Lucrative Majors

How much does that degree pay, anyway? While it’s still unclear how much one’s undergraduate major really matters in the long run—is it the college or the course of study that matters most in terms of pay?—each year, PayScale, a Seattle-based company that specializes in compensation and job market data, releases list of starting salaries across college majors.

The best-paying majors are unsurprising. Engineering-related majors top the list. Someone who majors in chemical engineering can expect a starting median salary of $65,700 a year. Other top majors include computer engineering ($61,700), electrical engineering ($60,200), and aerospace engineering ($59,600).

What undergraduate majors result in the worst compensation? Unsurprisingly, it’s mostly courses of study that lead to employment in the helping professions. Someone who majors in social work can expect a median starting salary of $33,400 a year. Other unprofitable majors include elementary education ($33,000), theology ($34,800), and education ($36,200).

None of these salaries, it’s worth pointing out, are truly terrible. For a lot of recent graduates, in fact, $33,400 a year would seem like a decidedly princely sum. The fact that that number is at the bottom of the list may have something to do with the methodology. PayScale explains that it defines starting employees as “full-time employees with 5 years of experience or less in their career or field who hold a bachelor’s degree and no higher degrees.” The typical graduate, PayScale explains, has about 2 years of experience.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer