The best- and worst-paying college majors, 5 years after graduation

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If you want to make the most money possible right after college, study to be an engineer.

As a major, it’s the safest bet in terms of earning power. Engineering degrees occupy nine of the top 16 college majors with the highest incomes five years after graduation, a recent New York Federal Reserve study reveals. 

Computer engineering majors ranked first with an annual median salary of $80,000, followed by chemical engineering and computer science — the only two other majors that earn more than $75,000 annually.

They make roughly double that of the lowest-paid majors, which tend to be degrees in the liberal arts or humanities.

Here are the 16 highest-paying college majors, five years after graduation:

The technical knowledge, mathematical proficiency and problem-solving abilities required in engineering are valuable across many industries. As such, the profession tends to have higher salaries compared with other occupations.

In contrast, students who major in liberal arts, performing arts and theology earn the lowest salaries within five years of graduating from college, according to the study of full-time workers.

Graduates of all three majors earned a median annual income of $38,000, the lowest out of the 75 majors in the study. Other low-paying majors include leisure and hospitality, history, fine arts and psychology, all of which garnered median salaries of $40,000 or less per year.

For context, that’s slightly less than the U.S. personal income median of $40,480 as of 2022, per the latest data available from the U.S. Census.

Here’s a look at the 16 lowest-paying majors, five years after graduation:

With liberal arts degrees, graduates tend to be paid less overall for various reasons. For one, their skills may not be directly related to generating revenue, even if their vocation is a benefit to society.

Or, it can be a case of too few well-paying jobs compared with the number of graduates each year, as is the case for fine arts degrees. As such, the lack of demand can drive down wages.

Education majors tend to be paid less as well. While teachers have good job security, summers off and pensions, they’re usually paid by state governments, which have lagged in keeping wages commensurate with inflation. In recent years, the “teacher pay penalty” has gotten worse, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Data for this annual study was compiled from U.S. Census data from 2022, the most recent available. The study excludes students currently enrolled in school and is limited to a working population of those ages 25 to 65, with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

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