How to Make Money

Want to Make $93,000 Straight Out of College? Choose This Major

June 9, 2015
by Kristen Pope
Contributor
best-paying college majors

If you’re looking for a college major that’ll help you pay off those student loans in a hurry, consider becoming an engineer. When the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) broke down the highest projected median starting salaries for the class of 2015 by field, every one of the top 10 best-paying college majors was a type of engineering.

How high are these salaries? Petroleum engineering majors are projected to earn a median salary of $93,750, according to NACE’s press release for their January 2015 Salary Survey. And that’s not at the pinnacle of their careers — that’s straight out of college.

While petroleum engineers were the top of the pack by a long ways, nine other engineering majors all had entry-level starting salaries projected from $62,500 to $66,500. That’s more than the typical American family brings in each year. In 2014, some estimates placed the median U.S. household income as $53,891.

Plus, these are just starting salaries. Once you have a few years of experience in your field, your pay is likely to be quite a bit higher — so becoming an engineer could be a smart way to maximize your return on investment in your college degree. But, of course, make sure you’ll be happy in one of these careers before deciding to pursue it.

Curious about the different types of engineering? We broke down the top 10 so you can see whether any of them might be a good fit for you.

1. Petroleum Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $93,750

Petroleum engineers work in oil and gas fields, where they focus on extracting deposits from underground and collecting as much material as possible from older wells. The BLS reported petroleum engineers’ 2012 median pay as $130,280.

Petroleum engineers’ employment opportunities are expected to soar through 2022, according to U.S. News & World Report. They could see up to 26% more jobs, while the national employment growth rate is usually closer to 11% for all occupations.

2. Chemical Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $66,500

People who work in chemical engineering use math, physics, chemistry and other sciences to focus on solving problems that relate to chemicals, fuel, food, pharmaceuticals and more. Sometimes, they also work on manufacturing systems or develop processes to treat production byproducts. The BLS reported chemical engineers’ 2012 median pay as $94,350.

3. Electrical Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $65,000

Working in electrical engineering involves designing and testing electrical equipment, including motors, navigation systems, power generators, communication tools and other items. For example, some electrical engineers work with GPS systems, iPods and radar detectors. Their 2012 median pay was $89,630, according to the BLS.

4. Nuclear Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $65,000

This career path involves intensive research and development to find the best ways to use nuclear energy and radiation. Many nuclear engineers are heavily involved with nuclear medicine, including developing and fine-tuning diagnostic imaging systems and medical treatments that use radiation. The BLS reported nuclear engineers’ 2012 median pay as $104,270.

5. Computer Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $63,000

Computer hardware engineers design and develop various components ranging from circuit boards to memory devices, routers to processors, and any other part of a computer you can imagine. They work to help rapidly advance the technology involved in computing. The median pay for computer engineers in 2012 was $100,920, according to the BLS.

6. Mechanical Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $63,000

If you like variety, mechanical engineering may be for you. Mechanical engineers design and build tools, engines, machines and many other items. The BLS reported mechanical engineers’ 2012 median pay as $80,580.

7. Systems Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $63,000

This type of engineering incorporates knowledge from many different disciplines to bring a product from concept to testing and operation. Basically, a systems engineer tries to pinpoint potential issues that could develop in a certain process, then come up with solutions to those problems.

The BLS does not have a specific salary median for this type of engineer, but GlassDoor reports their average salary as $91,214.

8. Aerospace or Aeronautical Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $62,750

If you’ve always been fascinated with space and the technology used to explore our solar system, aerospace engineering may be for you. This field involves designing and testing different types of spacecraft, aircraft, missiles and satellites. You’ll also spend a lot of time working on prototypes and evaluating the effectiveness of proposed designs. The BLS reported their 2012 median pay as $103,720.

9. Materials Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $62,750

Materials engineers work with a wide range of substances, from metal to plastic to other items. They work to design and improve products that use these materials, ranging from skis to aircraft wings to computer chips. The BLS reported materials engineers’ 2012 median pay as $85,150.

10. Industrial or Manufacturing Engineering

Projected median starting salary: $62,500 projected starting salary

If you are focused on efficiency, you might like to be an industrial engineer. These professionals work on streamlining processes, such as manufacturing. They analyze people, machinery, materials and other components to eliminate wasted time or resources, and make the processes more efficient. The BLS reported their 2012 median pay as $78,860.

Do You Need a College Degree to Be an Engineer?

Surprisingly, you don’t always need a four-year degree to become an engineer.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ helpful chart summarizes the different types of engineering, and includes a number of engineering technician jobs that typically only require an Associate’s degree. For example, aerospace engineering and operations technicians (who earn a median salary of $61,530) and civil engineering technicians (who earn a median salary of $47,560) only need a two-year degree.

However, if you have an aptitude for engineering, you may want to choose to complete a four-year degree and become a full-fledged engineer — and earn an even higher salary.

Your Turn: If you’re an engineer, what made you choose your discipline? If you’re considering college majors, what do you think of these engineering options?

Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

by Kristen Pope
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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