The latest statistics regarding student loan debt in the United States are sobering, to say the least. As of 2020, students in America owe a collective balance of $1.57 trillion, up 12% since the previous year. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that prospective college students are eyeing the best bachelors degrees that promise a good return on investment. After all, there’s nothing more worrying than taking out a loan on your education with the possibility that you won’t be able to pay it off in the future. One sure way to avoid this potential pitfall is to choose a college major from among the highest paying bachelor’s degrees available. This article highlights the best degrees 2020 to present.
Need an online option? Not to worry. Most of the best college degrees for employment are available via distance learning formats–from associate’s degree programs to doctoral degrees and everything in between. So if you’re looking for the highest paying online bachelor’s degree programs, you’re in the right place.
Methodology for Finding the Best Bachelor Degrees 2021
To identify the 20 highest paying bachelor degrees, our editors consulted PayScale’s college salary report to identify undergraduate majors associated with the highest return on investment, according to mid-career pay. This figure refers to the median annual wage for professionals with more than ten years of experience in their respective fields. Below, we’ve ranked the 20 highest paying college majors in descending order. If you’re trying to determine a major, these are the best undergraduate degrees available right now in terms of future wages!
1. Petroleum Engineering
If you’re looking for the number one highest-paying bachelor’s degree, look no further than the field of petroleum engineering. While it may sound like an intimidating career to break into, all that’s required to begin work as a professional petroleum engineer is a four-year degree. Of course, some positions for petroleum engineers may also require some prior work experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree.
Once hired, you’ll work with other engineers who specialize in oil and gas extraction, coming up with innovative methods for procuring the energy that literally runs the world. Your exact duties and responsibilities may vary depending on the type of petroleum engineering you’re contracted to perform. There are several different types of petroleum engineers, including reservoir engineers, drilling engineers, completions engineers, and production engineers. The duties they perform and the sub-industry they work in determine where petroleum engineers work, but a significant percentage of these engineers work in oil and gas extraction.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for petroleum engineering is just over $137,000, and PayScale reports mid-career wages to be much higher. Job growth predictions are good too with forecasts showing faster-than-average growth through the year 2030. It’s easy to see why petroleum engineering is among the top degrees in the U.S.
Mid-Career Salary: $182,000
2. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS)
Among the best bachelor degrees and the most lucrative credentials in our ranking is the unique Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) major. This major covers in-demand skills and concepts in the fields of both electrical engineering and computer science. Since each of these fields are challenging enough in their own right, you can imagine how difficult a combined major might be! Still, if you can stand the heat, the payoff of earning such a degree will be worth your while. A professional with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science can expect to make upwards of $100,000 per year right out of the gate, according to PayScale’s college salary report. Ten years in, this already handsome salary will likely increase by 50% or even more–no wonder this is one of the best college degrees to get!
Mid-Career Salary: $152,300
3. Applied Economics and Management (TIE)
Students interested in working in the field of business will be happy to learn that one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees is a major in Applied Economics and Management. After studying basic topics in micro and macroeconomics and management theory, bachelor’s degree students who choose this lucrative major will enjoy rewarding careers as business analysts, marketing specialists, account executives, auditors, and more. It is important to note that the meager salary for entry-level applied economics and management professionals often doubles within a decade on the job. Plus, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts steady job growth for management positions through the end of the decade.
Mid-Career Salary: $139,600
3. Operations Research (TIE)
Operations research is not only one of the highest paying majors available, but it’s also one of the fastest-growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for operations research analysts with the best bachelor degrees are expected to grow by 25% over the next eight years. Operations research professionals research market trends and systems and are sought-after by companies (as well as some government agencies) who want to increase their efficiency and save money by improving their business processes. This is especially true for those processes related to transportation and logistics. As an operations research major pursuing a bachelor’s degree, you can expect to study topics such as data analytics, supply chain management, forensic accounting, and inventory planning, for instance. Upon graduation, students majoring in operations research may become employed as production planners, distribution managers, quality assurance analysts, supply chain planners, and more.
Mid-Career Salary: $139,600
4. Public Accounting
Among the highest-paying bachelor degrees available is an undergraduate major in public accounting. This major prepares students to work as certified public accountants who serve individuals, non-profit organizations, and corporations with their advanced knowledge of finance and tax law. Once enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program, students will study a wide range of topics such as auditing, business law, finance, business computing, and managerial accounting, for instance. Some public accounting programs provide specific preparation for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensing examination. Though early-career pay for this major is one of the lowest in our ranking, you can expect your salary to double after ten years of work experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for accountants to be well over $73,000, but experienced public accountants can expect to make much more. Job growth in this field is also expected to be steady through 2030, according to the BLS.
Mid-Career Salary: $138,800
5. Chemical Engineering/Materials Science and Engineering
The engineering industry is currently experiencing a high demand for engineers with a bachelor’s degree who are knowledgeable in chemical engineering and materials science. As a result, more schools are offering undergraduate majors that combine these two fields of study. Students enrolled in this highest paying bachelor degree program will explore high-level engineering principles such as chemical kinetics, thermodynamics, materials production, and reaction engineering, for example. As one of the best college majors for the future, chemical engineering/materials science and engineering degree plans prepare students for fast-growing careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for chemists and material scientists are currently growing faster than average. This impressive job growth is another reason this is among the best bachelor’s degrees to get right now.
Mid-Career Salary: $137,800
6. Quantitative Business Analysis
Mathematically inclined students who want to pursue one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees available should consider a major in quantitative business analysis. This bachelor’s degree major prepares students to apply knowledge of mathematical and statistical concepts to solve real-world business problems. Topics covered through such a degree plan may include data analysis, business strategy, project management, and information technology, for example. This course of study will qualify students for jobs in data analytics, risk management, market research, and related areas experiencing high job growth, making it one of the best degrees to get right now.
Mid-Career Salary: $136,200
Undergraduate students interested in entering a profitable subfield of the healthcare industry may consider a major in pharmacy. While an advanced degree is required to become a licensed pharmacist, there are many other related positions for those who hold a four-year degree. In fact, some of the highest-paid bachelor degree jobs are those in the pharmaceutical industry. Some of these include pharmaceutical sales representative, pharmacy technician, and pharmaceutical consultant. In addition to a generous salary, a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy is also a safe bet in terms of job security. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for healthcare professionals continues to climb at a steady pace as the baby boomer population ages.
Mid-Career Salary: $133,200
8. Aeronautics & Astronautics
One of the lesser-known majors in our list of highest paying, best bachelor degrees is aeronautics & astronautics. This undergraduate degree is designed to prepare students for careers in aerospace engineering, though graduates may also decide to pursue careers in teaching, research, or consulting. The bachelor’s degree plan covers basic topics in mathematics and engineering and more major-specific courses in applied aerodynamics, autonomy, and spacecraft design, for example. Though the field of aeronautics and astronautics is fairly small, it’s still considered one of the best college majors for the future due to its steady job growth and impressive return on investment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual salary for engineers working in the aerospace industry to be nearly $120,000, but experience in the field will earn you more.
Mid-Career Salary: $133,100
9. Systems Engineering
It’s clear that engineering is one of the best bachelor’s degrees one can earn in terms of the highest paying careers. Systems engineering, in particular, happens to be one of the highest-paying majors for undergraduates. Entry-level systems engineers make almost $75,000 per year post-graduation, while experienced professionals routinely earn over $130,000 each year. Systems engineers work on big-picture problems to improve an organization’s efficiency and workflow. Often, this requires a high-level grasp of technological processes and systems. Systems engineers with a bachelor’s degree are needed in a wide range of industries, including transportation and health care, so job growth for this occupation is on the rise.
Mid-Career Salary: $132,900
10. Electrical Power Engineering
Another engineering major that made our list of highest paying bachelor’s degrees is electrical power engineering. These engineers are responsible for improving existing systems that harness and manage electric energy and develop new energy solutions. To prepare for the role of an electrical power engineer, students must enroll in a bachelor’s degree program that addresses complex topics like circuitry, electromagnetics, signal analysis, and more. Even as more renewable energy sources become widespread, electrical power engineering remains one of the best college majors for the future, with job growth remaining on a steady incline over the better part of the next decade.
Mid-Career Salary: $130,700
11. Actuarial Mathematics
One of the best bachelor degrees on our list, a major in actuarial mathematics, prepares students for the in-demand career of an actuary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for actuaries are currently growing much faster than average. These professionals must manage risks, primarily for insurance companies and private corporations. To prepare for this role, students will engage in a course of study that addresses topics such as econometrics, financial accounting, probability theory, and numerical computing. Mid-career professionals can expect to make roughly $130,000 per year. However, you should be prepared to start out making less than half of that salary as an entry-level actuary with a bachelor’s degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some actuaries make less than $66,000 per year.
Mid-Career Salary: $130,500
12. Aerospace Studies
Making our list of the highest-paying college majors, aerospace studies is among the broader majors available for students interested in aerospace science. Students who pursue this bachelor’s degree may elect specializations such as aerospace engineering, aerospace administration, and even professional pilot. Depending on their chosen concentration, an aerospace studies major will study aerospace resource management, flight physiology, and aircraft systems, for example. The track may also affect pay upon graduation, but you can expect to start with a salary of roughly $50,000 per year and advance to wages well above six figures after ten years of work experience.
Mid-Career Salary: $130,300
13. Chemical Engineering
Another engineering major that has won attention as one of the best bachelor degrees is chemical engineering. Chemical engineers enjoy one of the better starting salaries in our ranking at just under $75,000 per year on average. Mid-career, these professionals are rewarded with wages of around $130,000 annually. Of course, their duties and responsibilities are in line with these high earnings. Chemical engineers rely on their knowledge of chemical materials and processes to solve real-world problems for manufacturers, private corporations, and government and non-profit agencies. Bachelor’s degree programs in chemical engineering prepare students to take on these tasks by studying advanced topics such as thermodynamics, organic chemistry, biochemical engineering, and transport processes. The field of chemical engineering is currently experiencing steady job growth, too, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mid-Career Salary: $128,900
14. Actuarial Science
Like actuarial mathematics (another of our highest paying bachelor degree options), an actuarial science major prepares graduates to work as actuaries. While there is little actual difference between a four-year degree in actuarial mathematics and actuarial science, you may earn a slightly higher annual wage with the former credential. The degree plans for both degrees will likely be similar, covering advanced topics in mathematics and statistics and more specialized concepts like risk management, data mining, and probability theory. Many programs also prepare bachelor’s degree students to sit for the necessary licensing examinations to become a certified actuary. Due to the lucrative salary and high demand for qualified professionals in the field, the job of an actuary is one of the best college majors for the future.
Mid-Career Salary: $128,700
15. Information and Computer Science
Known as one of the best college degrees for employment, an information and computer science major can prepare you for one of many attractive, high-tech careers. Some of these jobs include database administrator, computer programmer, information security analyst, computer network architect, and software developer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these positions are not only some of the highest-paid bachelor degree jobs, but they’re also some of the fastest-growing. The Bureau’s job growth projections show an 11% increase in employment opportunities for computer science and information science professionals between 2019 and 2029.
Mid-Career Salary: $127,600
16. Aeronautical Engineering
If designing aircraft and aircraft components sounds like a dream job, then you’ll be excited to learn that aeronautical engineering is one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees available. Though similar to some of the other most lucrative degrees in our ranking, such as aeronautics and astronautics and aerospace engineering and studies, aeronautical engineering focuses specifically on the design and development of aircraft built to be flown inside the Earth’s atmosphere. The curriculum for such a bachelor’s degree program may include courses on topics like structural analysis, propulsion system design, gas dynamics, and aerodynamics, for example.
Mid-Career Salary: $125,900
17. Operations and Information Systems Management (OISM) (TIE)
Since it combines two in-demand career paths—business and information technology—it should come as no surprise that operations and information systems management is one of the best college majors for the future in terms of job growth. With an associated mid-career salary of over $125,000 on average, it’s also one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees you can earn. Students who enroll in an OISM degree plan will take courses addressing business and tech topics like information security, systems analysis, business information systems, and database management, for example. Graduates of this bachelor’s degree program are qualified for roles as operations research analysts, industrial production managers, management analysts, logisticians, and more.
Mid-Career Salary: $125,100
17. Political Economy (TIE)
Students who pursue a bachelor’s degree with a major in political economy examine the complex relationship between the government and the economy. In pursuing one of the highest paying bachelor degrees there is, these students explore topics such as economic policy, globalization, social inequality, and international finance, for instance. A wide variety of career opportunities in government, education, and law await graduates of political economy degree programs, making it one of the best college degrees for job growth. Many students also pursue advanced degrees in a field related to political economy.
Mid-Career Salary: $125,100
18. Marine Engineering
Just as aerospace engineers design air and spacecraft, marine engineers devise watercraft such as boats and ships. Some types of marine engineers specialize in certain parts of a ship, such as the propulsion or steering system. The course of study for a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering will cover fundamental engineering concepts as well as major-specific topics like diesel power, thermodynamics, engine maintenance, and machine tool operations. With an average mid-career salary well into the six figures, marine engineering is one of the highest paying degrees at the bachelor’s level. Unfortunately, job growth in this field is slower than average at the moment, so positions could be hard to come by.
Mid-Career Salary: $125,000
19. Computer Systems Engineering
Joining the fields of information technology and engineering, a major in computer systems engineering is one of the highest-paying bachelor’s degrees one can pursue. With its relationship to computer science, it’s also one of the best college majors for the future. Students with aspirations of careers in database management, software development, or computer architecture will find the necessary preparation in a computer systems engineering degree plan. Once enrolled in this bachelor’s degree program, these students will study high-tech topics such as digital logic, machine learning, and computer hardware systems. Keep in mind, however, that some of the jobs associated with this specific major are struggling in terms of job growth, according to latest reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mid-Career Salary: $124,800
20. Nuclear Engineering
Though not exactly one of the best college degrees for employment, a nuclear engineering major is still one of the highest paying bachelor degree options. Nuclear engineers work in a variety of industries, developing techniques for applying nuclear energy and radiation effectively. Unfortunately, positions for nuclear engineering are currently on a sharp downward slope, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is due to a decrease in the use of nuclear energy. Still, graduates of a four-year degree in nuclear engineering may qualify for other positions in the industry besides those for nuclear engineers, including power systems operator, reliability engineer, or critical facilities control technician, for example. Many of these positions also apply nuclear engineering principles but are experiencing better job growth right now.
Mid-Career Salary: $124,500
Most college hopefuls have heard the advice, “follow your passion.” While well-intended, this guidance could lead you to the foothills of a mountain of student loan debt, if you’re not careful. Doing what you love is important, but so is paying the bills. With that in mind, it’s wise to at least consider whether to pursue careers in the highest-paying college majors before declaring your chosen path of study. Fortunately, there are many options to choose from with these best degrees for 2020 to present day, whether you’re looking for the highest paying online bachelor’s degree programs or something more traditional.
Frequently-Asked Questions About High-Wage Bachelor’s Degrees
Q: What is the highest paying position for bachelor’s degree holders?
A: Currently, jobs for petroleum engineers are the highest-paying bachelor’s degree positions.
Q: What are some of the other highest paying jobs with a four-year degree?
A: According to PayScale and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the other highest paying jobs with a bachelor’s degree (aside from petroleum engineering) include those in operations research, business administration, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering, just to name a few. Other lucrative jobs for four-year degree holders include human resources managers, computer network architects, and financial managers.
Q: Are there any other high-paying jobs in engineering?
A: Yes. For example, industrial engineers are also well-paid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these types of engineers make nearly $90,000 per year on average, and there is the potential for experienced industrial engineers to earn a salary of up to $137,000. Electronics engineering is another lucrative field for engineers with plenty of job growth, and nuclear engineers are also well-compensated. Civil engineering is another field associated with good compensation and high job growth. Other high-paying engineering jobs to consider include:
- engineering managers
- software engineers
- metallurgical engineers
- aeronautical engineers
- aerospace engineers
- computer engineering
- mechanical engineering
- astronautical engineering
- electrical engineers
- industrial engineers
Q: What are some of the high-paying bachelor’s degree jobs in computer science?
A: The Bureau of Labor Statistics list some lucrative computer science jobs that require just a four-year degree. These include computer network architect, computer systems analysts, computer programmer, and database administrator. Other high paying careers in the field for those with a bachelor’s degree include:
- information security analysts
- quality assurance analysts
- computer systems administrators
- database architects
- computer programming
- software developers
Q: What are some of the high paying jobs for bachelor’s degrees in business administration and business management?
A: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates of a bachelor’s in business administration program may pursue careers associated with high wages such as human resources managers, compensation and benefits managers, facilities managers, marketing managers, and sales managers, for example. Jobs in financial analysis and management are also associated with an impressive annual salary.
Q: Are there any high paying careers in the natural sciences with a bachelor’s degree?
A: Yes. Some of these high paying jobs include meteorologists, food scientists, chemists, and environmental scientists. In addition to scientific knowledge, many of the lucrative careers in the natural sciences also require high-level analytical skills.
Q: What does median annual salary mean?
A: In your search for the highest paying jobs with a bachelor’s degree, you’ll come across the term “median annual salary.” The median annual salary is the annual wage at which half of workers in an occupation earned more, and half earned less.
This concludes our ranking of the highest paying bachelor’s degrees.