Last Updated: Jul 5, 2017
Let’s get down to dollars, people.
If making lots of money is one of your goals in choosing a college major, here are the top-paying career fields and common majors that can get you into them.
Just keep in mind that there are countless jobs out there that pay well, and finding the college that will prepare you for it can be key. A great career-hunting resource is the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (you’ll find overviews of almost any field or industry, and it comes up a lot below!). That research can really help you think about majors and future careers, which in turn can influence your college search.
- College majors: Biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, life sciences, health sciences, nuclear medicine, medical technology (PS These majors are different from pre-health degree advising tracks like pre-medicine, pre-dentistry, pre-pharmacy, etc. And did you know you can pick virtually any undergrad major you want and still go to med school?)
- Related high-paying jobs: Surgeon, physician, anesthesiologist, pharmacist, psychiatrist, pathologist
Okay, high-paying majors and careers in medicine are pretty obvious, but it’s just a fact of life! They make up almost all of the top 10 highest-paying jobs in the United States for 2017. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, most physicians and surgeons make more than $200,000 a year on average.
The OOH also estimates that the job market for physicians and surgeons is expected to grow by 14% through the year 2024—that’s really strong growth. It means that doctors are in high demand. Just remember that it takes four years of undergrad, four years of med school, and between three and seven years of residency to get out there!
Of course, there’s a lot more to being a doctor, surgeon, or other health practitioner than a high salary. Besides all the years of education, it can be grueling work but also super fulfilling. And you can work in all kinds of health-related environments, from hospitals and private practices to research and government. And if medicine is the field for you, the hard work can certainly pay off.
- College majors: Political science, business, history, classics, international relations, philosophy…and much more (PS These majors are different from a pre-law degree advising track.)
- Related high-paying jobs: Lawyers in various specialties, from business/corporate law to family law to criminal defense
Law is another fairly obvious career choice that makes a lot of money. According to the OOH, the median pay for lawyers is more than $118,000 a year. FYI, the field is also growing at an average rate.
But did you know that law, like medicine, is another high-paying career where you can major in all kinds of things in college? You don’t need a particular undergrad major to go to law school, though it’s true that some are better than others.
If you love speech and debate (or just plain arguing!), nerding out over research, and digging deep into details, law may be a good path for you. Lawyers can work in their own or others’ private practices; for local, state, or national governments; or for large companies or corporations.
To get there, you’ll need an undergrad degree, a law degree, and to pass the bar exam for the state(s) you want to work in. Many lawyers also further their career by getting into politics or government later on, if you’re interested in civil service.
- College majors: Manufacturing and industrial technology, computer science, software engineering, information technology, applied mathematics, statistics
- Related high-paying jobs: Software engineer, software developer, IT manager, database administrator, computer programmer, product manager
Much to the chagrin of anyone who still loves reading physical paper books or snail mail, computers have basically taken over most of our lives—often in ways we don’t even see! But, if you love computers, smart phones, wearable tech, and more, you’re in luck. With the expanding world of tech comes the expanding need for people who can invent, build, and service new technology.
Careers in tech vary…a lot. You could be a computer programmer, software developer, security specialist, or engineer in any number of tech-related specialties, and that’s just the beginning. According to U.S. News & World Report, some of the best tech jobs make between $60,000–$130,000 each year, with an average annual salary of $87,000.
Looking for more high-paying jobs and related college majors? You might also like articles published here and here, with career suggestions such as air traffic controller, pilot, and working for NASA. (And who didn’t want to be an astronaut when they grew up?!) Tell us your story and ask us your questions in the comments.