Education and Skills

These are the degrees that will earn you the most money when you graduate - and the ones that won’t

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'STEM' subjects are the highest earning majors in the U.S. Image: UNSPLASH/Joshua Hoehne

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Education, Gender and Work

  • The top 25 college degrees by pay and demand are all in ‘STEM’ subjects, according to a new study.
  • Architectural engineering took the top spot, with graduates earning an average of $90,000 a year.
  • Visual and performing arts were the least valuable degrees, with average pay of $35,500.
  • The World Economic Forum says that 97 million new roles may emerge as the workplace becomes more digitized.

Are you studying science, technology, engineering or maths? If so, you’ve chosen one of America’s most valuable degrees – and could earn an average income of $93,000.

That’s according to a study of 159 college degrees by personal finance company Bankrate.

All 25 of its top-earning majors are so-called ‘STEM’ subjects.

a chart showing the most and least valuable college majors in terms of income
Incomes vary signifcantly following different majors. Image: Bankrate

Number one – based on typical salaries and the ease of landing a job – is architectural engineering.

Architectural engineering is all about building sciences,” explained Rich Miller of the University of Cincinnati’s engineering school. “It merges the structural foundations part of civil engineering with mechanical and electrical engineering, specifically the parts that relate to building.”

Workers who said they majored in this subject earned an average $90,000 and only 1.3% of them were jobless.

a chart showing the most valuable college majors Image: Bankrate
a chart showing the least valuable college majors Image: Bankrate

The science of good pay

The other top 10 college majors are construction services, computer engineering, aerospace engineering, transportation sciences and technologies, electrical engineering, materials engineering and materials science, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering.

Of these, the highest average income is $107,000 for electrical engineers.

Have you read?

This is almost double the $54,000 average income for all Americans holding at least a bachelor’s degree in 2019, according to the Bankrate data.

At the lowest end of the table, the least valuable degrees are those in the visual and performing arts. Workers who said they majored in this area earned an average $35,500 – and 3.6% of them were unemployed. Other low-ranking degrees in the study include music (ranking 152 out of 159), clinical psychology (155) and miscellaneous fine arts (158).


Picking a degree subject that interests you – rather than one that pays most or has lots of jobs – is still the best way to become professionally satisfied, says Bankrate. But it’s worth checking what your future earnings might be – especially if you’re taking out a loan to pay for college.

“Education debt often leads to delaying financial milestones like buying a home and building an emergency savings fund,” Bankrate says.

Women still underrepresented in STEM subjects

In a separate study, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 takes a detailed look at STEM education and skills in 156 countries, and finds that women continue to be underrepresented.

Science and technology skills are also a key theme in the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020. It predicts that the adoption of technologies like cloud computing, big data and e-commerce by companies will transform tasks, jobs and skills by 2025.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve digital intelligence in children?

The report finds that 97 million new roles may emerge as humans, machines and algorithms work together. There is already a growing demand for data analysts, data scientists, specialists in artificial intelligence and machine learning and robotics engineers.

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Related topics:
Education and SkillsJobs and the Future of Work
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