When you consider a higher education, before even deciding where to study, you should have an idea of what you want to learn. A degree is a great way to launch a career path, and an early choice of major could take your life in a whole new direction. With so many options, a big question becomes what kind of degree is best.
Besides simply the experience of taking classes, the main factor in answering this question is the opportunities the degree will open up for you. We’ve split this question into three categories. What degree programs lead to the highest salaries, which degrees are most likely to land you a job in your field, and which fields have the highest job satisfaction. We’ve looked at leading surveys for each part, and here are the results.
Best Degrees by Salary
As is well known, there is a salary gap between people with advanced degrees and people with BA’s, just as there is an earning gap between those with and without college degrees. Doctors make a lot of money, as do MBA’s. Here, and everywhere in the article, we are focusing only on BA’s.
At the top place is Petroleum Engineering, (Median early career pay $96,700, mid-career $172,000), Followed by Systems Engineering (early career $66,400, mid-career $121,000) and a tie between Actuarial Science (early career $60,800, mid-career $119,000) and Chemical Engineering (early career $69,800, mid-career $119,000) for 3rd.
Computer Science and related fields, in particular, dominate this list, with Systems Engineering in second place, Computer Science (early career $71,200, mid-career $116,00) in 5th, and with Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) , Computer Engineering, and joint Computer Science & Mathematics degrees taking the 8th, 9th, and 11th spots respectively.
The results from this are clear, specialized STEM skills are valued in the workforce, and employers will pay a premium for them.
Best Degrees for Getting Hired
A high salary is important, but for that, you need to get hired. After all, there isn’t a huge market for nuclear engineers. This past April, NACE (the National Association of Colleges and Employers), a PA based non-profit, released an updated survey on job prospects for graduates by degree.
169 major US companies were surveyed and asked which degrees they were seeking to hire. The results again skew heavily towards the STEM fields, but degrees that focus on the Business fields take their fair share of the list as well.
Among the Bachelor degrees, Accounting was the most in demand, with 98 respondents saying they intend to hire graduates in this field. This is soon followed by Computer Science, with 97 respondents saying they will hire, Finance with 91 respondents, and Business Administration/Management with 86. Following that are Mechanical Engineering (83), Information Science (75), and Management Information Systems (73).
Again, it seems a degree in Computer Science, or in finance related disciplines (Accounting, Finance, or Business Administration) are a good bet for graduates looking to get hired in their field.
Best Degrees to Get for Job Satisfaction
While a well-paying job is great, a job you hate is not. Job satisfaction is harder to measure than salary and can vary between people in the same office, as well as vary between employers for the same person. However, in the day to day, knowing that those working in your intended field are happy with their choices is a very good sign.
Business Insider places Registered Nurses as the most satisfied occupation, followed by Software Developers, Pharmacists, and Medical Assistants. Students Review, claims the top spot for Accounting graduates, followed by Aerospace Engineers, and then graduates in Agriculture/Horticulture. Finally, MyPlan.com puts Singers in the top spot, followed by Municipal Firefighters, Aircraft Assemblers, and Pediatricians.
Such varied results might mean big differences in how these studies are conducted, but they also point to an important truth: Happiness is hard to measure. It’s hard to know in advance what will make us happy, but if you like what you do, you’ll be happier doing it.
Overall, it seems that Computer Science or computation based Finance (Accounting, Actuarial Science) both rate highly on all our lists for salary, hiring potential and job satisfaction. These might be worth taking a look at. Ultimately though, regardless of surveys, and the degree field you choose should be something you can see yourself doing.
In choosing what to study, consider all these factors and others, and then make your own choice. After all, it’s your life, and you are the one who has to live it.