Majors That Can Lead to the Highest-Paying Jobs

What are the highest-paying jobs, on average, and what do you study to get them?

August 18, 2014, 3:43 AM
Majors That Lead to the Highest-Paying Jobs
Majors That Lead to the Highest-Paying Jobs
ABC NEWS: Ma'ayan Rosenzweig

— -- College students: choose wisely during this back-to-school season.

A list of highest-earning U.S. jobs by their average salaries was released this month, topped by many jobs in the science and medical fields. How do you get those jobs? Most of the educational training for those high-paying careers starts in college.

CareerCast used information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and its 2014 "Jobs Rated" report.

Note that many of these careers, including the top-paying job of surgeon, can often come with a six-figure graduate school debt load, said Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.

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ABC News asked CareerCast to compile the a list of college degrees that pay off and the average salaries of related fields.

Lee said studying actuarial mathematics ranks among the top professions in CareerCast's annual Jobs Rated Report (No. 4 in 2014) for its employment outlook (26 percent growth by 2022) and high annual salary. Meanwhile, mathematics dominated the top of CareerCast's report. Mathematician ranked No. 1, statistician No. 3, actuary was No. 4 and economist was No. 18. An educational background in statistics provides the foundation to pursue any number of careers in math, Lee said.

Business-related fields can also lead to high salaries.

"I was once told by an academic advisor that he recommends undecided underclassmen minor in a field they’re interested in but major in business," Lee said. "His reasoning: a business degree entails requisite courses that can benefit any working American no matter her/his walk of life. As for career paths, a business degree means opportunities in a wide variety of possible fields."

Studying for pharmacy and chemistry-related fields can also pay off.

"Some universities have pharmacological chemistry-specific programs for students seeking to become pharmacists. However, because passing the PCAT exam is the primary requisite for entry into a pharmacy college, a general chemistry degree can prepare aspiring pharmacists," Lee said.

Not surprisingly, Lee calls computer engineering an "ideal 21st Century degree program" because those career opportunities for graduates are abundant. Software engineer and computer systems analyst are two of the higher scoring in CareerCast's 2014 report, but computer engineering graduates might also find opportunities in computer programming and web development, Lee said.

Various universities, including Colorado and Stanford, have adopted engineering physics programs. As Lee notes, this is how Stanford University describes its program in its mission statement: "Engineering Physics prepares students to apply physics to tackle 21st century engineering challenges, and to apply engineering to address 21st century questions in physics."

"This degree can prepare undergraduates for a variety of post-graduate engineering programs. And engineering careers are some of the most promising in our Jobs Rated Report," Lee said.

The jobs of surgeon and physician are among the top-paying with high outlooks. Requirements for undergraduates seeking admission into medical school vary by program, Lee said. However, human biology requirements at many universities match the requisites demanded by medical schools.

The "engineering physics" major is something of a catch-all engineering program for students interested in gaining a wider knowledge base before specializing in a particular area of engineer, according to CareerCast.

A degree in biomedical engineering is highly specialized, but the field is projected to be one of the highest growth professions of the next decade, Lee said.

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