Ten Best Majors for Making Money

December 21, 2012 |

Computer hardware engineers

Sometimes you get exactly what it says on the tin, and that’s the case here, as the Payscale website has come up with an infographic pinpointing the ten best college majors when it comes to a lucrative career.

The salaries listed are for full-time, bachelor’s degree holders with no other degree and 10+ years of experience. For more details, visit Payscale’s 2012-3 College Salary Report, and view the infographic.

1. Petroleum Engineering ($163,000)

Sample Job: Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells.

2. Aerospace Engineer ($118,000)

Sample Job: Aerospace engineers are employed in industries whose workers design or build aircraft, missiles, systems for national defense, or spacecraft. Aerospace engineers are employed primarily in analysis and design, manufacturing, industries that perform research and development, and the federal government.

3. Acturial Mathematics ($112,000)

Sample Job: Actuaries analyze the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. They use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to assess the risk that an event will occur and to help businesses and clients develop policies that minimize the cost of that risk.

4. Chemical Engineering ($111,000)

Sample Job: Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, and physics to solve problems. These problems involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale safe and sustainable manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production.

5. Nuclear Engineering ($107,000)

Sample Job: Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to get benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment.

6. Electrical Engineering ($106,000)

Sample Job: Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacturing of electrical equipment such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, and power generation equipment. Electronics engineers design and develop electronic equipment, such as broadcast and communications systems—from portable music players to global positioning systems (GPS).

7. Computer Engineering ($105,000)

Sample Job: Computer hardware engineers research, design, develop, and test computer equipment such as chips, circuit boards, or routers. By solving complex problems in computer hardware, these engineers create rapid advances in computer technology.

8. Applied Mathematics ($102,000)

Sample Job: Financial managers are responsible for the financial health of an organization. They produce financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop strategies and plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization.

9. Computer Science ($100,000)

Sample Job: Computer and information research scientists invent and design new technology and find new uses for existing technology. They study and solve complex problems in computing for business, science, medicine, and other uses.

10. Statistics ($99,500)

Sample Job: Operations research analysts use advanced methods of analysis to help organizations solve problems and make better decisions.

About Ho Lin

Ho Lin is an editor at Military.com. His interests include naval history, the New York football Giants, and loud rock music.


  1. pat says:

    The education system is corrupt. Each school will teach you what they think you need to know for any type of education, but try and transfer all those credits and see what they have to say. Why do I need to take any arts or biology class for a degree in aviation sciences? The schools are overpaid and the presidents or Deans make more big business money from bonuses then most other CEO get and it’s mainly with the tax payer’s money. All of these schools are big business that the liberals will never complain about.
    Schools do not make anyone any smarter than any other person. You learn enough to take a midterm test, pass it with a C or better and forget all that, then learn enough to take the finals, pass it and move on to the other classes. And it’s one big party after another in most cases.
    Why any education should cost thousands of dollars. Again, college does not make anyone smarter. All that knowledge can be learned on the internet. I can fully understand if it is strictly a technical course, but a liberal arts course, or some course that one will never use is just a waste of time and tax payers money.

    • pab says:

      It seems America needs a dose of truth. Thank you for insight, I encourage you to continue to tell the truth of the 99% that are being beaten down by those that do not have a Degree.

    • I was an Air Traffic Controller in the Navy trying to get out as fast as I could in 1982, (after Regan fired the PATCO members), 6 days prior to my contract end I was in a service connected, and ATC career ending accident. Voc Rehab gained me 2 BA's, One in Business, One in Paralegal Studies, from an ABA approved program. I have owned 3 businesses, and sold them. 13 years after my BA's I decided it was now or never to go back to school. I completed an MBA specializing in ADR, mediation and arbitration, with a 4.0 GPA. I currently do consulting on business start ups, turn arounds, and M&A. Because of a GPA of 4.0, I start Law School next month. I do not consider 90% of my classes were a waste of time. My MBA project was on reforming how Veterans Claims are a waste of taxpayer money, as the administration of the claims process is an insult to both deserving Veterans, and taxpayers. This project has over 40 other people working on how to make it change. We crated a plan that congress understands. Not Veterans Issues, but we are building a business plan to have lobbied to appropriations, budget, spending and oversight committies. Obtaining a Law Degree will push the needed lobby influence's in the right place. Without the right education you will achieve nothing in this attempt to be effective. I currently serve as a volunteer service officer for Veteran Claimants, primarily, for pre 9/11 Veterans that have been forgotten and have given up. "C's" would have never have given me the chance at Law school.

    • Cynthia says:

      I totally agree. I received my art degree some years ago. One class the curriculum said I needed to take which was anthropology; what does anthropology have to do with art? All I can say, what I tell my daughter (education is important to me, having a degree does get you farther than just having a high school diploma), just because you have a bachelors degree, does not guarantee you a job.

      • Rolando says:

        True, I have a degree and it was rough sailing for quite a few years. Now the "Degree" is paying off. I have a lot of friends who make more $$$$ than me for years AND THEY DON'T HAVE A DEGREE, the thing is, people can tell who is "Educated" and it does give a person that.

        Great advice to your daughter b/c a degree does not guarantee a job, just better working conditions when you get a job that a degree is necessary. Happy New Ye

    • mc yancey says:

      here! here! I totally agree..

    • Learned says:

      Degrees are important to getting opportunities. However their needs to be return on investment. If you dont care about employment opportunities and paying back loans then just go for a degree that ":interests" you and is Fun. Or jsut Dont get a degree in the fists place. But it you want something useful that is worth all the hard wok and will pay back the loans and give you a career, then you have science, engineering, business, and perhaps a few others. Most liberal arts degrees are not good investments.

    • Jeremy says:

      While there are definitely some issues with the education system that need to be worked out, I think you're only considering a rather flawed approach to the experience itself. If you coast through your classes to get a C and then forget everything, then you are basically wasting thousands of dollars to learn nothing, all for a fancy sheet of paper. However, if you take the time to actually learn the material and consider how it might be applied beyond the classroom, you'll be better off for it. And while "all that knowledge" may be on the internet, there is a lot of crap you'll have to wade through to find it and you may not even know how to tell the difference between the two. Not to mention some things are much easier and faster to learn if there is an actual person there that understands it to explain it to you. In my opinion, that's what you're really paying for. College doesn't *make* anyone smarter, but it does give you the opportunity to make yourself smarter and hands you the tools you'll need. If you choose to just party it up and do nothing else, that's your choice.

      Also, the main reason you're required to take courses outside your area of focus are so you have some basic competence beyond that area. You may be amazing at what you do but having some grasp of science, economics, psychology, art, literature, history, etc, makes you less of a one dimensional person (and keeps you from energetically shoving your foot in your mouth if anyone wants to discuss those topics). I got my degree in computer science but I still enjoyed the literature courses that I had to take. I love robots as much as the next CS guy, but I prefer if they have electronics for innards.

  2. C. N. Dion says:

    I was a Aviation Electronics second class Petty Officer during the Korean war. Then went to school on the GI Bill. Got a BS in electrical engineering and went to work for IBM for 9 years, and then Memorex Corp for 4 years. Whit what I learned at these two companies I started my own company. When I retired in 1985 at age 54 I was making over $400,000 per year (equal to about $800 000 a today).

    P.S. I agree with Don Reynerson above.

    • burj says:

      Good stuff.. I did something similar by working for HP and NetAPP to name a few. Turned downed job offers from VMware, Microsoft and the federal government in order to start my own business.. Sitting at 250k per for just my position, looking to add employees next..

  3. Jim bob says:

    I hate math

  4. C. N. Dion says:

    I was a Aviation Electronics second class Petty Officer during the Korean war. Then went to school on the GI Bill. Got a BS in electrical engineering and went to work for IBM for 9 years, and then Memorex Corp for 4 years. With what I learned (i.e. navy, college, and including these two companies) I started my own company. When I retired in 1985 at age 54 I was making over $400,000 per year (equal to about $800,000 today).

    P.S. I agree with Don Reynerson above.

  5. bkjr says:

    If you want to make money and bypass being educated then seek technical training for something specific. If you want to learn to think, learning about the culture and its history and politics, or if you want to confront the big questions that will make you life broader and richer, and if you want to contribute something as a citizen or as a leader in the culture, forget about getting trained for a job (the company will do that for you) and face up to that mysterious, deep questions of life itself in art, poetry, philosophy, history, logic, to that your life will be richer and you will live for something other than security, which is, at best temporary, since we all pass into oblivion at some time.

  6. Therapist says:

    Great advice if you want to live payday to payday.

  7. WillND says:

    Whatever the major the fact is that the first two years of college are like what was taken in high school. Kids can start college as a junior simply by testing out while in high school through College Board's College Level Examination Program (CLEP). Around $2,000 is all it costs. Fact is I did it and started college as a senior, and it was easy.

  8. Ron B. says:

    I think I would have liked the application of engineering, but my math skills started going down after Algebra II, and it was no longer fun doing math. But I am fascinated by sciences that use absolutes as God made them in this wise and wonderful universe he made.

  9. Ron B. says:

    If you are a young veteran, under age 45, and you are good with math, go for it with your GI Bill! You don't want to end up like me at age 52, an unemployed Tax Accountant, wondering why I couldn't find something better that I could have hung onto, and not have put my family's financial needs, and retirement years in jeopardy.

    The income figures are accurate, when I work in Houston, TX as a Tax Accountant, I did Tax Returns for engineers at the big oil firms, and they were making above $250,000 a year by age 50. The key for them as with many technical jobs is to just stick it out and stay current with your knowledge!

    • Walter C. says:

      You should seriously consider a position with the federal government. Every branch and department needs accountants and there is no retirement age.

    • Rolando says:

      Ron, work on a contract basis. I am a degreed accountant (50 yrs old). I have worked in almost every area of accounting. Get to know some Recruiters b/c they have most of the job leads. LinkedIn looks like it is useful as well.

  10. Kevin says:

    Ron B. is sharing some valuable advice, sticking it out. After getting out of the USMC I decided to become a physician. It was a long road with lots of classes, some necessary some not but I use that knowledge everyday. Having some of those liberal arts classes help a person get an in depth understanding of the general population both the liberal, conservative and everything in between.
    You can make great money as a surgical tech with a year of school and fantastic money as a surgeon with 8 years of school and a 5 years of training. One of the major differences is the title, the respect and the leadership.

    I recommend that you figure out what kind of life you want, set some goals and then stick it out until you reach them.

    All the best to everyone out there. Merry Christmas.

    I hope I was of some help.
    If I can help with advice on how to help you accomplish your education goals send me an e-mail.

    • Kathy says:

      My husband has 12 years experience in the military.He was in the Army. He does not have his degree. He is now working in the automotive industry. He would love to get out of this industry. Do you have any suggestions for him?

    • Joel says:


      I rarely pay attention to any comments, but for some reason I felt compelled to respond to your offer for advice. As a USMC veteran, and having been out for several years, I'm at a folk in the road. Pursue a whole new degree path, or push through a career that I'm not particularly happy with. I don't know how to respond privately, but would certainly like to tap into your brain offline.

      Thanks, and Merry Christmas,

  11. COLC says:

    I earned a BS in Chemical Engineering, an MS in Industrial Engineering, and served 30 years as a commissioned officer in the Army Reserve. I wouldn't say that majoring in engineering necessarily train me for any particular job, it just demonstrated that I could learn and apply new things. Engineering degrees have been an extraordinary ticket to life, providing me countless oppurtunities. There were times I was greatly discouraged, but toughed it out; glad I did.

  12. Kevin says:

    Each degree offers several opportunities

  13. kristy says:

    …I’m just schooling to be a licensed therapist and starting over again midlife. Yes, there is a lot of b/s to get the degree but if you can hang your own shingle then it’s worth it.

  14. Or do 8 years in the military , and some of those in special operations, Now I make over 200,000 a year.

    • Sean Adams says:

      What would you suggest as a good Master Degree path?
      I have a background in Telecommunications, Broadband Call Center Management, Software Development, Welding and Machining.

      I have an interest in overseas communications redevelopment and entry level Redcom career paths. I'm enlisted w/ 8yrs contract

  15. FranktheMc says:

    It's noteworthy that you listed the 10 most lucrative majors, not the 10 best to become an educated, ethical, compassionate person. That says a lot about how screwed up the world is.

    • Deadeye Duck says:

      Ethics and compassion come from your heart. I've yet to meet anyone that can be taught to be ethical or compassionate if they lack the conscience to *want* to do so, and I've likewise never met an ethical or compassionate person that wasn't so but became that way because they went to college.

  16. Sean Adams says:

    What would you suggest as a good Master Degree path?
    I have a background in Telecommunications, Broadband Call Center Management, Software Development, Welding and Machining.

    I have an interest in overseas communications redevelopment and entry level Redcom career paths. I'm enlisted w/ 8yrs contract

    I have a BS in telecommunications

    • Charley says:

      I think you would be wise to consider a Masters in Business Management, MIS, or Technology Management. Ultimately, the money, opportunity to achieve something bigger than yourself, help people, and direct your own future are in Management or in technical consulting.

      As a Community College professor in Information Technology with Masters degrees in Management and International
      Relations as well as a Bachelors degree in Mathematics (with minors in Chemistry, German Language and Literature, and Theology) as well being well over 60 (I had a 20-year career in the Air Force as both enlisted and as a commissioned officer ), I am very gratified to read the many comments above extolling the benefits of a broad education – STEM fields and Liberals Arts (just avoid the party schools). I regard my education and its costs as investments for a whole life of interesting and valuable work, service, and a wonder perspective on life. I am planning to start a Ph. D. within the next year in Technology Education for many more years of service – I know it will be worth it.

      • Sean says:

        Thank you for the reply… I look forward to the future and all of the invaluable experiences I will be apart of. -Sean

  17. Alvin Jones says:

    From ShakyJake

    Technology combined with any degree will enable you to become and incredible person. I completed an associate in Communications Electronics, BBA in Business, and MA in Mass Communications. After retiring from the Air Force with a background in Information Processing, I feel good about myself. Presently, I am completing a PHD in Natural Science and Holistic Health. I am apalled with the fact that a person should go for what they enjoys. Don't go into a specific field for money only. I think that you will do your best in what you enjoys and best for you.

    • Okayfine87 says:

      Need to study grammar a little more. "You enjoy"–He or she enjoys. But I do agree that you should enjoy your "work". Work makes you whole and valuable to self and others.

  18. Iron Sapper says:

    I was a combat engineer inthe ARMY for 4 years (NO education reguired to remove landmines).

    After the ARMY I know that I needed an education and i fell into Electrical Engineering and graduated with that degree from a big University 10 years ago. For years I worked in the private sector and was poor as an engineer. Making $45,000 after 6 years of experience. I went to work at the VA Hospital as an Engineer and now I am making a little over $75,000 per year. I know many engineers who would kill to make what I make so I will tel you this, those numbers that you see are only a small cross section and NOT reality.

  19. Lynn says:

    These articles are a bunch of bull pucky. First, I've met too many young people who are sold this degree nonsense and are now sitting on over $70K of college debt and waiting tables because these types of jobs represent a very small segment of work available in a specific industry, where one must spend years honing their skills to achieve them. Second, not everyone is cut out to perform these jobs and just earning a degree in a specific field does not guarantee one will succeed at it. Third, there are too many "basket weaving" degrees that teach students how to operate as corporate sheep, NOT the innovative, industrialist or critical thinking skills that citizens were forced to use to survive. Lastly, in the 1950's less than 3% of our population had a degree, yet it was most innovative and industrialist decade for all classes across in America—sorry, but we have been going down the education rabbit hole for a long time and everyone's completely oblivious to it!

    • Learned says:

      Degrees are important to getting opportunities. However their needs to be return on investment. If you dont care about employment opportunities and paying back loans then just go for a degree that ":interests" you and is Fun. Or jsut Dont get a degree in the fists place. But it you want something useful that is worth all the hard wok and will pay back the loans and give you a career, then you have science, engineering, business, and perhaps a few others. Most liberal arts are not good investments.


  20. Walter C. says:

    The one comment that most people elude from is the fact, "That you have to be happy with the job that you are doing!" I was taught this at a young age by my father, and i try to instill that mentality to people looking for career advice.
    Carpentry was my goal at an early age, and upon leaving the Navy, the construction trades were down. I subsequently became an electrician and I enjoy the challenge and the work.
    My advice to people today is the same as it was then. "Do what you like and find a field that will always be in demand." Money doesn't bring happiness. There is nothing wrong with a modest income. Corporate greed has brought this country down. I am proud not to be in that group.

  21. Chelsea says:

    A career in sales blows all of these right out of the water. In sales you decide how much you'll make and how hard you'll work to make it. But the rewards are there and it's a profession one can be very proud of. It's also recession-proof and in need throughout the world.

  22. Dollie says:

    So, according to this, if you are not gifted in mathematics and science, you can't expect to earn a good living!

  23. Joe says:

    Finding and doing something you love is the key ingredient. You will be good at it, always fulfilled; and people will notice and reward you for it. Don't believe you cannot do it just because someone else you know failed once at the same task. Think like an entrepreneur. You don't have to be an engineer or math major in college. But you do need to know basic math, understand supply and demand and realize that today's hot field will be tomorrow's over supplied one, e.g. finance, law, nursing, etc. Also, if it is really easy, everyone will be doing it thus decreasing its value.

    You know plenty of folks who hate their jobs and yearn for retirement. Don't be one of them. Just be sure you are skilled at what you choose. And this takes specific training. You can become well versed in the humanities without paying outrageously and taking out loans. But technical skills require instruction and equipment access which can require funds. I have worked for government, private employers and in my own business as well. The venue with the most work hours required is owning your own business, but it is the most emotionally rewarding too. Look around you and see what needs seem unfulfilled where you live and match your skills. Then, fill them. It is more simple than you think. Start up funds and a mentor are available from the SBA.

  24. Learned says:

    Very good.