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The 10 best majors for a high-paying job right after college

A young engineer works in a lab.
@marcobertoliphotography | Twenty20

Choosing a college major is a balancing act of finding something you enjoy and are good at, while also considering long-term job security and earning power — no small feat for the average teen.

But when it comes to the degrees that lead to jobs with solid starting salaries, high earning potential and even making a positive impact, PayScale data points to STEM fields as the answer.

The salary comparison site's latest College Salary Report ranks the highest-paying jobs with a bachelor's degree. These jobs all provide robust salaries right after graduation, and even more room to grow. The bottom tier of starting salaries on the list hovers around $50,000, just above the median starting salary of recent grads as indicated in a recent LendEdu survey, while those on the higher end reported earning closer to $83,000 right out of school.

Starting salary wasn't the only factor in the list. Degrees were also ranked according to earning potential, with workers holding certain degrees earning double or triple their starting salary once they'd logged 10 years of within their field. Those who studied petroleum engineering take the lead, with a median starting salary of $82,700 that grew to $183,600 by mid-career.

The percentage of workers who report "high meaning" in their jobs — or those who feel their work makes the world a better place — was also considered. That's significant, considering doing meaningful work is the top contributor to job satisfaction, according to the CNBC/Survey Monkey Workplace Happiness Index.

And while engineering majors are heavily represented, those in business occupations also report high pay and career satisfaction. Here are the majors that pay off:

1. Petroleum engineering
Early career pay: $82,700
Mid-career pay: $183,600
Share of high meaning: 60%

2. Operations research and industrial engineering
Early career pay: $79,600
Mid-career pay: $166,300
Share of high meaning: N/A

3. Actuarial mathematics
Early career pay: $54,700
Mid-career pay: $158,100
Share of high meaning: 46%

A chemist at work.
@marcobertoliphotography | Twenty20

4. Chemical and biomolecular engineering
Early career pay: $71,900
Mid-career pay: $138,100
Share of high meaning: 42%

5. Public accounting (tie)
Early career pay: $60,700
Mid-career pay: $135,000
Share of high meaning: 51%

5. Building science (tie)
Early career pay: $50,700
Mid-career pay: $135,000
Share of high meaning: 33%

7. Aeronautics and astronautics
Early career pay: $71,400
Mid-career pay: $133,300
Share of high meaning: 52%

8. Systems engineering
Early career pay: $70,800
Mid-career pay: $131,200
Share of high meaning: 52%

A group of colleagues have a meeting.
@criene | Twenty20

9. Business analysis
Early career pay: $53,400
Mid-career pay: $129,800
Share of high meaning: 49%

10. Economics and mathematics (tie)
Early career pay: $63,200
Mid-career pay: $126,900
Share of high meaning: 36%

10. Chemical engineering (tie)
Early career pay: $71,800
Mid-career pay: $126,900
Share of high meaning: 54%

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A young engineer works in a lab.
@marcobertoliphotography | Twenty20
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