One-fourth of the 201 master’s level majors have mid-career median pay numbers exceeding $100,000.
For college students and their parents looking to get the best return on investment on a college education, which institution to attend and what to study are major decisions; literally.
Recent studies find that while a college education is the clearest path to good paying jobs, some degrees pay off better than others. A report from College Measures found that the degree graduates earn, the school that awarded that degree, and the field in which the degree is earned, strongly influence job earnings.
Which schools produced the highest-paid alumni? PayScale’s 2015-16 College Salary report studies more than 1,500 schools to find the most lucrative programs for graduates.
SUNY-Maritime College, a small New York State public college tops the list with a median mid-career salary of $134,000. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, which had held the top spot on Pay Scale’s College Salary Report for the past two years, came in second at $133,000. There was a tie for third between Harvard University and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis ($126,000)
A majority of Affluent households choose an institution of higher learning for their child or grandchild based on the quality of education and the reputation of the institution rather than the cost, according to a 2014 Spectrem Group study, but with tuition costs ever escalating, eventual career opportunities are becoming critical considerations. According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition and fees are nearly $30,100 at private colleges, $8,893 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,203 for out-of-state-residents attending public universities.
STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) fields of study fare best for salary, according to the PayScale report. Of the 15 top-paying majors, 13 are in engineering. Out of the 26 total bachelor’s engineering majors, 24 rank in the top 50.
Advanced degrees, too, can pay off. One-fourth of the 201 master’s level majors have mid-career median pay numbers exceeding $100,000. Again, all are STEM subjects.
But don’t write off the arts, PayScale notes. Students earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial design are the highest-paid arts majors with a mid-career salary of $84,500. A bachelor’s degree in philosophy leads to the highest median mid-career salary of any humanities degree in the study ($85,000).
The degree or subject matter with the lowest salary potential—an associate degree in children development with just over $30,000 per year with 10 or more years of experience, the PayScale report finds.
Other report findings:
- Five of the top 10 schools for arts majors are public colleges
- The Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley produces the highest-earning alumni with a bachelor’s degree in business.
- UC Santa Barbara produces the highest-paid computer science majors with 10 or more years of experience
- The highest-paid humanities majors almost all come from private colleges, including Tufts, Duke, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia.
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.