The highest paying majors today and what they have in common

'For earning a higher salary, you want to be tied to the lifeblood of the economy'

STEM subjects continue to dominate the list of highest paying majors, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce.

Engineering took the lead spot, followed by other science, math, and technology programs—while salaries in the social service industries remained relatively stagnant.

"For earning a higher salary, you want to be tied to the lifeblood of the economy, which is still oil. And the other one is to be connected to money, which is 'Wall Street,'" says Anthony Carnevale, director of the center.

Typical bachelor degree holders make about $33,000 just after graduation, eventually earning about $61,000 per year by mid-career.

The top earning majors as ranked by median annual wages of college-educated workers ages 25 to 59 were:

1. Petroleum engineering, at $136,000
2. Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, pharmaceutical administration, at $113,000
3. Metallurgical engineering, at $98,000
4. Mining and mineral engineering, at $97,000
5. Chemical engineering, at $96,000
6. Electrical engineering, at $93,000
7. Aerospace engineering, at $90,000
8. Mechanical engineering, at $87,000
9. Computer engineering, at $87,000
10. Geological and geophysical engineering, at $87,000

Notably, mid-career computer science salaries have declined about 11% since before the Great Recession from $98,000 to $87,000. Salary size also varies significantly for that major: A software architect may earn $117,000 while a front-end developer makes $89,000.

Despite the lure of high wages, only about 20% of the college workforce studied a STEM field. Business continues to be the most popular major, where mid-career salaries range from $43,000 to $98,000.

Students who want to pursue work in the social sciences should consider attending in-state public institutions to keep their expenses lower, says Katie Bardaro, PayScale's lead economist. Taking statistics or economic courses may also help non-STEM students boost their career opportunities and earnings, she says (Powell, U.S. News & World Report, 5/17).

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