For many of us, attending college has an express purpose: to major in a field that will lead to a career with the highest starting salary after graduation. There is good news for high student students and undergraduates who live for math and science. The top-paying college majors are disproportionately math and science related. The majors and starting salaries for this list were culled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook and data from compensation-research firm PayScale’s “2014-2015 College Report.”
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With a Bachelor of Science in petroleum engineering and less than one year’s work experience, an average starting salary can range from $93,196 to $103,000. Petroleum engineers design and develop methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the earth’s surface. Petroleum engineers also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells. Petroleum engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably in petroleum engineering. However, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or chemical engineering may also suffice.
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale safe and sustainable manufacturing, plan and test methods of manufacturing products and treating byproducts, and supervise production. They work mostly in offices or laboratories. They may spend time at industrial plants, refineries and other locations, where they monitor or direct operations or solve on-site problems. Chemical engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering; the average starting salary is $67,500.
Nuclear engineers design the equipment and create the operating procedures used in nuclear power plants. Many also operate the machinery that monitors nuclear power and find methods to safely handle and dispose of nuclear waste. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment. The average starting salary is around $66,800 and requires a four-year degree in nuclear engineering.
An electrical engineer is someone who designs and develops new electrical equipment, solves problems and tests equipment. Electrical engineers work with all kinds of electronic devices, from the smallest pocket devices to large supercomputers. There are many subdisciplines of electrical engineering. Some electrical engineers specialize exclusively in one subdiscipline, while others specialize in a combination of subdisciplines. The average starting salary for this career is $63,400.
Aerospace engineers design aircraft, missiles, spacecrafts and satellites. They test prototypes to make sure that the models function according to the way they are designed. Aerospace engineers are spacecraft or vehicle engineers who deal with related infrastructure. There are many specialties within this job. Entry-level salaries can begin as high as $62,500.
Actuaries work in the insurance and finance industries to analyze the financial costs of risk and uncertainty. With a strong mathematical background that includes an in-depth understanding of statistics, probability and finance, they are sought after by firms looking to minimize the costs of risky business strategies. Actuaries command an average starting salary of $58,700.
Mechanical engineers design, develop, build and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, engines and machines. Mechanical engineers work mostly in engineering services, research and development, manufacturing industries, and the federal government. Individual salaries vary according to factors such as location and type of industry. Entry-level mechanical engineers holding bachelor’s degrees earned average annual starting salaries of $58,600.
Registered nurses provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members. Registered nurses usually take one of three education paths: a bachelor’s degree in nursing, an associate’s degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Registered nurses can expect to receive a starting salary of $52,482; however, candidates with bachelor’s degrees are preferred in major cities, particularly in hospitals, which are more selective in hiring.
Computer and information-systems managers—often called information technology managers or IT project managers—plan, coordinate and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals of an organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet those goals. The average starting salary is $50,900 and requires a bachelor’s degree in computer or information science.
Pharmaceutical-sciences majors apply chemistry, biology and related sciences to the study of drugs. After graduation, they take jobs in pharmaceutical research, administration, marketing, sales or regulatory affairs. Public and private labs also hire recent graduates to research drugs and drug interactions. Starting salaries begin at around $42,000. To become a pharmacist, however, you will have to return to school to receive a postgraduate degree.