing of products; evaluation of projects and designs for adherence to safety, project goals, customer requirements, and regulations; and inspection of malfunctioning products to identify problems and create solutions. Aerospace engineers may specialize in technology areas including robotics, instrumentation and communication, fluid flow, or structural design.
8. Electrical Engineer
Average Salary: $65,900 to $107,900
Whereas electronics engineering focuses on developing and bettering technology that uses electricity to function, electrical engineers focus on electricity itself. The main goal of electrical engineers lies in how to produce sufficient energy for human needs and how to effectively distribute it. Areas of specialization can include motors, power generation equipment, and radar or navigational technology. Electrical engineers often work with dangerous or even deadly amounts of electricity in play and require extensive safety training on top of their formal education. Due to the nature of their work, electrical engineers may spend significant amounts of time working on-site at locations.
9. Materials Science and Engineeering
Average Salary: $64,000 to $109,100
In materials science and engineering occupations, professionals concern themselves with the atomic level makeup of final products and materials used in manufacturing. They study the properties and structures of, as well as interactions between, various substances, including metals, plastics, and composites, in order to solve problems and develop new or improved products which meet certain mechanical, electrical, or chemical requirements. Materials scientists and engineers may specialize in one type of material or substance. Daily tasks typically involve working with a team to complete complex planning, research, laboratory experiments, and composition of written data and reports.
Average Salary: $57,200 to $105,100
Generally, physicists study the interactions between space, time, energy, and matter. Different types of specialization offer physicists the opportunity to work in a preferred area of study: astrophysics, the physics of the universe; atomic, molecular, or optical physics, concerned with atoms, molecules, electrons, and light; particle and nuclear physics, focusing on atomic and subatomic particles; materials physics, studying properties of matter and related phenomena; or medical physics, working to develop medical technologies and treatments. Through research and experiments, physicists seek greater understanding of the natural world. They may work to solve industry needs, complete government research, or, with extensive education, in academia.
Average Salary: $54,900 to $103,100
Statistics involves using mathematical principles to collect, analyze, and present numerical data. Statisticians may work either in the public or private sector, often finding employment in government, education, healthcare, or research and development. They use their skills in a variety of ways, including designing surveys and experiments, analyzing and processing collected data, drawing conclusions, and presenting final results in a logical manner. This data is often used to support and improve policy or business decisions. Statisticians most commonly work in an office environment, and they may occasionally collaborate on teams with engineers, scientists, or other professionals, depending on the nature of their work.
12. Mechanical Engineer
Average Salary: $62,100 to $101,600
As professionals in one of the broadest engineering fields, mechanical engineers may work on anything from the production of new batteries, to the design of elevators, to the manufacture of internal combustion engines. Mechanical engineers utilize their advanced knowledge of mechanics, thermal devices, and machines to analyze and solve problems. Specialized occupations include auto research engineers, heating and cooling systems engineers, and robotics engineers. Mechanical engineers work in office environments with travel to on-site locations as their job demands, frequently working on teams with other engineers, completing tasks using computers and other hands-on equipment.
13. Software Engineer
Average Salary: $61,700 to $99,800
Not to be confused with software developers, who act as the creative force behind software creation, software engineers work on the entirety of what is called the software development life cycle, from initial research and study of requirements to the final design and testing of a program. The software engineer takes a systematic and scientific approach to the development of software, and must be skilled in engineering principles, programming language, analysis and problem solving. Typically, software engineers either work on computer systems or computer applications. Companies may use “software developer” and “software engineer” terms interchangeably.
14. Business and Information Technology
Average Salary: $56,900 to $99,100
The highest-paying careers out of college in the field of business and information technology run the gamut from computer support specialists, who provide tech assistance to company employees or customers, to computer systems analysts, who work to support an organization’s overall operations through study and optimization of its computer systems, and everything in between. Individuals in business and information technology jobs work in office environments, typically with little travel required. Learning a combination of business and IT skills provides for a well-rounded and advanced knowledge base that can lead to high pay and high job satisfaction in a number of careers with faster-than-average growth projections.
Average Salary: $51,400 to $97,700
Economists may work for federal, state, or local governments, research firms, international organizations, or think tanks, using their skills in quantitative and qualitative analysis to study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services. Relied upon for information from industries, governments, and individuals, these vital professionals use historical trends to forecast future economic events and market trends. Some economists may specialize in a certain area, including product costs, energy, employment levels, exchange rates, inflation, or taxes. A typical office-environment work day for an economist includes gathering data, performing various analyses, and developing solutions or offering advice in response to findings.
16. Industrial Engineer
Average Salary: $61,900 to $97,200
The main purpose of the industrial engineer is to increase productivity and efficiency. They work with established businesses to improve current procedures, as well as with prospective businesses by advising during the planning process. Cutting down on wastefulness involves the integration of workers, machines, materials, information, and energy. Industrial engineers juggle each of these elements and may review production schedules, manufacturing specifications, or quality and management control systems in an effort to find ideal solutions. Working in every industry, from healthcare to business administration to manufacturing, industrial engineers possess versatile, valuable abilities designed to promote maximum efficiency in every aspect in modern day business.
17. Applied Mathematician
Average Salary: $54,300 to $96,500
Applied mathematics involves applying high-level mathematical theories, methods, and models to specialized industry fields including engineering, computer science, business, and science. A relatively small job market exists for individuals formally called “mathematicians,” meaning these professionals more frequently hold occupations like data analyst, data scientist, or quantitative analyst. Emerging fields like data mining and privacy, climatology, and systems biology also hold high demand for individuals with mathematical prowess. Whatever their formal job title, applied mathematics professionals go far beyond crunching numbers, instead using their skills to solve real world problems on a daily basis.
18. Civil Engineer
Average Salary: $55,100 to $93,400
We see and utilize the work of public and private sector civil engineers everywhere, everyday: bridges, tunnels, roads, buildings, airports, water supply systems, and sewage treatment systems. These skilled professionals conceive of, design, and help build and maintain complex infrastructure projects and systems throughout the world. The job of a civil engineer can cover everything from surveying land to submitting permit applications, from overseeing soil testing to analyzing different building materials. Employment often involves heavy supervisory or administrative responsibilities and a changing work environment which requires travel to and from various site locations.
Average Salary: $50,300 to $92,900
Although most commonly associated with academic careers, not every mathematics major goes on to seek a university faculty position. Mathematicians work in a wide variety of other fields, including astronomy, climatology, medicine, government, robotics, and even in animation. A strong background and knowledge of mathematical theories allows these professionals to devise solutions to technical problems through extensive analysis, research, and the development of computational methods. Many entry-level careers in mathematics fields do require education beyond a bachelor’s degree, but salary potential also typically increases with the completion of graduate or postgraduate study.
20. Biomedical Engineer
Average Salary: $59,600 to $92,200
Engineering always enjoys a consistent ranking near the top of the highest paying careers out of college, and the relatively new industry specialization in biomedical engineering is no exception. Biomedical engineers use an interdisciplinary understanding of engineering principles and medical knowledge to develop technology used in the healthcare field, including equipment, computer systems, software, and medical devices like artificial organs and replacement body parts. These professionals play an important role in creating solutions for health practitioners and patients, ensuring safety and effectiveness, and presenting research findings to scientists, executives, colleagues, and the general public.
21. Architectural Engineer
Average Salary: $57,000 to $90,400
Architects design the style and appearance of a building. Architectural engineers, on the other hand, focus on a building’s functionality and safety in regards to future occupants. Though some crossover exists between the two jobs — for example, architects must know the technical limits to their design work — architectural engineering generally requires a more intense mathematical and technical approach. Engineers take an architect’s design and determine the best way to make it a reality, including choosing the best support structure, designing the necessary mechanical systems, and laying out electricity and lighting systems. Architectural engineering requires occasional travel from an office workspace to on-site locations.
22. Aviation Management
Average Salary: $48,100 to $90,000
Aviation management professionals may work in airline company offices or on the ground at airports, handling administrative services including employee relations, staff scheduling, budget management, and aircraft maintenance planning. In addition to being responsible for day-to-day operations, an aviation manager also ensures adherence to federal government guidelines concerning safety and labor. This may require immediate responses and quick decision making regarding emergency situations, inclimate weather, or issues with aircraft or personnel. Aviation management pays well, but it comes with a heavy set of responsibilities requiring individuals to possess strong leadership, organizational, analytical, and communication skills.
23. Computer Information Systems Management
Average Salary: $52,400 to $89,900
Often holding formal job titles like IT manager or IT project manager, computer information systems management professionals plan, coordinate, and direct all of the computer-related activities that take place within an organization. Specific duties may include ensuring network security, planning installation and maintenance, negotiating with vendors, and researching potential technology projects. IT managers work in company offices, schools, healthcare facilities — any location that requires a large number of computers to complete daily operations. This job requires supervisory skills, as IT managers frequently direct and oversee the work of other department professionals like systems analysts, software developers, and support specialists.
24. Construction Management
Average Salary: $54,000 to $89,900
General contractors, sometimes called project managers, hold the reins in a construction project from start to finish. These professionals begin their work by preparing preliminary cost estimates, timetables, and budgets. Depending on the project, they may consult architects, engineers, and other specialists during these initial stages. Once plans are finalized, construction managers select and hire subcontractors to complete the job while remaining on-site or otherwise easily accessible to respond to work delays, emergencies, and any other problems that arise. Construction management requires extensive knowledge of building and safety codes, legal regulations, contract interpretation, management and leadership.
Average Salary: $48,300 to $89,000
In biotechnology, scientists modify and work with living systems and organisms to create a variety of improvements and innovations for modern-day industries, most commonly healthcare and agriculture. Familiar forms of biotechnology include genetically-modified, high-yield crops and the development of antibiotics. Biotechnologists work in private and public laboratories and may complete specific research according to publicly- or government-funded grants, or to reach toward a corporation’s privately-funded goal. Some biotechnologists work in specialized subfields, including genomics, the study of genes; proteomics, the study of protein structures; or bioinformatics, which combines biology, computer science, and information technology.
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