Your college major can have a profound impact on your income.
Within four years of graduation, some majors stand to earn as much as $256,539, while others make less than $10,000 per year, according to a new report from The HEA Group, a research and higher education consulting firm.
The top-earning majors are in so-called STEM fields, or degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Half of the top 10 majors with graduates making the most money are subsets of engineering.
Michael Itzkowitz, the founder and president of The HEA Group, analyzed data collected by the U.S. Department of Education from more than two million students who received federal financial aid and graduated in 2015 or 2016. Their earnings were measured in 2019 and 2020.
Here are the 10 highest-paying college majors, four years after graduation:
The majors with the highest earning potential tend to provide specialized, technical training in an in-demand field, like health care or technology, says Itzkowitz.
Nuclear engineering majors earn the most, with a median annual salary of $131,454. Increasing calls for clean, renewable energy has spurred demand for nuclear engineers amid challenges with wind and solar power.
Engineers, in general, are needed in a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, cybersecurity, construction and agriculture, says Itzkowitz. Chemical engineers and industrial engineers, which have consistently been two of the highest-paying college majors over the past few years, are also two of the occupations projected to grow the most by 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Biology is another major that can open doors to a wide range of high-paying opportunities, and not just in the medical field, Itzkowitz says.
"While many biology majors may have ambitions to go to medical school, some do not, and have no trouble finding jobs with competitive salaries, like a biotechnologist or research scientist, right after college," says Itzkowtiz.
Similarly, veterinary medicine is a field that includes a wide range of majors, from veterinary technicians to "pre-vet" programs for veterinarians, a job that requires a doctor of veterinary medicine degree in addition to a bachelor's degree. The U.S. Department of Education's data does not include the salaries for people who are currently enrolled in advanced degree programs, like medical and business school.
The non-engineering majors in the top 10 are biomathematics, marine transportation, veterinary medicine, computer science and operations research, which typically focuses on the development and application of mathematical or simulation models to solve problems with operational systems.
Jeff Levy, an independent educational consultant in Santa Monica, warns students not to pick a major solely because of its potential salary. As he previously told CNBC Make It, "There's no way of knowing, with 100% certainty, which professions will pay the best in 5, 10 years."
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