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The Colleges and Majors With the Highest Paid Graduates

Will attending an elite college like Harvard or Stanford result in a higher salary? (On average, yes). How much more do engineering majors bring home than English majors? (As much as $21,800 to start).

Most important: How much can you expect to earn with your bachelor’s degree? (A new report at may have the answer).

The PayScale College Salary Report

As the cost of undergraduate education skyrockets, prospective students and parents should be asking: What kind of return is this investment going to yield? Perhaps, like me, you’re out of school and still wondering the same thing.

Wonder no more. The PayScale College Salary Report provides median starting and mid-career salaries for dozens of bachelor’s-level majors and hundreds of colleges nationwide.

Yes, college rankings are old news. But it’s about time we learned what kind of bread the graduates of various colleges and majors are earning. Sure, student-faculty ratios and high bars-per-capita are still important, but salary stats will matter for forty years, not just four. Here’s a preview of what the College Salary Report offers:

Highest Paying Undergraduate Degrees

  1. Aerospace Engineering
  2. Chemical Engineering
  3. Computer Engineering
  4. Electrical Engineering
  5. Economics
  6. Physics

U.S. Colleges with the Highest Paid Graduates (Bachelor’s Degree Only)

  1. Dartmouth College
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  3. Harvard University
  4. Harvey Mudd College
  5. Stanford University
  6. Princeton University

Does It Matter?

This College Salary Report is interesting at first, but I don’t find its results that surprising. I would have guessed that engineers earn more than English majors. Similarly, I hope Ivy League grads earn more than the rest of us. (Otherwise, why do students compete so hard and pay so much to attend them?)

What I would like to see is a report that combines a college’s alumni salary data with its tuition and average financial assistance. In other words, which schools cost the least but can earn you the most? In the meantime, this report is a start. (Access the full report).

What do you think? Should anticipated earnings play a role in students’ college and/or major decisions? Did salary expectations play a role in your decisions? Were the results what you expected?

Published or updated on August 6, 2009

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. John Hunter says:

    Cost of schools is odd. If you are rich ivy league (and many other) schools cost a fortune. If you are poor they can often be free. Of course getting in to ivy league schools at all is not exactly easy.

    Olin used to provide 100% free tuition to engineering students, but starting next year they have reduced the tuition covered by the school to 50% of the tuition cost (“due to economic conditions”).

  2. v says:

    Starting salary was a minor factor in initially choosing my major (electrical engineering), and it certainly was a large motivating factor to finish the degree. I think most engineering students have a moment or two where they question why they’re sitting in the library while all the liberal arts majors are out having fun and *many* look up starting salaries to comfort themselves.

    “Doing what you love” is all well and good, but why would you spend an absurd amount of money on tuition with no return? I can think of a few careers I’m sure I would be very happy with. Like teaching high school math or physics. That would be cool, but teachers simply aren’t paid what they deserve. I’m also happy in my current (much better paying) engineering job. I chose this career path partially because of the money- I went to college to not live like a college student forever.

  3. M.Wanzer says:

    I am going to have to say that perspective salary should not play a role in choosing a major. I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this. I majored in computer science in college, I like to program, I had a lot of friends that tried the same thing because they felt they would make good money, they wound up wasting years and changing majors anyway. While one does need to take into account how they are going to make money, they also need to pay heavy attention on what they are passionate about. No matter how much money you may make, if you are not happy doing what you do you are wasting your time. However, some people are perfectly happy and able to do something they hate for the love of money, if one falls in that category..go for the dollars. And, yes the results where pretty much what I would expect.

  4. tc says:

    The major limitation of this data is that it doesn’t include graduate degrees. At many of the Ivies, >75% of students go on to get grad degress in medicine, law, PhDs, MBAs, etc. with significant earning potential. To exclude them is looking at a very small subset of the student body at some schools. It also doesn’t answer the question of what “just” an undergrad gets you, since in many cases it “gets” you admission to a top med or law school.

  5. Alysse says:

    I apologize in advance for the long comment but the website is very cookie cutter. Many people don’t work in what they majored in. Two of my classmates both majored in political science. One works as an i-banker making 80k, but hates his job. The other went to work for a non-profit and barely scrapes but, but loves her job. Neither work in politics.

    Salary expectations played no part in my decision to major in geology; rather I enjoyed the field and excelled at it. Students should major in the field that excites them to learn and choose courses that challenge them to think critically. If you’re worried about getting a high paying job after you graduate work hard at getting a lucrative summer internship, if you hate it they only last 3 months.

    If anyone is questioning “what kind of return is this investment going to yield” you should examine your college experience and not just your diploma. Your degree is important but what you learn in the classroom is only half of what you learn in college. College should not be just about going to class and partying. It’s about intellectually interacting with your peers, learning from your professors through personal discussion, attending lectures and forums, and being challenged every day. Although intangible, these experiences are what will make you stand out from other job candidates with the same major.

    Oh and to respond to your question about Ivy’s… the experiences I mention above are what made me decide to attend an Ivy. The four years I spent at school are invaluable to me. I probably would have learned the same fundamentals at a state school. And sure, I have student loans now but I wouldn’t trade them for the professors I had, the intelligent and motivated students I went to class with, and the opportunities available to me outside of the classroom.

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