Written by Angela Underwood

Choosing a university major is an important decision. Students must decide to study something that challenges and interests them while balancing the harsh realities of the job market and career prospects. A good salary out of college is key to a financially secure future, and with student loan debt on the rise, choosing a major that pays higher salaries becomes even more desirable.

To show how valuable certain college majors can be, Stacker used data from a 2020 PayScale report to rank the top college majors whose alumni earn the most money in their respective professional careers.

The ranking, released in 2021, is based on the highest average mid-career salary. For each major, information is provided about potential jobs, skills students will learn in school, and Bureau of Labor Statistics projections of the likelihood of finding a job after earning a bachelor’s degree.

Muskegon Community College (MLive file photo)Youngrae Kim | MLive.com

#ten. electrical engineering

– Starting salary: $76,100

– Mid-career salary: $142,600

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 68%

The design, manufacture and maintenance of electrical equipment are areas of expertise for electrical engineering graduates. A slowdown in manufacturing and telecommunications will negatively affect job prospects over the next decade, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting only 3% growth. Students can progress through internships and will need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam to become an engineer in training, while additional work experience is required before becoming a professional engineer.

#9. Actuarial Mathematics

– Starting salary: $64,300

– Mid-career salary: $143,400

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 51%

Actuaries use mathematics and statistics to analyze and assess a company’s financial risk, usually in the fields of finance or insurance. The field is relatively small, but competitive, and is expected to explode over the next decade at a rate of 20%. Graduates who pass two actuarial science exams and who have gained valuable college internship experience in addition to possessing exceptional business skills, will excel in their job search.

#8. Business computing

– Starting salary: $73,000

– Mid-career salary: $143,600

– Share of alumni who say their work makes the world a better place: data not available %

A degree in business computing prepares graduates to manage and operate information systems to support a business. It may even require building new technology systems to maximize efficiency. Alumni of this degree program most often work in information technology roles.

#7. Applied Economics and Management

– Starting salary: $66,100

– Mid-career salary: $146,400

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 67%

Applied economics and management majors use economic models to predict financial outcomes based on the decisions of a business or individual. Micro and macroeconomics, statistics, advanced algebra, and finance are just a few of the skills needed to succeed in the field, which is expected to experience solid growth over the next decade. Graduates can find work in public policy, private business, and as financial planners, among others.

#6. Operational research

– Starting salary: $83,500

– Mid-career salary: $147,400

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 54%

The need for increased business efficiency means that the demand for operations research analysts is expected to increase by 25% over the next decade. Students in the program will learn to apply practical solutions to complex business problems, using mathematics and statistical analysis to make informed decisions. Since these analysts are needed in a variety of business settings, adding additional specializations, such as computer programming, political science, or economics, can improve job prospects.

Tax Form 1099-G

1099-G Tax Forms (Photo by Shannon Murphy | MLive)

#5. Public accounting

– Starting salary: $59,800

– Mid-career salary: $147,700

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 47%

Public accountants provide financial services to businesses and individuals, such as preparing tax documents, auditing financial statements, and providing consulting services. Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is not enough to find a job in this growing field, because becoming a public accountant requires passing an industry exam, an ethics exam and being supervised by a CPA during six months to two years.

#4. Interaction design

– Starting salary: $68,300

– Mid-career salary: $155,800

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 55%

The best interaction design – the process of anticipating and facilitating behaviors between users and technology – is undetectable to the user. When you engage with technology through the click of a mouse or the touch of a finger, that’s the result of interaction design. When a website feels intuitive or responds to your natural behaviors, it is also an interaction design. While interaction design is an essential part of UX design or user experience, small businesses can only hire a UX designer, a more all-encompassing title. Conversely, large companies often divide user experience components into separate roles, including interaction designers, visual designers, and information architects.

#3. Electrical and computer engineering

– Starting salary: $108,500

– Mid-career salary: $159,300

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 46%

There are a wide range of careers for a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science that all involve knowing how software and hardware work for electronic devices. Jobs with this degree vary, from designing software for large companies like Facebook, Apple, and Google, to building systems for the aerospace industry. A solid understanding of computer languages, math, and logic is essential for success, while continuing education and certifications can advance job prospects.

#2. Operational research and industrial engineering

– Starting salary: $84,800

– Mid-career salary: $170,400

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 28%

Using an operations research and industrial engineering degree means using mathematical models, statistical analysis, and real-time observations to design, optimize, and modify complex systems. Managing the flow of guests in an amusement park or scheduling city bus routes are two examples of large-scale and highly complex operational systems. As a graduate in industrial engineering and operations research, you can find work in a wide range of industries that require safety, optimization and efficiency decisions, including transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, finance and entertainment.

#1. Petroleum engineering

– Starting salary: $93,200

– Mid-career salary: $187,300

– Share of graduates who say their work makes the world a better place: 67%

Finding and removing oil and natural gas from the earth falls under the well-paid management of petroleum engineers. They analyze, design and implement extraction plans when a reservoir is found, which requires skills in math, science, mechanical engineering and physics. The push toward renewable and clean energy may have a negative effect on job prospects for graduates with bachelor’s degrees in petroleum engineering, although additional certifications and co-op programs may boost job prospects.