The 10 Highest-Paying College Majors, Five Years After Graduation


If you want to make money pretty soon after college, consider studying engineering.

Within five years of graduation, eight of the top 10 majors with graduates earning the most money are subsets of engineering, according to a recent New York Federal Reserve study. 

Chemical engineering majors take the top spot, as graduates earn a median annual salary of $75,000 shortly after college. In contrast, graduates with the lowest-paying major, theology and religion, make $36,000 within five years of graduation — less than half of what chemical engineers earn.

The only non-engineering majors in the top 10 are computer science, ranked fourth, and business analytics, ranked ninth.

Here's a look at how much graduates earn early in their careers, by major:

Engineering is a highly technical profession that's needed in all sorts of major industries, including computer technology, resource extraction, manufacturing and construction. As a STEM occupation — those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — there are more job opportunities available too. STEM jobs are expected to grow twice as fast as non-STEM jobs through 2031.

Of course, you can still make a lot of money in non-STEM fields, such as performing arts or marketing. But there's less demand for these skills compared with engineering, which is reflected in how much people with these majors tend to earn.

Engineering majors also make the most later in their careers, with "mid-career" graduates (those 35 to 45 years old) earning a median of $100,000 or more in 2022, according to the New York Federal Reserve. That's about $25,000 more than the median salaries for all majors, which is $75,000.

Here's a look at the rankings:

Notably, the spread between STEM and non-STEM salaries becomes more exaggerated over time. By the middle of their career, a chemical engineer nearly doubles their salary, while a childhood education major only increases their pay by $3,000.

Data for this study was compiled from U.S. Census data from 2021, the most recent available. Recent graduate data is based on college graduates who work full-time, have a bachelor's degree only and are ages 22 to 27. Data for mid-career graduates is based on those aged 35 to 45 who have earned a bachelor's degree or higher.

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