10 Highest Paying Degrees 2011 – Best Majors in Demand Now

by Darwin on February 12, 2010

The top 10 highest paying majors numbers are out from the National Association of Colleges and Employers and it’s a very interesting mix.  The top slots are all very similar to the highest paying majors from the 2009 salary survey with some minor annual increases.  The bottom of the list changed a bit.  What I continue to find interesting is the strong demand for engineering degrees at the entry level even though many manufacturing companies are leading waves of layoffs given lack of demand during the recession.


Noticeably absent from the top 10 list are any financial, business or accounting related majors that dominated the list in 2008.  Overall, the average salary for 2010 graduates is $48,351 which is down 2% last year’s average of $49,353. However, I noticed that when contrasting these highest paying salaries with last year’s list, most of these showed positive increases year over year for 2010 (hence, “in demand”):

Top 10 College Degrees by Highest Starting Salary

  1. Petroleum Engineering  $86,220
  2. Chemical Engineering  $65,142
  3. Mining & Mineral Engineering $64,552
  4. Computer Science  $61,205
  5. Computer Engineering  $60,879
  6. Electrical/Electronics & Communications Engineering $59,074
  7. Mechanical Engineering $58,392
  8. Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering $57,734
  9. Aerospace/Aeronautical/ Astronautical Engineering $57,231
  10. Information Sciences & Systems $54,038

Top 10 Degree Analysis

Commodities Engineers:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see petroleum, chemical, mining and mineral engineering degrees as top spots on the list.  Even though Wall Street is suffering and the face of the automotive industry has changed forever, given the growth in emerging markets and the insatiable consumption of energy and materials for their commercial/residential buildouts and economic development, these degrees will likely be in very strong demand for years to come.

Computer Science/Engineering:
One of the few things America still leads the world in in terms of manufacturing and development, is computer technology.  Be it Intel or Apple, even though many of our wares are subsequently copied and mass-produced overseas, there is incredible demand for cutting edge launches out of the US.  Additionally, the knowledge economy is very much demanding programmers and thinkers from top colleges as well.  Google is still known as a top employer of choice and even the US government is heavy into data analysis in the post 9/11 world for everything from tracking terrorists to facial recognition technology to developing algorithms to detect suspicious financial activities.

Engineering in General:
Why do Engineering degrees comprise such a large portion of the top slots year after year?  It’s basic supply and demand.  There are too few engineering graduates each year to meet the demand in the private sector.  Contrast that with say, a Communications major (nothing against them, there just seem to be more of these graduates out there than jobs beckoning).  Even though it’s a tough job market right now, engineers coming out of good schools have always been able to practically write their own ticket if they had the right skill set, grades, a decent internship and are open to relocating to score an entry-level position at one of the best places to work.

I’m a Chemical Engineer – Starting Salary Isn’t Everything:
The irony in these surveys and how salary levels pan out further into a career are that the engineering degrees tend to be very much in demand in the early years of a career, but the pay increases roughly with overall wage inflation.  However, for a business major or any major for that matter, that either goes directly into the Financial industry or snags an MBA along the way and does so, the salaries 10 years later are off the chart.

Consider my experience.  I lived in a pretty crazy environment in college.  I was 1 studying engineer in a house of another 20 guys studying everything from history and economics to anthropology and accounting.  Most of them pretty much did the bare minimum scholastically and the absolute maximum from a party/having fun standpoint.  I got out one or two nights a week, but it was a constant party of most of these guys.  Funny thing is, even with mediocre grades, many of them ended up on Wall Street or other financial firms in the area and now make double to triple what I make.  Why?  Wall Street pay skyrocketed for those who stayed in the industry.  How’d they get into these roles?  Connections.

The nice thing about an engineering degree is that it’s widely recognized as a highly adaptive, “capable” major.  For instance, rather than jumping into chemical plants, many of my graduating class went to work as actuaries (even higher starting salary), Wall Street, medical schools and other seemingly unrelated destinations.  Once in industry, as unfair as it may seem, chemical engineers especially, tended to command higher starting salaries for the same given job title and raises.  Why?  If the going rate for a bio major is $50K and a chemical engineer is $65K and rising each year, in order to retain those chemical engineers, a company has to make sure they’re keeping up with the rest of the job market.

On the theme of an adaptive/diverse background, a useful combo, and one that I pursued personally, is the engineer/MBA combo.  Basically, I cut my teeth in manufacturing and spent a few years pursuing an MBA at night and then transitioned into a broader strategic/business role.  Not only has the role brought me a higher income via promotions, but the diverse background is well-suited to multiple roles now.  Given the need, I could work in any one of multiple manufacturing, supply chain, procurement or project management roles.

So, it’s a toss-up.  Going after the Wall Street career is no longer a guarantee to either a) even get in or b) lifetime employment or c) high pay.  Things are changing.  ETFs are overtaking mutual funds so there’s that many fewer fund managers and sales reps.  The government will play an ever-increasing role in the regulation and suppression of growth of large firms to prevent another “too big to fail” scenario.  some of the regulations that will inevitably be enacted may permanently curtail the profit growth and career potential in the financial industry.

Six-Figure Jobs

Six Figure Jobs are getting to be harder to come by in the current economic environment.  As the supply-demand equation has switched from a shortage of qualified workers and an abundance of firms looking to talent to many talented, experienced employees looking for work, it’s not quite the same as we saw during the boom years.  That being said, there are new services and resources that didn’t exist previously.  A wonderful resource that I enjoy is The Ladders. If you’re highly qualified and used to earn upwards of six figures, this service can greatly hone your search and it also limits the candidate pool to those with recent six-figure salaries.

The Ladders - Search Jobs by Region

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1 Mike Lutter February 13, 2010 at 11:24 am

I agree with the MBA addition. It’s an expensive degree to get but the rewards are pretty quick. I had an ROI of three years on mine. That’s AWESOME.

I would say though, it’s not all about salary. In the late ’90s everyone was going into computer science because of the high pay and high demand. A lot of them were miserable. Comp Sci takes a certain kind of person with a certain personality and love for computers. If you don’t have it, you will be miserable in computer science.

I’m sure this applies equally well to the other majors you listed. The result is that you should focus on the highest paying job that includes something you love to do. As a PF blogger, I am money-focused, but money isn’t everything. It’s only one means to an end… and that end should be happiness. You can’t be happy in a job you hate, so go for something you enjoy.

Darwin Reply:

@Mike Lutter, True, true. I’ve stopped returning headhunter calls and checking stuff out. I have too much going on in my personal life and my job’s good now, to worry about chasing a raise. If I weren’t please with my current predicament, I’d probably go for something paying more, but I have my hands full now with 3 kids 5 and under, a challenging job, a blog, etc. Now’s the time to be enjoying life! We’d rather spend a little less and enjoy life than keep chasing new opportunities and having our 30s and 40s flash before our eyes.

Tom McGwerin Reply:

They took my job!

2 Ken February 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Neat post…while salary isn’t everything it certainly is a Big Factor in career choice. Good job.

3 Brian February 14, 2010 at 12:13 am

I can’t think of a more lucrative 2 year degree (yes, two year) than nursing.

Darwin Reply:

@Brian, Hi Brian, yes there’s been a purported nursing shortage for years now and salaries have been pretty high. Oddly though, BusinessWeek recently ran a story that there’s now an overabundance of nursing students that can’t find jobs because so many people flocked into the profession coupled with hospitals cutting back due to the recession and municipal budgets underwater. I figure long-term, still a good ROI, especially if it’s a profession you like. Just may be tight near term.

brian Reply:

@Brian, yeah but with the huge pool of people pouring into nursing the high salaries are going to come down.

Debbie Reply:

Amen to the ones that have the 2 year degrees in nursing. They get so much more clinical experience than the 4 year nursing students. I have been in nursing for 30 years and so has my mother. She used to get so annoyed with the BSN’s. (“They want to make all this money and they don’t even know how to give an SSE!!”). And, when the ruuber meets the road, most of us dance circles around the (new) BSN’s!!!

Misti Reply:

@Brian, Don’t forget the two years of pre-req courses to make it a 4 year degree to be an RN, possibly longer if you do not test directly into college level classes. Plus the competition to get into a nursing school in the Seattle area is so high that you have to have a 3.6 or better to even be considered for the so-so community colleges & 3.8 for the average ones or a solid 4.0 for Universities. Even then you may not get in. If you are not a top student with a heart of gold and an iron stomache then I suggest a different pathway choice. It is a whole new world out there and only the best survive.

4 tim1198 February 19, 2010 at 7:47 am

I am an engineer, but most of my neighbors and friends are in sales and marketing. I think the good ones make a lot more than engineers since they can really make a huge difference.

We Engineers think that our work can yield significant differences too; but it’s harder to reward because it’s harder to measure the benefit of what we do; since our benefits are measured in longer durations of time.

5 Kevin Khachatryan February 25, 2010 at 7:49 pm

This is a good post for 4 year degrees; however the picture changes dynamically for post-undergraduate majors. Health care begins to dominate.

6 Chris February 26, 2010 at 10:34 am

Interesting list and interesting to read Darwin’s other posts on his undergrad years. I went to a small, but well ranked, Engineering school. I started in one of the comparatively few “quasi-engineering” majors (Biotech) that were offered at the time and ended up graduating with a BS in MIS (another name for #10 on the list) as that was the “hot” major at the time. I’m now a PM. About half the guys I went to school with are PM’s of some kind now. The rest are everything from engineers to finance to sales. Which is further evidence that Engineering is viewed as a “versatile” major.

To anyone who is considering going into ANY major simply because it pays well I would caution you to be sure that the core elements of your degree fall into disciplines you like, or at least have in an interest in. Look, Thermodynamics and DiffEQ’s are gonna suck no matter what but if you have a strong interest in the major you’ll muscle through the hard courses.

I watched guys in my house who were chem eng, Electrical and Electrical-Computer (I would say those 3 majors are a dead heat for hardest undergrad majors in existence) as well as the Mech Eng and Civils (the “easy” engineering majors, haha) go through the descending circles of engineering hell and if you don’t like engineering your life will be a living breathing hell for 4 years. I had 3 good friends drop out (well, transfer actually) and they were all brilliant but hated engineering and got into it for financial reasons.

If you do like engineering I would consider going to a smaller engineering school rather than a massive university (unless you get into an Ivy or similiar caliber college of course) – I can’t imagine being an engineering major in a public university and hanging with dudes who had a double-major in Basket-weaving and BeerPong. The jealousy would have killed me. Darwin and other engineers on this blog may back me up on this. I was in a frat as well with the significant difference that 80% of the guys in the house were Engineering majors. The rest were in – still difficult – science majors. During exam weeks you could hear crickets chirping in the house.

Engineering schools are not party schools so they may seem less attractive when comparing them to universities but the reality is that you won’t be doing the same partying anyway. So go to a smaller polytechnic and join a frat where they have files of every test ever taken by every proffessor on campus. Haha. I kid but in all seriousness this was a massive asset.

I would agree with Mike Lutter on Comp Sci. If you are a CS person you already know it. I took most of the same programming courses as the CS guys and can say they are honestly a different species. This is neither good or bad. But if you’re not of a similiar breed you’ll hate it.

And Kevin is right. The post-bac high pay landscape is dominated by medical careers. If you’re already an engineering major you might consider taking the 8 core classes you need to get into med careers. (2Bios, 2 physics, 2 Chems, 2 Organic chems (No fun those orgos…no sir). You’ll have the math requirements already and you’ll leave the door open to all things medical.

7 Jacob Rachiele May 24, 2010 at 5:31 am

Although economics isn’t in the top 10 for starting salaries, according to payscale.com’s survey, it has the 5th highest mid-career salary, beating out all the business majors and many of the engineering and science majors. Also, an economics and math focus in undergrad will set you up very nicely for later grabbing a finance PHD which pays an insane amount of money for a teaching position.

8 Junior R August 13, 2010 at 7:15 am

I believe,computer science is the best degree to do.but you should have the love of computers and have a mathematical orientation.Same applies to the other degrees ,you have to love the item you are studying,its not always about the big money,you have to have love and self belief in yourself.

9 Dave August 19, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I am about to graduate chemical engineering from a top 5 program nationally that is a public school. My plan is to go the MBA Route after a few years of work even though I love chemical engineering and want to remain a chemical engineer for at least 8 years. My concern is I am on track to come out with a 2.8 major gpa (overall gpa is slightly lower). I do not know how the seemingly low GPA (even though I worked my butts hard for this) would affect my ability to launch the career I desire. I think as a positive though, I have altogether, a year of a combination of cooperatives and internships.

As an experienced professional in the field, I’ll appreciate any advice you can give on what I can do to launch my career

ikhan Reply:


if you ahve some coops and things just do some networking and you’ll be okay, you have right idea, they don’t want all brains, they want people who can apply themselves well and are people persons who can do some talking not just lab work. Just be confident in your abilities and try to get into companies you cooped or intered with

Tom Reply:

Your story sounds exactly like mine! Well the undergraduate part of it anyways, not sure yet if I am going to pursue an MBA. I graduated from what it sounds like probably the same school as you with a 2.7 overall GPA. Had 1 year of co-op and worked on campus in the engineering labs. I was hired over candidates that had significantly better GPAs, but no real life skills, and I think the same will happen for you.

That being said, I did miss out on some opportunities with some of the larger companies that did heavy campus recruiting. A lot had a strict cutoff of 3.2 3.0 or 2.8 GPA cutoffs because it was “corporate policy.” There is not much you can do about it other than just be damn proud you made it through arguably the hardest undergrad program that exists today. To be honest, or maybe just to make myself feel better, I like to think that working for a company that will hire you or not based solely on your GPA may not have been in my best interest anyways.

Good luck with the job search.

chris Reply:


a 2.7/2.8 in computer science is like a 4.0 in business.. mba’s are over rated .. if you want to learn business then i suggest a MS in economics or applied math .. do not let others fool you, a cs degree is worth far more than a business degree

10 Mike September 19, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I am an EE and I always laugh when I read these articles because it questions why engineering is in demand when manufacturing is low. The reason is simple – manufacturing and technology are a little different and what you are seeing is demand for new technologies, but everybody is squeezing manufacturing for lower cost (including sending it overseas). I hate this aspect of the business because engineers get squeezed too – by the same MBAs that try to “increase ROI”. Business runs on economic principles like supply and demand and engineers are in short supply and will continue to get higher salaries. Unfortunately (depending upon who’s viewpoint you are looking from), most of those salary increases come by changing jobs and engineers are getting sick of the profession because of excessive overtime by guys trying to “improve the ROI”. Don’t squeeze the balloon to hard or it will break! Then you will pay more for the next guy and if you don’t even get product out the door (because all the engineers left), you will loose your job as well. WallStreet is going to be heavily regulated and the market is already in the soup (thanks to overpricing and overextending options), so nobody is getting rich in that business for a while. It all boils down to hard work and patience – for everybody including management types.

jun Reply:

how cum that computer scientist salaries are higher than that of computer engineers

11 Jim October 7, 2010 at 12:29 am

I am a degreed electrical engineer and did controls for 10 years where I hit the pay ceiling. Then I bought a manufacturing company and I make quite a bit more than I did as an engineer. The benefit is that I don’t have to hire an expensive engineer to design, do tech support, etc. I can do the high dollar stuff and have lower paid people do the easier stuff.

A business major couldn’t do that. An engineer or computer programmer has a skill that allows them to create a product and grow a company from that. If you are a programmer or engineer, why let the marketing moron, the project manager (secretary) or the slacker salesman make more than you? They have nothing of real value and they feed off of your hard work and skills to grab credit. For the entrepreneurs out there, a degree in something that allows you to create a tangible product will get you much further than some business degree or even worse, an academic degree like history or art. A business degree is only useful if it is an MBA. Just my unobjective viewpoint.

12 Get Happy Life November 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm

It seems like engineering dominates the market demand for 2010 – this makes me feel better with my computer science degree

13 syed muhammad ali February 2, 2011 at 8:21 am

could you kindly let me have the scope of Telecommunication Engineering which to is a engineering degree and recognized by the Pakistan Engineering Council (P.E.C)
This engineering degree course is being conducted by the Sir Syed University Of Engineering and Technology Karachi,Pakistan.This university has the highest “W” ranking.I shall be highly obliged if u could kindly let me have the information and ranking of the above engineering degree at the earliest.Thanking you in anticipation.
with best regards
Syed Muhammad Ali

14 Mshelia Shatu March 25, 2011 at 6:08 am

Is it possible that in the next 10yrs electrical electronics will earn more than chemical and petroleum engineers?

15 Jerry Lanclos April 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I think if you take a look at starting salaries for pharmacists after graduating from Schools of Pharmacy, you might see that their starting salaries are often at or above $100,000 annually. Granted, it is now a 6-7 year degree program, including undergrad studies, but nonetheless, unless your criteria has limitations, you may be somewhat remiss in your rankings. Thanks.

16 Ceilly Morales April 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I’m really thinking about getting my Bachelors in Business and Marketing, anyone know the salary range?

vanessa Reply:

@Ceilly Morales, My assistant graduated with a degree in Marketing, she makes $12.50/hr. It depends so much on the geographical region.

17 Concerned parent April 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

My son is graduating with a Master of Science in the field of mathmatics. His Bachelors was a double major Mathmatics and Chemistry with a Physics minor. Anyone know what jobs and salary available for him?

jford Reply:

@Concerned parent, Statisticians and/or actuaries are also in demand. If he is a people person and has good communication skills, teaching science is always an option. I work for an engineering firm that does failure analysis and consulting, which is also an option.

18 D MAC April 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm

You left Pharmacy off the list, great salary and always in demand.

19 FKinzer April 14, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Here is a piece of advice from the field. After you get your degree, no matter what degree, get involved in a public speaking program such as Toastmasters. There are a lot of intelligent, well trained individuals that cannot present themselves or their ideas well. Being able to speak fluently and intelligently will fit well into any future plans that you have.

20 Brian T April 15, 2011 at 12:18 am

BSChE 72, MBA, worked on six continents, managing one of the largest Au/Cu construction projects in the world in Mongolia. Started career on the construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Met my wife in Venezuela while managing a refinery expansion project there. Worked in Athens when the 04 Olympics showcased. Saw five presidents in two weeks in Argentina. ‘Learned’ that you can squeeze more gold out of rock in SW Australia with the right folks. Free advice: study what turns you on; plan to be adaptable once launched into the ‘real world’; always ask for more to do; maintain a strong work ethic and be loyal to the employer you lock in with; balance work with family and playtime; then hang on for the ride.

21 vandit May 12, 2011 at 8:41 am

i am the student of 10th . i want to go in diploma for further study so, i want to ask u that which engineerig demand most ? n i want to go in computer engineering so is it good for my future ?

sagar Reply:

@vandit, one of the best. it will be demanded degree in the future,do it best of luck………!

22 Kilovars June 17, 2011 at 11:49 pm

This is true about the electrical fields. There will always be a demand for electricity and over time, the electrical system needs to be re-vamped. Good article.

23 Andy September 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm

I am quoting the following “We Engineers think that our work can yield significant differences too; but it’s harder to reward because it’s harder to measure the benefit of what we do; since our benefits are measured in longer durations of time.”
Engineers do it all everything else is overhead.
Where do Ipods, Ipads, cool cars, cool phones, internet apps etc. come from ? Engineers and CS kind of guys.
Sales / Marketing guys : Can only sell more cool products developed by engineers
Stock brokers : Invest in companies having cool products developed by engineers
Lawyers : Fight over patents invented by engineers

So I think R&D is most influential and fuels at least Californias high tech industry as a whole.

24 icawn December 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I am a Systems Engineer. My undergrad was computer science. 3.2 overall GPA—3.8 for courses within the school of science/engineering. My CS courses were very involved and I always found myself helping my peers, even graduates. I completed 3 summer internships with different companies. My resume was top notch. I did several interviews just before and immediately after graduation. Interviews were extremely easy to receive.

My written communication is superb (so I am told!), if I take time to think through my responses. My verbal communication suffers, however :(. I may not be the worst, but, I am positive I stand out as below average, working with engineers who have it as one of their stronger points.

I finally received an offer, from a reputable corporation. HOW? The interview was with 2 people, via PHONE, due to distance. I was much more comfortable. I was in my element–much less pressure–nailed that sucker.

Even though I may have been at the upper end of my CS graduating class, my below average communicative ability has definitely caused detriment to my career. I have been in the “real world” for over 3 years. Several other engineers have already received promotion after ~2 years.

Much of it is due to my verbal communication, I am sure. BUT, I believe an even greater force is visibility within the workplace. I am one of few Systems Engineers here. Most engineers here (ME/CE) have responsibilities at the surface level—focused toward identifying ways to improve the process, not actually performing the low-level implementation—Managers in training, if you will. Their raw engineering-related tasks are actually quite few. But, their visibility is naturally higher with managers. The majority of my work is behind-the-scenes, or enabling. I do receive not-so-good visibility if anything breaks, of course :). I am trying to improve my verbal communication, though nowhere near that of a politician…at least yet!

We work with so many different technologies in our work place. There are infinite opportunities for quality and yield improvement. There is a plethora of data available to use and abuse. Unfortunately, my CE/ME peers have no understanding of converting data into beneficial information, if they even realize data is available. Sometimes, I feel like a salesman, trying to convince our process engineers to “buy in” to my recommendations, in order to improve our process—this alone is extremely difficult.

Bottom line, I may be paid less and promoted more slowly, but, I am not as expendable as my peers. If the equipment I am responsible for, fails, production will be affected. My engineering peers cannot say the same, however. If they depart their position, their position is not typically replaced for several months, if ever at all. Production continues as is, whether they are present or not. It actually provides me with a great feeling of fulfillment. Many managers of larger corporations seem to remain vague during interviews, because they were raised at the surface level of engineering. A great question to ask during the interview might be, “Could you please tell me how engineering actually takes place by others in this position, with an example?”.


25 Nabeel May 12, 2012 at 9:18 am

Hey im currently doing my AL’s and i cant choose between doing mechanical/ chemical engineering *thinking in terms of easiness of the course and demand of it in long term* could any help me out with this..
Thank you

26 Manoj Gupta June 14, 2012 at 3:41 am

I need to know an estimate on the total number of chemical engineering graduates across the globe in year 2010-11. Could someone help please? Or if anyone could suggest a way to calculate this?


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