Careers

The 5 most valuable college majors

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One of the most important decisions college students make is what to study, and it's undeniable that some degrees are more valuable than others.

TheCashlorette analyzed data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey for 2011-2015 and found that STEM majors are far and above the most valuable. The study examined median incomes (adjusted for inflation) and unemployment rates for U.S. adults under the age of 65 with a bachelor's degree in 173 different majors.

Sarah Berger, reporter, analyst and founder of TheCashlorette said, "Engineering specifically really dominated the most valuable college majors. I think you have to get almost to the 30s before you get to a non-STEM major."

This finding may not be surprising, but it reveals some serious issues. "We know that STEM majors are incredibly lucrative," she says. "But we also know that women graduate at significantly lower rates from STEM majors than men do."

Demonstration in classroom at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
George Steinmetz | Getty Images
Demonstration in classroom at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

By not entering these lucrative fields, women are "setting themselves up for a lifetime of inequity before they even crack open a text book," argues Berger. "STEM majors are the most valuable majors by far and I think we need to work on getting more women in those classes."

Berger cites a toxic culture as the primary explanation for why women are do not embrace these valuable majors. "There is a certain type of culture that exists in many of these male-dominated fields," she says. "No one wants to feel like the other, whether that is in your class or in your work."

Petroleum Engineering tops TheCashlorette's list of most valuable majors. According to data visualization initiative Data USA, 83.3 percent of Petroleum Engineering majors are men. The median income for someone who majored in Petroleum Engineering is $134,840.88, which is twice the median income for all bachelor's degree holders.

Petroleum engineering majors also have an incredibly low unemployment rate — just 2.38 percent. Students who earn this degree often go on to be civil engineers, software developers and professors.

Read on to see the five most valuable college majors. As Berger says, "At the end of the day, college is a major financial decision."

5. Naval Architecture/Marine Engineering

Median income: $103,695

Unemployment rate: 2.78 percent

4. Mining/Mineral Engineering

Median income: $104,557

Unemployment rate: 2.7 percent

3. Geological/Geophysical Engineering

Median income: $99,029

Unemployment rate: 1 percent

2. Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences/Administration

Median income: $116,642

Unemployment rate: 2.67 percent

1. Petroleum Engineering

Median income: $134,841

Unemployment rate: 2.38 percent

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