The 5 Highest Paying College Degrees in 2015

More and more people are earning college degrees. As of 2011, close to one out of every three people over 25 held a bachelor’s degree, according to a U.S. Census Bureau release. “As recently as 1998, fewer than one-quarter of people this age had this level of education.”

Because more of us are college-educated, this makes it so that “just any” degree will not necessarily suffice for some people anymore. People are starting to see that if they’re going to invest all of that hard-earned money, not to mention time and energy, into obtaining a degree, it should be into one that will likely lead to ample job opportunities and higher earnings power.

The Census Bureau reports that a bachelor’s degree holder typically earns $2.4 million over his or her lifetime. Some degrees, like those in education, typically result in lower lifetime earnings than this benchmark. Other degrees, however, generally allow graduates to earn more than this lifetime benchmark.

This year’s 2015 graduates will earn a variety of different degrees, ranging from the old favorites like business, to degrees like biomedical engineering and software design, which have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Using Census data, coupled with an employer survey analysis by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), we’ve made a list of college majors that will likely lead to the highest earnings for 2015 grads.

Students pick up their mortarboards after the offical hat throwing photograph at the University of Birmingham on July 14, 2009 in Birmingham, England. Over 5000 graduates will be donning their robes this week to collect their degrees from The University of Birmingham. A recent survey suggested that there are 48 graduates competing for every job. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

1. Engineering

  • 2015 projected average starting salary: $62,998
  • Average lifetime earnings of $3.4 million

You may be tired of hearing about how engineering is one of the “best college majors” or “most profitable college majors.” But the reason you see engineering on so many of these lists is because the data lead right to it. On average, engineering majors earn $3.5 million over the course of their lifetime, which is more than any other college major. This year is expected to be no different, as NACE estimates the average salary of 2015 engineering grads at just under $63,000.

When it comes to specific disciplines within the engineering field, petroleum engineers are expected to have the highest starting salaries in 2015. NACE estimates that the average grad could pull in a cool $80,000.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Computer science

  • 2015 projected average starting salary: $61,287
  • Average lifetime earnings of $3.1 million

Those who earn computer science degrees are also raking in the dough. And, this year’s grads can expect large starting salaries. Over the course of a lifetime, computer grads who work in management occupations earn the most — a whopping $3.7 million. Those computer science majors with a specific discipline or specialty also tend to earn higher wages.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Math and sciences

  • 2015 projected average starting salary: $56,171
  • Average lifetime earnings of $2.6 million for science grads, and $3.1 million for math grads

This year’s math and sciences grads will earn average starting salaries that are higher than the typical household income. Among the math and sciences majors, physics majors are expected to earn the highest starting salaries this year, raking in average salaries of nearly $65,000.

Generally speaking, management positions often pay math and science-type majors the most, bringing in lifetime earnings of between $3 million and $3.4 million. Service industries tend to pay these grads the least, with lifetime earnings of as little as $1.5 million.

Source: Thinkstock

4. Business

  • 2015 projected average starting salary: $51,508
  • Average lifetime earnings of $2.6 million

A dime a dozen or dozens of dimes? Business majors are still earning more cash than the typical grad, with this year’s grads earning average starting salaries of over $51,000.

Among business grads, sales workers earn slightly more than than the average for this grad group, with lifetime earnings of $2.7 million. The highest-paid of the business majors work in management occupations, earning $3.3 million over the course of their lifetimes. Service workers and office support workers are generally the lowest earners among the business majors, with lifetime earnings of $1.6 million and $1.8 million, respectively.

Source: Thinkstock

5. Agriculture and natural resources

  • 2015 projected average starting salary: $51,220
  • Average lifetime earnings: $2.6 million

These grads can earn much more than the average grad, raking in an average starting salary of over $51,000. Again, those who work their way up to management positions generally earn the highest earnings over a lifetime — around $800,000 more than the typical college grad.

2015 salaries for other degrees 

Didn’t see your major on the list? Check out a few more popular college degrees that didn’t make the top five list:

  • Healthcare: 2015 grads will earn average starting salaries of $50,839
  • Communications: This year’s grads will earn average starting salaries of $49,395
  • Social sciences: 2015 grads can expect to start out earning an average salary of $49,047
  • Humanities: This year’s grads will earn average salaries of $45,042

More from Personal Finance Cheat Sheet: