You’re stuck between declaring a major in basket weaving or economics. One satisfies your passion, while the other is a wise career move. Nothing against basket weaving — it’s just that your job prospects will be limited come graduation time.
It’s hard to know which decision today will best serve you 20 years into your career. Whether you’re considering a college education yourself or advising your children to make a smart decision, choosing a major requires some research.
Personal finance magazine Kiplinger conducted its yearly search of the most lucrative college majors out of 215 common options. With the help of PayScale, Kiplinger considered the average starting salary (less than five years’ work experience) and median salary (at least 10 years’ work experience) for each major. Also, Economic Modeling Specialists International analyzed the projected 10-year job growth for each field from 2015 to 2025.
For those of us in an education conundrum, this list will help. Read on for insight into Kiplinger’s study, what to expect throughout your undergraduate years, and prospective high-paying jobs for those who graduate with these 10 college degrees.
10. Actuarial mathematics
- Starting salary: $58,800
- Mid-career salary: $119,000
- Projected 10-year job growth: 21.9%
Actuaries analyze the financial consequences of risk using math, statistics, and financial theory. Those with an actuarial mathematics degree are in high demand, often working in insurance companies, consulting firms, and any other business that needs to manage financial risk. Spoiler alert: That means all businesses.
Those who choose this major take courses in economics, finance, calculus, and business. To become an actuary, you must pass a series of exams through one of the professional organizations relating to your career field, such as the Casualty Actuarial Society and Society of Actuaries.
Related job titles: actuary, finance manager, and operating analyst
9. Aerospace engineering
- Starting salary: $64,800
- Mid-career salary: $107,000
- Projected 10-year job growth: 11.1%
If Lego helicopters and rocket ships were part of your childhood, then an aerospace engineering major might be intriguing. Graduates with this major are responsible for designing, building, and maintaining all aircraft/spacecraft systems. Core college classes focus on science and math, with a designated specialty, such as aircraft performance, stability, and control; aeronautical structures; flight testing; or space systems design.
Related job titles: design engineer, flight-test engineer, structural analysis engineer, and systems engineer
8. Software engineering
- Starting salary: $62,500
- Mid-career salary: $96,800
- Projected 10-year job growth: 22.7%
It’s no surprise that any computer-related major lands in Kiplinger’s list of high-paying college degrees. Computers are everywhere, and those who can make sense of these complicated machines are valuable to the workforce. Our reliance on technology predicts these positions are here to stay.
Expect to take classes in both computer science and engineering, while honing your abilities to think abstractly about a problem. Those who also have knowledge in business-related areas will be the pick of the college litter, as many advertised positions seek tech-savvy candidates with excellent communication skills.
Related job titles: app developer, application engineer, system analyst, and video game designer
7. Finance and economics
- Starting salary: $55,700
- Mid-career salary: $101,000
- Projected 10-year job growth: 15.5%
A career in finance is a solid career choice. As more millennials enter the workforce, additional financial experts are needed to explain the ins and outs of investment portfolios and money management. Not only are the salaries quite high, but the job opportunities are endless — especially for career advancement. Kiplinger reports financial analysts earn a median salary of $80,940 a year, and finance managers make over $116,000 annually.
Expect to take accounting, economics, business, and statistics. Once completed, you could find yourself touting a job in almost any location and industry.
Related job titles: accountant, financial analyst, finance manager, and economist
6. Management information systems
- Starting salary: $56,800
- Mid-career salary: $96,300
- Projected 10-year job growth: 16%
Let’s head back to the computer screen for the No. 6 most lucrative college major on Kiplinger’s list. A degree in information systems is similar to a software engineering degree but with a heightened focus on the business implications. For this reason, many prospective college students choose to combine this major with a business degree.
After completing courses in psychology, business, and computer science, most graduates will start their careers as a computer systems analyst before moving into a management role. Analysts still bring home serious bacon, making a median annual salary of $85,800.
Related job titles: information systems manager and computer system analyst
5. Information security
- Starting salary: $57,100
- Mid-career salary: $86,600
- Projected 10-year job growth: 30.9%
We’re not done with cyber space just yet. Kiplinger lists a degree in information security as another top choice in 2017. This makes sense, as it’s almost impossible not to know someone who has been affected by cyber hacking these days. People with these degrees are real-life super heroes, kicking butt and taking names of thieves who try to infiltrate your online presence.
Choosing this major also allows you to sprinkle a few criminal justice courses into your academic plan. This degree specializes in internal security breaches. Graduates are expected to excel at computer programming, as well as ethic laws and analysis.
Related job titles: information security analyst, computer support specialist, and computer programmers
4. Computer science
- Starting salary: $63,100
- Mid-career salary: $105,000
- Projected 10-year job growth: 15.5%
Computer science is an overarching term often used to describe many degrees in information technology. As is the case with many college degrees on this list, an interest in math and science is necessary for success in software development and system design. Most students in this field also specialize in a programming language, such as Java, Haskell, C++, or Python.
Computer science majors have both job and financial security. Jobs in this field continue to be highly ranked by many money and career polls, including CNN’s Best Jobs in America and the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Top-Paid Business Bachelor’s Grads.
Related job titles: computer scientist, web developer, software systems developer, and business intelligence analyst
- Starting salary: $56,600
- Mid-career salary: $73,600
- Projected 10-year job growth: 15.5%
With the increasing demand for health-care workers, nursing lands in the top three for high-paying majors in 2017. This career is also one that provides opportunities for advancement. Registered nurses typically earn $67,490 per year and more experienced nurse practitioners earn an annual salary of $98,190.
College nursing programs are highly competitive and very time-consuming. Each hopeful student must pass multiple exams and undergo long stretches of experiential clinical internships. But health care workers have the best of both worlds: a job that pays well while also making an impact. In fact, PayScale recently listed this career field as one of the most meaningful jobs.
Related job titles: registered nurse, nurse practitioner, and advanced practice registered nurse
2. Biomedical engineering
- Starting salary: $60,900
- Mid-career salary: $96,400
- Projected 10-year job growth: 25.7%
Those struggling to decide between a career in medicine or science should consider earning a degree in biomedical engineering. Why choose one when you can have your cake and eat it, too? These professionals design and develop clinical equipment used in health care by combining engineering principles with medical and biological sciences. Some biomedical engineers also have advanced training in other fields, such as a medical degree, to supplement their knowledge of the medical devices they create.
Related job titles: biomedical equipment technician, biomedical manager, clinical engineer, and research engineer
1. Civil Engineering
- Starting salary: $55,600
- Mid-career salary: $94,500
- Projected 10-year job growth: 17.2%
While a petroleum engineer is the highest paid major out of all 215 analyzed, job prospects in this field are minimal. Civil engineers fare much better, according to Kiplinger. Even better, these employees won’t spend most days trapped behind a desk. Many are located on construction sites, monitoring system operations. And as the need for increased infrastructure rises so will job prospects. Those looking to nail down a career in this industry should have a passion for math, science, and structural design.
Related job titles: bridge/structure inspection, civil engineering manager, railroad design consultant, and traffic engineer
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.