The 10 most (and least) lucrative degrees

Best paying fields are those dominated by white men

engineering students

There are major differences in the potential earning power of different majors, according to a new study from The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.  Among the 171 bachelor degrees studied, median pay ranged from a high of $120,000 for graduates with petroleum engineering degrees to a low of $29,000 for those who hold counselling psychology degrees.

The study also revealed wide gaps in earnings based on gender and race. The most lucrative majors are those dominated by white men, while the least lucrative are those dominated by African Americans and women. What’s worse, even when they do have the same degree, women and minorities tend to make less than white Americans and men. For example, African-Americans with finance degrees earn an average of $47,000 per year, Hispanics and Asians averaged $56,000 and Caucasians earned $70,000.

Here are the top 10 majors with the highest median earnings:

  1. Petroleum Engineer ($120,000)
  2. Pharmacy/pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration ($105,000)
  3. Mathematics and Computer Sciences ($98,000)
  4. Aerospace Engineering ($87,000)
  5. Chemical Engineering ($86,000)
  6. Electrical Engineering ($85,000)
  7. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering ($82,000)
  8. Mechanical Engineering ($80,000)
  9. Metallurgical Engineering ($80,000)
  10. Mining and Mineral Engineering ($80,000)

Here are the 10 majors with the lowest median earnings:

  1. Counseling/Psychology ($29,000)
  2. Early Childhood Education ($36,000)
  3. Theology and Religious Vocations ($38,000)
  4. Human Services and Community Organizations ($38,000)
  5. Social Work ($39,000)
  6. Drama and Theater Arts ($40,000)
  7. Studio Arts ($40,000)
  8. Communication Disorders Sciences and Services ($40,000)
  9. Visual and Performing Arts ($40,000)
  10. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs ($40,000)



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The 10 most (and least) lucrative degrees

  1. Worth pointing out that this is in the United States, not Canada.

    • wouldn’t it be similar to canada or no?

      • Not necessarily. Here in Canada, Speech-Language Pathologists (ie. Communication Disorders Sciences and Services) require a Masters degree. So it is not offered at the undergraduate level.

        We also don’t have medical preparatory programs in Canada – people get into medical school with all kinds of degrees, from science degrees, to engineering degrees, to fine arts degrees, to business degrees.

        Clinical psychologists in Canada require a PhD – again, not an undergraduate degree. Now the article doesn’t specify “clinical psychology” – it just lists counselling/psychology – but generally you can’t work as a psychologist with just a bachelor’s degree in Canada.

  2. Good to see that people who want to specialize in helping other will be rewarded by earning a lot less than those focusing on the abstract of math, engineering, and pumping gooey stuff out of the ground. Long live capitalism!

    • Doctors, pharmacists, optometrists, dentists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other “helping professions” all earn decent incomes – especially doctors. They just require further education beyond the undergraduate level, so aren’t listed in this article. Also, this article is based on American graduates and many of these professions are not the same in Canada and the U.S.

    • Indeed!!!

      • Neonrabbit – Indeed!!!

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  4. I’m not certain that the results exclude those with higher level degrees. If you looked at every holder of a B.A./B.Sc. with a Major in Psych, you’d be looking at a lot of people who never continued to graduate school and may be working in any number of fields (working with people, working with computers, etc.).

    Those Engineering degrees are all undergraduate degrees that lead directly to a professional designation. It’s pretty hard to compare those with other undergrad degrees. Interesting to note that Administration/Commerce degrees which, like Engineering, also generally lead directly to employment, are not represented. Same for majors like Philosophy which, unlike Engineering, generally lead to unemployment. (Before anyone gets upset; that was a joke. I am a strong believer in a Liberal Arts education. In fact, my son is pursuing a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and I can hardly wait for him to start his own Philosophy Store.)

    Incidentally, McMaster does offer undergrad Health and Medicine – I wonder what the results would look like for those who do not continue on to an MD. (I am aware that the MD is also an Undergrad degree, but it is not generally a first degree – except in Quebec, where a number of people are admitted to Medicine directly from CEGEP.)

  5. It would seem that the least lucrative degrees are pursued not by those who put income as a priority in their lives, but those who value being creative or in helping other people as paramount in their lives. It is unfortunate that the price to the individual is giving up the finer things in life, but we have to thank God for their selfless choices because the world would be in a lot worse shape if not for them.

  6. Interesting to see that those degrees that inevitably rely on the exploitation of energy and resources are paid most whilst those that are based on human services are paid least. I didn’t see any food technology degrees in the mix despite the world moving into the first stages of food security.

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