Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.
Getting a college degree is an expensive proposition. Students can get a lot out of the college experience, and one of the returns for the cost is hopefully a decent job.
But the chosen college major has a lot to do with getting a good-paying job. Of course, everyone has to pick the course of study that suits them, but it might help to know about the best college majors for 2022. And by best, we mean the majors that result in the best salaries.
We looked at the top 15 degrees that create sustainable careers. Our calculations are based on average starting salary; the median salary after five years in the field; the most in-demand majors; the projected job growth rate; and whether an undergraduate degree or postgraduate programs were needed.
We also wanted to know what the unemployment rate was for these fields, and what the average cost of college is. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a great resource if you are interested in a college major not mentioned here.
How Much Does College Cost?
College costs vary widely from state to state and from private to public schools. The average tuition is $10,000 to about $40,000 not including room and board, which can tack on up to $14,000.
Some degrees, like engineering, cost more per credit hour. Business, education, and fine art majors also cost more, while math and sociology majors pay the least. According to a study done by Education Next earlier this year, “Most social-science disciplines and philosophy are relatively less expensive, while science, technology, and pre-professional programs like nursing are more costly.”
According to the College Data site, on average the price of tuition and fees in the 2021-22 academic year were:
- $38,070 at private colleges
- $10,740 at public colleges (in-state residents)
- $27,560 at public colleges (out-of-state residents)
They also report that room and board runs:
- $13,620 at private colleges
- $11,950 at public colleges.
Almost 84% of students get some sort of financial aid. Federal grants, averaging just over $5,000 go to 42% of college undergraduates. Federal loans, averaging $8,285, go to 37% of college undergrads. In 2021, the average amount of student aid for undergraduates was $14,800. Graduate students averaged $26,920 in financial aid.
For many degrees, you may be able to take basic courses at a community college and transfer to another college or university for your major.
STEM Versus Liberal Arts
STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — majors are most frequently mentioned as good college degrees for higher earning career options than in the humanities. Labor statistics continuously show steady or increased projected job growth in STEM fields. While visual and performing arts might feed the soul, STEM careers often have a significantly higher entry salaries than those in the liberal arts.
What Is the Best College Degree for You?
It is important that you study something interesting to you and that fits your natural aptitudes. Make sure you study something that fits who you are, rather than changing yourself for the major. Your college major decision doesn’t have to lock you into one path for the rest of your life. You might pick a college major as a freshman, then change it the next year. That is fine.
Good communication skills are important in every career. Critical thinking works whether you are doing project management or petroleum engineering. When choosing a college major, pay attention to what keeps you engaged in a subject, and what turns you off. These are important cues for success on your career path.
Keep in mind when looking at salaries listed for each major that there is a wide variation between states, regions, and urban and rural centers. We looked at several employment websites to figure out the starting salary, and mainly used the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the median salary.
Plus, for helpful comparison, the average job growth in the United States is 8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook index. Here are some really valuable degrees; let’s figure out which is best for you.
There are a lot of engineering career paths. The beginning of those paths are pretty similar, but then you get to branch out. There are electrical engineering, industrial engineering, civil engineering, architectural engineering, marine engineering, nuclear engineering, petroleum engineering, and chemical engineering.
Every type of engineering pays well, and even though the job growth isn’t especially high, unemployment is very low. Engineering is one of the safest degrees for job markets. College students have multiple career options with these majors.
Most engineering fields require at least a bachelor’s degree to get started. For example, environmental engineers can get work with their bachelor’s, but nuclear engineers usually need at least a master’s or doctorate degree to begin. Here is a breakdown of salaries for a variety of engineering jobs from Michigan Tech.
- Starting Salary: $64,000
- Median Salary: $86,000
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 9%
- Postgraduate degree needed: No, but people with a master’s degree earn almost 20% higher salaries than those with a bachelor’s degree.
For this degree, you study the design, development, theories, and application of computer systems and software development. This can include careers such as computer systems analysts, information systems manager, or a computer systems analyst. It is one of the best college majors because it can be applied to almost any field. Software engineering majors will always find work; unemployment hovers around 2%.
- Starting Salary: $45,375
- Median Salary: $97,430
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 13%
- Postgraduate degree needed: About a third of people working in computer-related career paths have postgraduate degrees.
Computer engineers also work on development, design, and software, but focus more on computer architecture like hardware design, artificial intelligence, and operating systems. There is a low unemployment rate for these college majors. Careers include app developers, IT specialists, and firmware engineers.
- Starting Salary: $64,274
- Median Salary: $128,170
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 2%
- Postgraduate degree needed: About 40% of people working in this field have post-graduate degrees.
Health Care Informatics
This relatively new career field has one of the highest projected job growth in any field, at 32% (the average is 8%). This field combines health care and computer system knowledge to create digital systems for all medical fields.
Health Care Informatics workers develop systems that do data analysis and processing, as well as digital communication between health care facilities and data security. Health information privacy laws are partially driving this field’s rapid growth.
- Starting Salary: $58,593
- Median Salary: $101,340
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 32%
- Postgraduate degree needed: 57% of workers in this field reported having postgraduate degrees.
Nursing as a college major combines STEM majors with people skills, which makes it a popular course of study. Health care professionals can branch off into multiple directions when they have a nursing degree. The highest paying nursing jobs are as a nurse anesthetist ($189,000), emergency room nurse ($116,00), and neonatal nurse ($90,000).
It has become more common for nurses to further train to become a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners take on responsibilities similar to doctors. Nurse practitioners return to school for either master’s or doctoral degrees and have to pass a national board-certified exam. That field is growing extremely quickly at 45%, and the average salary is $123,780.
- Starting Salary: $65,775
- Median Salary: $77,600
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 9%
- Postgraduate degree needed: 28% of nurses have advanced degrees. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree to be a registered nurse.
Business majors and accounting majors can find a lot of opportunities. You can work in business administration, financial analysis, and financial planning, or so many other jobs in the business world. Finance majors also frequently work in real estate, and we can all see that the housing market can be rewarding. Business administration is one of the most popular college majors. Unemployment in finance is less than 3%.
- Starting Salary: $57,250
- Median Salary: $94,170
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 6%
- Postgraduate degree needed: Just under a third of the people working in finance have advanced degrees.
One of the best college majors for the current job market, and for job growth, is cybersecurity. Not all colleges offer this degree, so you can look for information technology as a college major, or the other computer majors mentioned earlier. A doctorate or master’s degree really pays off in this field. A chief information security officer can make over $475,000 annually.
- Starting Salary: $72,606
- Median Salary: $102,600
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 33% (fastest growing on our list)
- Postgraduate degree needed: About 25% of cybersecurity jobs require a master’s degree.
College majors getting political science or public administration degrees can go into government, nonprofit, and academic careers. They might be city managers, nonprofit directors, work in human resources, or, as a public health manager.
Degrees in public administration are good for people interested in going to law school. You can combine a desire to make the world better with a career that pays well. This is an area with extremely low unemployment.
- Starting Salary: $44,697
- Median Salary: $122,510
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 9%
- Postgraduate degree needed: Probably. Almost half of these job holders have a postgraduate degree.
An economics major is different from finance because it is one of the social sciences, rather than a business degree. College graduates with this degree can become an economist, financial analyst, management consultant, data scientist, and more. It is a high-earning field that pays people with postgraduate degrees best.
- Starting Salary: $65,100
- Median Salary: $105,630
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 13% (a little faster than average)
- Postgraduate degree needed: Almost half of the people working in this field have postgraduate degrees.
Construction management is a great degree for someone who is interested in buildings, has good communication skills, and can understand both the cost analysis and materials science of a project. It is one of the best career options for bachelor’s degree holders who don’t want to go on to get a masters.
- Starting Salary: $53,300
- Median Salary: $98,890
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 11%
- Postgraduate degree needed: Most jobs require bachelor’s degrees, not postgraduate.
Logistics is a college major that has job growth starting with an associate’s degree, which has a vocational emphasis. The bachelor’s degree emphasizes transportation management, systems design, accounting and statistics, and supply chain management, with a human resources component.
Logistics is another quickly growing field. The pandemic has brought the field of logistics to news coverage, with shortages and other issues making headlines.
- Starting Salary: $42,000
- Median Salary: $77,030
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 30%
- Postgraduate degree needed: Less than a quarter of employees in this field have postgraduate degrees.
A physics major gives college students many job opportunities, as long as they are willing to go through graduate programs. Astronomy, meteorology, photonics (the science of using light, such as in bar codes and lasers), climate science, education, robotics, gaming, and the list goes on.
Physics is the study of how everything functions, including space, time, and energy. As a field it has a huge amount of flexibility, allowing you to work in academic, research, business, and science settings.
- Starting Salary: $57,637
- Median Salary: $147,450
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 8%
- Postgraduate degree needed: Yes, at least 67% of people in physics-related occupations have advanced degrees.
Marketing, advertising, and public relations careers are non-STEM majors that provide good salaries, relatively low unemployment, and don’t require advanced degrees. Marketing promotes and advertises goods and services.
People can start working in the field with a high school diploma, though a bachelor’s degree is needed for advancement.
- Starting Salary: $44,294
- Median Salary: $133,380
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 10%
- Postgraduate degree needed: Not really, only 18% of workers in this field have them.
Game design is a relatively new college major, and isn’t offered everywhere. Other college majors for game design are software development and graphic design. Game design can be used in multiple careers. For example, journalism and education fields are increasingly using game design principles in reporting and teaching.
The gaming market is steadily growing after a big pandemic-related bump. It is a strong international market, with even faster job growth in Middle Eastern and African markets.
- Starting Salary: $53,568
- Median Salary: $79,890
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 12%
- Postgraduate degree needed: Not really
Bachelor’s degrees in pharmaceutical sciences lead to many jobs, though a graduate degree is needed to become a pharmacist. One of the most lucrative jobs for someone with this bachelor’s is in pharmaceutical sales, earning an average of $70,000 a year.
Being a pharmacist requires a doctor of pharmacy degree, also called a “Pharm.D.” Pharmacists work in hospitals, medical research, retail locations, and academics.
- Starting Salary: $98,000
- Median Salary: $128,570
- Growth rate 2020-2030: 4% — this is not a growing field, but the BLS projects 11,300 jobs opening annually through 2030.
- Postgraduate degree needed: Yes
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