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Which Area of Engineering Will Give Me the Best Return on My College Investment?

A university education is expensive, but many hope to gain the best return on their academic investment by earning an engineering degree. Many factors influence an engineering student’s choice of major. Besides having a genuine interest in the subject matter, students pursue degrees in engineering because of the potential for high pay and benefits as well as positive job growth estimates. Here are some top engineering programs that offer some of the best returns for one’s education dollars.

Petroleum Engineering

When the discipline of engineering is mentioned, most people immediately think of mechanical, civil and electrical engineers designing systems and structures. The study of petroleum engineering is hardly considered, but it should be according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The oil and gas industry fuels the work products of many other engineering disciplines, and petroleum engineers help to ensure that oil is safely extracted for use by industry with minimal impacts to the surrounding environment. These engineers must have thorough knowledge of subjects like geology, mathematics, physics and chemistry. Monitoring oil drilling activities or helping to design oil refineries are some examples of typical job tasks of petroleum engineers. According to the BLS, petroleum engineers in 2012 made a median annual salary of $130,280 with only an undergraduate degree. These engineers also benefit from working in a career field that is projected to grow at a rate of 26 percent until 2022 which is much faster than the average for jobs across all industries. The University of Texas at Austin is one of the top rated schools for awards of petroleum engineering degrees in the United States, and state residents pay an estimated $45,000 for a four-year petroleum engineering degree.

Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear engineering is another uncommon engineering discipline that contributes greatly to the operations of a modern society. Nuclear engineers are tasked with developing safer and more efficient methods, systems and tools for using radiation as an energy source. Nuclear power is used prevalently within the U.S. military, and many of these engineering professionals get their foundational, hands on training while working on U.S. Navy nuclear powered submarines. Those who show skill and decide to pursue a degree in nuclear engineering broaden their job opportunities to civilian positions at nuclear power plants across the country. Nuclear engineers were some of the highest paid engineers in the country in 2012. They had an annual median salary of $104,270, and the estimated job growth in the field of nuclear engineering was as fast as the average for all jobs. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is one of the top awarders of nuclear engineering degrees in the nation, and state residents can expect to pay about $58,000 for the degree.

Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineers design and develop the launch vehicles and satellites that make modern communication systems possible. These engineers also help design, build and maintain traditional aviation systems. Aerospace engineering positions are available in both public and private sector organizations. According to the BLS, aerospace engineers made an annual median salary of $103,720, but projected job growth for the career field is slightly slower than the average for all jobs. The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign has one of the highest ranked aerospace engineering programs in the country, and in state students pay about $62,000 for the four-year degree.


The new global business environment has brought many opportunities to businesses in nearly every sector, but these benefits are also accompanied by increases in competition as the world’s top talent contends for the best positions. Subsequently, engineering degree programs that lead to employment in careers that are not likely to be outsourced overseas are ones that offer a great value as well.


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