10 best college majors that lead to high-paying, satisfying careers

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As the cost of college has continued to skyrocket over the past decade, many high school graduates have questioned whether a traditional four-year degree is really worth the high price tag. But even with rising costs, data continues to show that having a college degree will give you substantially more earning power throughout your career.

The value of a college degree

According to income and education data on working Americans, someone with a college degree can expect to earn around 66% more during their working lifetime than a person with only a high school diploma.

So there’s no question that a college education is still worth it in 2016.

With that said, you should still be mindful of the cost of that degree when deciding where to attend school, what to study and how much money to borrow — if you need help covering the costs — which most people do these days.

Taking out student loans is a great way to invest in your education and ultimately your career — in order to give yourself more opportunities down the road. But it’s crucial to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into — to avoid getting into debt that you can’t pay off or that causes you more harm than good financially.

One good rule of thumb is that you should never borrow more in student loans than you expect to make in your first year’s annual salary after college. 

You can learn more in our step-by-step guide on everything to know about student loans, including the best options, how much to borrow and how to pay them off.

Read more: 20 highest-paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree

Choosing the right college major

When you’re trying to decide what to study in school, there are a few things to consider. You probably want it to be something you’re at least somewhat interested in, but for many people, the deciding factor is how much money the degree will allow them to make after college and over time.

What a lot of college grads are also looking for is the ability to have a positive impact through their company or career.


So to give you an idea of the options out there, Kiplinger analyzed data for 215 popular college majors in order to identify areas of study that lead to high incomes right out of school and/or throughout a career in that field. The group also factored in the percentage of workers with these degrees who feel that their jobs are having a positive impact on the world.

Best college majors for a high-paying, satisfying career

10. Actuarial Mathematics

  • Starting salary: $58,800 (median for all 215 majors: $42,600)
  • Mid-career salary: $119,000 (median for all 215 majors: $70,800)
  • Annual online job postings: 33,237
  • Related job: Actuary
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 21.9% (all occupations: 11.1%)

9. Aerospace Engineering

  • Starting salary: $64,800
  • Mid-career salary: $107,000
  • Annual online job postings: 5,414
  • Related job: Aerospace Engineer
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 11.1%

8. Software Engineering

  • Starting salary: $62,500
  • Mid-career salary: $96,800
  • Annual online job postings: 1.2 million
  • Related job: App Developer
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 22.7%

7. Finance & Economics

  • Starting salary: $55,700
  • Mid-career salary: $101,000
  • Annual online job postings: 1.7 million
  • Related job: Financial Analyst
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 15.5%

6. Management Information Systems

  • Starting salary: $56,800
  • Mid-career salary: $96,300
  • Annual online job postings: 3.7 million
  • Related job: Computer and Information Systems Manager
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 16.0%

Read more: 29 best jobs for work-life balance

5. Information Security

  • Mid-career salary: $86,600
  • Annual online job postings: 1.8 million
  • Related job: Information Security Analyst
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 30.9%

4. Computer Science

  • Starting salary: $63,100
  • Mid-career salary: $105,000
  • Annual online job postings: 3.1 million
  • Related job: Computer and Information Research Scientist
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 15.5%

3. Nursing

  • Starting salary: $56,600
  • Mid-career salary: $73,600
  • Annual online job postings: 1.7 million
  • Related job: Registered Nurse
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 15.5%

2. Biomedical Engineering

  • Starting salary: $60,900
  • Mid-career salary: $96,400
  • Annual online job postings: 54,865
  • Related job: Biomedical Engineer
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 25.7%

1. Civil Engineering

  • Starting salary: $55,600
  • Mid-career salary: $94,500
  • Annual online job postings: 243,717
  • Related job: Civil Engineer
  • Projected 10-year job growth: 17.2%
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